Workflow Guides

The Interior Design Process Explained

In this article, we'll explain everything you need to know about the Interior Design Process including the goals, deliverables and tools.

In this article, we'll discuss the who, what, and how of the Interior Design process.

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Let's get started!...

First, ask yourself if you've ever felt productive in an office space. Perhaps enjoyed the ambiance of a vibrant café. Or felt cozy in a cabin in the woods.

Those feelings are the result of great interior design.

What is Interior Design and why is it important?

Interior design is more than just assembling mood boards and picking out fabrics.

It is the creation of an interior environment responding to human needs. Interior design firms balance a space's function and its aesthetics.

According to a study by the EPA, we spend 90% of our time inside. This makes interior design important. Well done interiors make or break your experience in the space.

Who is involved in the Interior Design process?

The interior design project management process typically involves:

    • Interior Designers

    • Architects (depending on the scope of work)

    • The Client team (a developer, owner, prospective tenant)

    • Consultants (structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting)

    • FF&E vendors

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Depending on the size and scope of a project, other project team members may include:

    • A client’s facilities team that will manage the space upon completion. The facilities team encompasses security, IT, food and beverage, etc.

    • Landlords, who may need designs to adhere to their building standards.

    • Environmental graphic designers (EGD), who design a visual wayfinding system. The visual system often incorporates the client's brand.

What types of projects involve Interior Design?

Any building that will have a functioning interior will often involve interior design. We categorize projects by typology or interior design workflow.

Some common programmatic typologies include:

    • Residential (houses, apartments, condos)

    • Commercial (office space, retail, restaurants)

    • Institutional (schools, healthcare facilities)

    • Cultural (museums)

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Some common interior design deliverables or project scopes are:

    • Tenant improvement (“TI”) projects involve a space designed for a commercial property.

    • Remodeling projects are upgrades made to existing interiors.

    • Adaptive reuse projects are more extensive than standard TI projects. They often involve converting an existing building use and zoning classification into another.

    • New ground up construction projects may include interior designers to design project interiors. In this type of project, interior designers collaborate with the lead exterior architect.

So, what are the phases of the Interior Design process?

There are 5 key interior design process phases.

According to a recent survey by the AIA, renovation projects make up 50% of projects for firms. Adaptive reuse and interior modifications make up 25% each and tenant improvements make up 18% of those.

Knowing this, we’ll discuss the following interior design process with a focus on commercial TI projects. This type of project is standard, less complicated, and does not need rezoning.

Let’s dive in and discuss the goals, process, deliverables and tools required for each phase:

1. Programming

The main goal of the Programming phase is to define the project’s scope of work and constraints.

The same space will have different design solutions depending on its audience and use. A Fortune 500 company’s needs are distinct from those of a creative studio. This is where programming comes into play.

Programming means understanding the client’s spatial needs, business organization, and brand. Interior designers conduct work sessions to listen to the client’s project wishes. Clients might share inspiration images at the initial consultation that interior designers can use as a reference point.

The general process, goals, and deliverables of Programming include:

    • Site visits to take existing conditions measurements, and formulate a survey report

    • Verify an existing model or creating a new 3D model for the basis of design

    • Sessions with the client and stakeholders to understand their vision and requirements

    • Schedule and scope of work creation in a written document (interior design project plan)

    • Definition of room types and target square footages in a programming spreadsheet

    • Sketching of the preliminary space plans and bubble diagrams

How can a flexible database tool like Layer App help organize this data?

There isn’t a concrete design created during this first phase of the interior design process. But there is a myriad of collected information that will inform the following phases.

How can a flexible database tool like Layer App help organize this data?

How can a flexible database tool like Layer App help organize this data?

1. Building Condition Assessment Template to capture existing building data

2. Room Data Sheets are a fantastic way to create a basic programming sheet

2. Schematic Design

The main goal of Schematic Design is to explore design solutions through test fits.

A test fit is a floor plan layout that confirms the location and size of spaces for the project.

Unlike bubble diagrams, test fits are to scale. They help the client visualize a potential solution to their design problem. Interior designers walk clients through the test fit to ensure room adjacencies and sizing are fit for their needs.

