In my 42 years in this industry, I’ve noticed quite a few things about the common experiences we all go through during the design process. Observing and understanding these human experiences, there seem to be four universal truths about nearly every project we do.
By laying them out here, I’m hoping that your own design process will be served by having an awareness of these very human issues and how to manage them.
Let’s go through them one by one:
There is Always More Project Than Budget
Whether we are in the local car dealership, the computer store, or planning a vacation, it’s very human to start at the top, looking at what we would love to have if money were no object. However, we usually end up settling with something that still looks fine, feels wonderful, and does everything we need it to do while still meeting our financial goals for the purchase.
Designing a construction project is no exception to this rule. People understandably want more project than their financial goals may allow for, especially as very few people have a professional intuition for the costs involved.
And while it is simple, quick, and free to value engineer your new car by simply crossing out the things you don’t want on a piece of paper, the value engineering process for construction is a little more complicated, but the good news is, a well crafted design process that includes value engineering will easily pay dividends many times over before and during construction.
Insist on a well considered, step by step, written process for value engineering in your contract with your design and construction service providers.
Good Design is Always an Iterative Process
You know, there’s just no such thing as a human who gets it right the first time. The first draft is never published, the prototype never goes to the factory. The iterative design process reflects a human conversation, evolving over time, about what feels right to the client, making sure it does everything it should, and most importantly, making it fit the budget.
Each iteration of that conversation adds more detail, better functionality, and focuses in on the budget as all the projects elements are explored and developed, line by hundreds of lines.
True for ballpoint pens, true for space shuttles, and certainly true for the architectural design process.
The Wider the Gap Between the Desired Project and the Funds Available, the More Iterations are Required
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a better experience from your home or business, who doesn’t? The best practice to begin that conversation is to make sure there are realistic financial expectations, because it just makes sense that the more distance there is between the cost of a desired project and the funds allocated for that project, the more design and costing iterations will be required to close the gap between those two numbers.
More iterations of the design, costs more money to produce, especially if you are doing them during or after any structural design or permitting process. Believe me, you do NOT want to do those two things twice.
We keep the number of iterations to a minimum by involving the expertise of professionals using current methods and estimating software from the very start. However, with the current trend of design/build firms, or design firms doing joint ventures with builders as required by many municipalities in the San Francisco bay area, that expertise is now in-house, and costing is now a PROCESS, not a product, and is made part of the conversation right from the very start.
The Right Time to Ask Questions is at the Beginning
It’s a very human thing to want to drive our own bus, define our own process, master our own destiny. So how should the average client, who may have little to no experience crafting a design and build process, proceed? The right time to ask the right questions is at the beginning of the design process, not at the middle or end. Asking these and other questions of your design and build service providers will result in the fewest number of design iterations, construction change orders, keeping costs down for both design and construction, and that is what we consider to be a successful project.