What do designers want and what do they need? Flooring Forensics - Dec 2015

By Lew Migliore

At the recent Starnet Fall Meeting in Boston, Paul Lewandowski, design principal with Lavallee Brensinger Architects, delivered a presentation called “Notes from a Design Junkie.” It deserves greater visibility because it could very well eliminate several of the issues caused by the wrong flooring being specified for a given set of circumstances. The premise is that more advisory relationships need to be developed between architects and trusted, unbiased flooring contractors to prevent mistakes in both product selection and the installation process. And what intrigued me most were two questions he posed: what do designers want, and what do designers need?

It’s important to understand first that there are throngs of young designers starving for information—in this instance about floorcovering. Understand, too, that designers want to collaborate with individuals and firms that can help make their jobs easier, that can work with them to determine which product fits the particular application. Certainly design, color and fashion are paramount, but designers also need guidance to make sure that the flooring product fits the function for which it’s intended, and that the fashion, style and color won’t compromise the performance and appearance retention of the product.

Technical information is high on the list of designers’ wants and needs. With fewer true technical people in the flooring industry, and with manufacturers’ websites that challenge the most patient and tolerant, finding the right information can be a daunting and time consuming task fraught with frustration and exasperation. Product information needs to be easy to access and detailed but simple to understand, maybe even a bit tutorial. Designers seek a flooring manufacturer’s website that is simple to use and has all the information they’re looking for with products that look good and perform, and that’s how loyalty develops. 

Educational programs in the form of CEUs are also desired, as are plant tours. The old marketing adage, “If they can see it, you can sell it,” certainly applies here. The more designers and architects know about the flooring products, the more they will use and promote them. Manufacturers typically don’t bring designers or architects into their plants unless asked or unless a sales manager arranges a visit for a valued client. Most certainly would welcome these folks, but few include tours in their active marketing plans as a regular course of business. When architects and designers get an opportunity to see the products being manufactured, they gain a greater understanding of the complexity of the materials and can talk about them knowledgeably. 

Designers also want information on product content. The green aspect of flooring is now considered a given, and if you don’t have a legitimate green story, your product is not going to be anywhere near the top of the list for consideration on a project. This is especially important to Millennials. They want to know that the products they specify come from companies that share their beliefs about the environment and society in general. 

But green information is not the only important aspect of product content. For example, we recently helped an architectural firm that’s been a client of ours for nearly 30 years. The firm wanted some guidance on handmade rugs and sent product information from two manufacturers. Comparing the specs side by side, there was almost no crossover or true comparison that could be made down the list of specification items. We do this type of work all the time and normally can make sense of the specs. But even with all our experience and technical knowledge, it posed a challenge for us, so you can imagine how hard it would be for a designer or architect to make a decision based on utterly confusing information. So, when it comes to product information and specifications, manufacturers’ websites need to be more user friendly. 

Designers and architects want to work with a trusted partner, someone who’s in the game with them. Most often that’s going to be the flooring contractor, in my opinion. Commercial flooring contractors know what should or should not be used and why. They know a multitude of flooring products, the best providers of them for a particular application and, most important, how to successfully install the products and maintain them. 

The flooring contractor normally lives and works in the same geographic area as the design firm and possesses the same sense of pride for a successfully completed project. And even though the manufacturer can deliver a sense of trust with consistent quality, flooring contractors deliver the entire package, working face to face with all parties involved and speaking the same language. They can run interference on the flooring project to ensure there are no compromises, and that develops trust that can be counted on.

The truth about design firms, according to Paul Lewandowski—and I agree, as we hear the same from our clients—is that they’re swamped. They have projects in the works and not enough people to work on them. A lot of the grunt work goes to interns or young talent, so their services, early in their careers, are used for fact finding, sourcing, gathering information, procuring product or taking it from the firm’s library, as well as other tasks. The architect, also swamped, is expected to be an expert on every finish used on a project, which is virtually impossible for them. Architects have to rely on the best information they’re given, and they must trust—there’s that word again—that the information is correct. 

Very often, if a flooring project fails, the affected parties will come back to the architects, blaming them for doing something wrong. “You picked the material and put it in the spec, and you should have known better,” is the cry of those disappointed by unmet expectations. But in reality, architects, no matter how good they are, are not experts in all of the finish materials that go into a project. We can compare them to attorneys who know the law but don’t know every detail of every case they are involved with. That’s why they consult experts who supply them with information they don’t have or can’t get on their own. They look for the best guidance and trust what they’re being told, with verification. 

Flooring is one of the last finishes to be installed. The designers usually get brought into the project too late, and the squeeze is on to pick a product, research it, get the specs and get it installed. You can be sure when working under this type of pressure that something is liable to go wrong. We see this often, especially with carpet, and in particular relative to color. A product is selected that, according to its construction specifications, is completely capable of delivering the type of performance expected of it. The weak link would be the color. Yellow, light blue and pink, for example—all colors everyone seems to love in carpet right now—present a maintenance nightmare. Without knowing what to expect of color in relation to soiling, cleaning and maintenance, no one gives any thought to what will happen to the appearance of the carpet a short time after installation. This is the biggest problem in the industry, the wrong product in the wrong place. Even if the product is right, the color may be wrong, which—bottom line—makes it the wrong product. 

Lewandowski suggests that the future requires that all parties—including flooring contractors, manufacturers, professional organizations, general contractors, distributors, interior designers and architects—work together on flooring projects, each benefiting the other and ultimately benefiting the end user. This type of arrangement will create a healthy business relationship and lower the chances of flooring failures. And it will help eliminate the dissatisfaction of the wrong flooring product, style, fashion or color wreaking havoc on an otherwise beautiful project.

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Starnet