Sabrina Alfin Interiors
Luxurious Spaces. Real Living.


Setting Your Designer Up to Fail with "Shadow Clients"


Interior design and construction is not an inexpensive proposition.  Designers take great pains to make sure their process is efficient and that clients understand what is expected of them to ensure budgets are adhered to. A successful outcome is one in which the client is absolutely thrilled with the result.  But what happens when there's a "shadow client" involved and how can that derail the process?

First, let's define what I mean when I'm talking about a "shadow client".  A shadow client is someone who is injected into the design process who isn't a stakeholder.  For example, let's say you've hired a designer and you've had a long, productive input session with all of the project parameters outlined and agreed to.  The designer then goes off, develops design solutions to present to you, and walks you through the thinking behind those solutions and how they relate to the project input you both settled on.  You, the client, express your preferences to the designer, but then after the meeting you show the presentation to your BFF, your mom, or whomever you go to when you can't decide.  Those "shadow clients" then give you feedback based on nothing other than their own preferences for style, color, etc. which probably have no bearing on the input session you had with the designer, nor the rationale behind the concepts the designer explained during the presentation.  The designer is then expected to change course based on conversations she was never a part of. 

I liken this situation to the head marketing guru at a big company who, instead of telling the agency whether or not the commercial they developed is on strategy, shows it to her husband for comment.  She then tells the agency they have to re-do the work based on his reaction, not the brief.

As you might imagine, this situation can have a negative impact not just on your relationship with the designer, but also your budget and your schedule.  Perhaps more importantly, the design mission is now muddled.  Instead of having a clear understanding of the direction for the design, the designer is now reacting to the latest set of non-stakeholder input instead of what you had agreed to upfront.  When the vision is not clear, the end result won't be either.

The way to avoid this is to make sure you've vetted your designer well enough before you hire them.  Do you like his/her aesthetic? Does s/he have a lot of experience with the types of projects you have in mind? Is the designer a good listener who will take your input seriously? Do they come highly recommended? 

If you've done your due diligence, the chances are pretty good their recommendations will reflect your design goals.  And if the solutions presented meet all the criteria you discussed, there really is no need for outside opinions. Take a leap of faith.  You've hired a designer to push you a bit out of your comfort zone.  Sure, tweaks to a color palette, a layout, or specific furnishings can and should be accommodated.  But if the design direction is changing significantly from the agreed to plan because of shadow client input, you should also expect significant added costs to the design process.



Sabrina Alfin