Companies often spend thousands of dollars in fees to an architect to design a new building yet try to fumble through without employing a designer to do the interior work for their new offices.
That can be a mistake, says Sharlene Shugarman of Potomac, a designer who specializes in lighting commercial and public spaces.
How successful a business is in achieving an attractive and functional office space depends heavily on its selection of the right designer, says Ms. Shugarman. Taking time in the selection process and approaching it somewhat systematically will help assure that you achieve the end that you desire for your office space, she says.
"A lot of it is just personal chemistry. The designer has to be somebody the company can work with," says Tom Brudzinski, associate director of design for the Rouse Company, based in Columbia.
Design specialists offer these pointers:
* Determine whether the firm you're considering has had experience with a project of your type and scale.
"If you're a law firm, you'll want to be sure the designer you're considering has had experience with a law firm, for example," Mr. Brudzinski says. The more work the designer has done in your particular field, the more likely he'll know the requirements of your office, he says.
* Find out who within the firm would be doing your work and become familiar with that designer's work.
It's not enough to know that the overall firm is good, observes Mr. Brudzinski, noting that the quality and type of work can vary widely within the same firm.
* Go to visit offices designed by the people you're considering.
Many business people have difficulty verbalizing what they want in an office design but recognize what they want when they see it, Mr. Brudzinski says. By visiting actual offices prepared by the designer under consideration you'll get a firsthand sense of what the individual can do, his artistic judgments and whether his work is suited to your company.
* Examine the portfolios of the designers you're considering.
Second best after seeing actual interiors done by the designer is to see photos, Ms. Shugarman says.
"By seeing what they've done, it gives you an idea of their knowledge and expertise with scale and color and with the integration of shapes and forms," she says.
* Ask for references from other clients.
It's customary for a business client to receive the names and telephone numbers of other clients with whom a designer has worked, Ms. Shugarman says. And it's wise to actually phone the others to determine their level of satisfaction with the designer, she says.
* Select someone with a substantial amount of experience.
"Training is good but experience goes a long way," Ms. Shugarman says. Experience is valuable in teaching a designer what he needs to know in areas ranging from carpeting to furniture to fabrics, she says.
* Don't assume that your architect is necessarily a good interior designer.
A debate has raged for years as to whether architects are qualified to do either commercial or residential interiors on the basis on their professional training, Ms. Shugarman notes.
Obviously there are many architects with the capability of doing good commercial interiors. But it's unsafe to assume that all architects have the training, talent or experience to do good interiors.
* Consider hiring a separate lighting designer if your office is a large space or illumination is especially important in your setting.
"It's very rare for an interior designer or architect to know good lighting," says Ms. Shugarman, who works with the national lighting consultants firm of Claude R. Engle.
Good lighting can make an enormous difference in determining whether your office turns out to be attractive as well as functionally efficient, says Ms. Shugarman, formerly a member of the design staff of the Bethesda-based Marriott Corp.