Houzz's recent acquisition of Ivy sparked a lot of emotion in the interior design community. Some were excited and optimistic about the possibility of even faster improvement in the software and the opportunity to have an advocate for designers through Ivy founders Alex Schinasi and Lee Rotenberg. Others were furious, afraid, and felt a strong sense of betrayal. Ivy was used as a community space for sharing industry secrets. The software stored wholesale pricing, markup information, and client information.
The biggest fear has been that Houzz will use this information to undercut designers and cut out the middleman. Despite being so much more than just a middleman, it is often how we are perceived. But, why buy software intended for designers that will undercut them? Without designers, there would be no subscribers, and this software, apparently purchased for $38 million would prove to be a poor investment. Another thought has been that this information is a big, beautiful instruction guide on how to build an interior design business. Could Houzz use it to create their own chain of "Design" firms? We may have just handed the competition a how-to for our business models. While this may sound like a perfect opportunity, it also sounds like a perfect storm. The fury and energy that swept the field due to this acquisition would turn into an outright protest with boycotts of both Houzz and their vendors. One would think a business has enough intelligence to foresee something like this, making it a very slim possibility.
So, maybe Houzz truly is just trying to win the hearts of the design community by providing us with the software we've been dreaming of for years. We still have a dilemma. Houzz has been the schoolyard bully for years. The platform has required designers to upload photos without watermarks, then tagged these photos with their own product that the designers are unable to verify quality of. This is quite simply taking advantage of a small business's need for marketing and publicity. Houzz offers forums to the public for tips and informs designers that in order to gain visibility, participation in these forums is necessary. When a designer's greatest skill lies in their intellectual property, it should, in no way,shape or form be given for free. Asking us to participate in these forums is requiring that we work for them (gaining a large audience in DIY homeowners) for free. Furthermore, articles and newsletters are written for the do-it-yourselfers, teaching them how to do what we do without our expertise. They are not written for the homeowner encouraging them to work with designers and creating value for the profession. There are so many problems with this platform and this issues just grave the surface.
When beat up over and over, a single gesture of goodwill can be misread, feared and accompanied with the "too little, too late" anger. So, how does the school bully redeem themselves? For many, they cannot. For the forgiving type, a complete revamp of the system will be necessary.
Tips provided by designers will need to come with compensation (average hourly rate for independent designers is $175/hour). Articles written by designers will come with reasonable compensation to match this hourly rate and should drive homeowners to the author's site.
Photos uploaded by the designer should come with watermarks and if tagged with product, the designer should be given opportunity to approve this product. A note should explain to the homeowner that this is similar product. Most importantly, the designer should receive commission for the product sale.
Articles posted should create value in the design professional, encouraging homeowners to seek professional advice.
If designer’s websites are bringing traffic to Houzz, they should be compensated for any purchases made as a result.
Designers should have traffic reports illustrating how many clicks Houzz gets from our sites.
In short, designers need to be respected for the hard work we do, and compensated for the years of experience and professional training they have.
After years of abuse, it with likely take years of goodwill and a lot of hard work to gain the trust of the community. We believe it is possible, but are skeptical that Houzz will take these measures rather than prey on the new, inexperienced, and insecure. In the meantime, I suggest that designers join the Interior Design Revolution on Facebook for ideas on how to resist the temptation to give away our intellectual property in the hopes of being noticed.
Designers, please share this message, be it in a blog, a vlog, a social media message, or just passing it along. Until Houzz agrees to compensate designers appropriately for their work, I would suggest that designers take one of these two approaches to their Houzz account:
Ruxana Oosman has generously offered for us to use her verbiage as a means of protesting the site: https://www.houzz.com/pro/ruxana/ruxanas-home-interiors-llc
Carla Aston has generated another approach to making Houzz work for you: http://carlaaston.com/designed-for-designers-blog/interior-designers-are-you-fed-up-with-houzz-and-want-to-take-down-profile
Join Interior Design Revolution (currently in Beta) for more ideas and actions to better the perception of our profession: https://interiordesignrevolution.wildapricot.org/
Comment on this post with a simple "I support this message" and a link to your business website. Houzz is watching!
About Interior Design Revolution: Our goal is to create a more accurate portrayal of what we do- as varied as that might be and to do that from within by earning and expecting respect from vendors, software, clients, and each other. We want to create a sudden, marked change in the interior design industry... hence the revolution.