5 Online Platforms I Use Daily as an Interior Designer and Business Owner

Discover the programs that help designers schedule, invoice, and, of course, design.

As a designer, high-end rendering artist, and small business owner, each day is different. People hear “interior design” and assume we spend our days matching fabrics and mapping out floor plans. But, the reality is, most of our billable hours are spent analyzing and creating technical drafts, drawing up contracts and purchase orders, and managing projects from ideation to invoicing.

Entrepreneurs know that keeping all these balls in the air is no small feat –– and there’s no way I could do it without the help of a few key online tools. These programs are essential in allowing me to manage my projects and stay sane at the same time.

From scheduling to sketching, these are the 5 online platforms that I use daily as an interior designer:

1. DUBSADO: A must for all small businesses owners, interior design or otherwise, I tell everyone I know about Dubsado. If you’re looking for a program to help you manage the administrative to on-boarding processes of your business, Dubsado is your new best friend from project start to finish. You can create custom proposals, write up agreements, and invoice through this client CRM and project management tool. Since implementing Dubsado almost a year ago I’ve learned what not to do, but also how to streamline ways to get my clients set up and the projects started with so much ease, I’ve also been complimented on the presentation!

2. IVY.CO: I started using Ivy the moment I went out on my own (almost 2 years). Not only is the software fantastic, with consistent updates and amazing customer support, the community of amazing designers, vendors, any similarly minded business owner can’t be beat. Specifically, I’m listed on their ‘Discover’ page, which includes a list of VDA’s, bookkeepers, Social Media Gurus (check out the ladies of Wingnut Social), purchasing agents, and many more. The founders of the company, Lee Rotenberg and Alex Schinasi, are down to earth ladies who are clearly passionate about their company, designers, and the industry. Oh, I’ve also presented a webinar via Ivy!

As you may already know, Interior design is a particular business with particular bookkeeping needs. Ivy is here to answer those needs. You’ll find tools to create and manage purchase orders, track time, and handle accounting and reporting. If you’re a Quickbooks user, you can even sync your Quickbooks Online account with Ivy. Note: If you find this helpful please mention me as a referral!

3. ACUITY SCHEDULING: Your business is busy! And that’s awesome. But, that also means you have more appointments, more phone calls, and more meetings to keep track of. Acuity has been a lifesaver for charting out my days and knowing who I need to talk to when. I use Acuity to schedule all of my training sessions and consultations –– and I never find myself wondering, “was I supposed to call her at 1 or 2?”. Want to test it out, schedule a New Client Consult using the scheduler in this post to set up a time to talk about a project I can help you with!

4. CHIEF ARCHITECT AND HOME DESIGNER: Okay, if you’re a designer and you work with anything in the technical realm, I’m sure you are well acquainted with both Chief Architect and Home Designer (if not check out my previous blog posts for more information)! These are the programs that bring designs to life. They are the reason why I decided to dedicate my business to helping other designers turn their rough drawings and memo boards into beautiful, 3D designs that feel real to their clients. There are a few versions of each, which have varying characteristics that my tailor well to your own projects and work.

In order from simplest to more detailed:

Home Designer Suite (the 2020 upgrade removed the earlier two versions, Essentials and Interiors)- the now most basic options for HD and CA users, the HD Suite is great for E-designers or those of you looking to incorporate 3D modeling/visuals, but not worried or needing drawings or realistic renderings.

Recently completed rendering using Ray Trace in Chief Architect X11. Designed by:  Jane Ann Design s.

Recently completed rendering using Ray Trace in Chief Architect X11. Designed by: Jane Ann Designs.

Home Designer Architectural is the next step up. It includes more rendering options, but is still very limited in drawings and construction documentation.

Home Designer Pro is my primary directive to most Interior Designers, even more than Chief Architect. At a price tag of $500 (not including any future upgrades), you have access to over 8,800 catalog items (including Brizo, Kohler, Wolf, Subzero, GE, etc), along with the ability to format ‘layouts’ to single page title blocks. Additionally, as a VDA who uses Chief Architect Premier, this is the version that works seamlessly with CA. I have some designers hire me to process their renderings after they’ve formatted them… or even just have me model and draft their CD sets and save so they can make the future edits themselves. For a direct comparison of Home Designer Pro (2019) and Chief Architect X10 (both have sense been upgraded for the better), check out my previous bloc post, An Interior Designer's Guide to Home Designer Pro vs. Chief Architect Interiors.

Chief Architect Interiors is second to my recommendation for Interior Designers. You have most of the same benefits (or at least what most ID’s are looking for) with out some of the Mechanical bulk in the full version of CA Premiere. It also includes the option for Ray Tracing and PBR, both explained in the blog post noted above.

Chief Architect Premiere is what I have (in addition to my alternate subscription of HD Pro so I can send work to my assistant without the additional price tag of $1600 for another product key). When you look at my renderings, CD’s, and other details, they are modeled and rendering in this full version. With its much hefty price tag, theres more than enough included to make most Interior Designers’ heads spin. With my architectural background, however, it’s the more bereft version of the commercial and larger team option, Revit by Autodesk.

5. ADOBE CREATIVE SUITE: I’ve used Adobe programs daily since college, and it’s a monthly subscription that has earned its keep. The Adobe Creative Suite includes InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Spark –– all of these programs have their place on the small business owner or interior designer’s desktop.

Rendering I did, for a house I designed in Texas. Design-Build/employer: Orlowski & Hansen, LLC  This was achieved using Chief Architect x8 and the watercolor rendering option, vegetation was added and edited via Photoshop.

Rendering I did, for a house I designed in Texas. Design-Build/employer: Orlowski & Hansen, LLC

This was achieved using Chief Architect x8 and the watercolor rendering option, vegetation was added and edited via Photoshop.

InDesign is my go-to for mood boards and presentations. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, its 100% worth the time to review it, especially if you’re wanting to up your game from the more antiquated Powerpoint option. InDesign is constantly ‘tuned on’ on my computers, I generally use it before my other major Adobe software. In one software you can design something as small as a logo (which I then convert to illustrator) all the way to a 450+ page book (in kind to the Sola Salon Book my gal-pal and fellow VDA and Sketchup-Master, Sarah Durnez of Loft Design, and I worked on together). The Adobe Cloud option made it even more seamless!

Photoshop should be in the technical arsenal of every designer. Its that saving grace software which can really easy those little ‘oh s***’ moments and keep your projects (and renderings) moving with out investing too much time and money. In addition to InDesign, this is also a software that is open more often than even Chief Architect!

Illustrator is the savings grace for any vector graphic or poorly drafted CAD elevation you hope to render. Its my go to for logos (both custom and rebuilt), editing illustrations that need to remain crisp (it won’t pixelated your pdf’s and png’s like Photoshop). Above all other software provided by Adobe, these are the three I highly, highly recommend to every designer. So much so, I’d be happy to start providing training if you’re interested!

Spark is my new addiction for quick presentations and digital marketing design. It even scanned this website to figure out what my branding colors are!! What?!?! Oh, and its FREE!

So, fellow designers and small business owners, do you use any of the programs in your own business? Do you have questions for me about how I utilize these programs? Let me know! I’m always happy to talk shop and share what I’ve learned.

*This post contains affiliate links, but in no way sways my use of the products noted above. I have used each of these continually for a minimum of over a year and highly recommend them all!