The final test fit is often attached to the lease agreement between the tenant and the landlord.

Interior design details: Example of a test fit during schematic design.

The general process and deliverables of Schematic Design include:

    • Develop concept boards to show the “look & feel” of the space

    • Create test fit options and corresponding programming sheets

    • Portray spatial relationships through schematic interior renderings

    • Provide an initial cost estimate to the client

    • Present to the client and landlord for their approval

What’s great about a flexible database tool is that users build upon the workflows they set up. Here are a few ways to further develop a project during Schematic Design:

    1. Adding more detail to the Room Data Sheets. Linking geometry from a test fit to the room data sheets to compare numbers.

    1. Interior designers can create presentations for their mood boards in Layer.

3. Design Development

The main goal of Design Development is to narrow in on a solution and dive into the design details.

In Design Development, the client and interior designer agree upon a single direction. The approved test fit and mood board from schematic design serve as the starting point.

Some aspects of the layout and design may shift as interior designers layer detail into the drawings. Keeping the client in the loop through frequent design review meetings enables the design team to solidify the project elements before the Construction Documentation phase.

interior design details - getting it right the first time.

The general process and deliverables of Design Development include:

    • Develop floor plans, furniture plans, interior elevations, reflected ceiling plans, details

    • Create detailed interior renderings and work with EGDs for branding

    • Coordinate with consultants (structure, MEP, life safety)

    • Present design to client for sign off before the next phase

    • Provide an updated cost estimation

A flexible database tool assists with Design Development in a few ways:

1. The FF&E template is a database enabling designers to store their information in a single place.
2. Documenting meeting minutes is crucial to confirm design decisions and changes.

4. Construction Documents

The main goal of Construction Documents is to assemble the final documentation set for bidding and the construction phase.

The final documentation set has several drawings, schedules, and visuals used for pricing and the realization of the space. Interior designers coordinate the set with consultants and review drawings for quality.

The length of the documentation set will vary depending on project type and complexity. It is common to conduct page-turn meetings with the client to review key drawings from the set for their approval.

If the client is not attuned to reviewing construction drawings, simplify the drawings and annotate areas that need more attention. This will ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

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The general process and deliverables of Construction Documents include:

    • Conduct page-turn review meetings with clients

    • Provide a completed and coordinated set of construction documents to the tenant and landlord for approval

    • Share the final construction documents to prospective GCs for bidding

    • Issue construction documents to permitting authority for review and approval

During this phase of the interior design process, a flexible database tool is great for:

1. Redlining in progress sets in the PDF viewer.

2. Responding to general contractor’s RFI’s during bidding.

5. Construction Administration

The main goal of Construction Administration is to support the bidding, construction, and close out of the project.

At this stage, the project is almost at the finish line and ready for the clients to move in. During this final phase of the interior design process, interior designers are in the field. They are answering contract documentation or questions and finalizing deliverables for project hand off.

Client management is critical at this final stage. Clients may grow anxious and inquire about construction updates.

Rather than be reactive, interior designers should be proactive and keep clients in the loop as the project comes to life. If possible, walk clients through the space with the proposed floor plan as a guide. It’s an exciting time when drywall goes up and the interior starts taking shape.

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The general process and deliverables of Construction Administration include:

    • Obtain bids and secure permit

    • Create and answer any RFIs from the construction team

    • Conduct a punch list walk through of the space

    • Review submittals from sub-consultants

    • Issue photos and updates to clients via e-mail

    • Collaborate with vendor for procurement & installation of materials

    • Revise the 3D model and produce as-built drawings (if required by client)

    • Handover project documents to client and building operations team

    • Generate a post-occupancy evaluation (POE)

A flexible database tool can help interior designers cross the finish line by:

1. Coordinating RFIs from the construction team
2. Organizing punch list items and documenting in field information via mobile.

What’s Next?

This is a general framework for executing commercial tenant improvement projects. Every project will have its own particularities dependent on the client, the interior designer, and the existing space.

For those new to interior design, we hope you learned something. For those who are ready to supercharge your interior design process workflow, email us at or schedule a custom demo here >

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