The Design Process: Overview

Okay, friends, is it okay if I put my ‘professor’ hat on for a bit? As we sneak up on two years in business coming up here on May 5th, I’ve realized that it takes all my fingers and more than all of my toes to count how many times in the last two years folks have asked me to clarify or explain what I mean when I talk about the “Phases of Design” or “the Design Process”. Yes – I’m using capital letters like it’s a formal noun. On purpose. 😉 But also, y’all – I’m totally giving you a quick peek into my former life as a design foundations professor, so you’re all getting a little bit of Design 101 – for FREE. 😉 You’re welcome!

The reality is….the way architects, landscape architects, interior designers, graphic designers, furniture designers, web designers, product designers, etc. ALL work – is by way of a relatively predictable process. For architects, our process goes through pretty clear phases from initial idea all the way up to built spaces, so I thought it might be helpful to introduce you to all those phases, and then take the next few weeks to take you more in-depth to what each of those phases in the process entails. SO – let’s dig in!

  • 1

    Phase 1: Preliminary Design

    (aka: Programming or Predesign) (PD)

  • 2

    Phase 2: Schematic Design (SD)

  • 3

    Phase 3: Design Development (DD)

  • 4

    PHASE 4: Construction Documents (CD)

  • 5

    PHASE 5: Bidding & negotiation (BID)

  • 6

    PHASE 6: Construction Administration (CA)

PHASE 1: Preliminary Design

(aka: Programming or Predesign) (PD) (research)

Before you magically end up with a building, believe it or not, there’s a LOT of investigation that needs to be done on our part to gather all the relevant information and establish the parameters and constraints of the project. We research everything from zoning codes and FEMA floodplains, to permitting requirements and your current and future anticipated organizational structures and/or needs for your spaces. We do surveys, and photographs of your existing space, sometimes help you identify available land for a new building, sometimes analyze 3-4 different potential sites, order a land/boundary/utility survey, potentially test the soils in your selected location. Guys. It’s a lot. And you know what? This is stuff you REALLY don’t want to skip. We NEED to know all of this to know what can and cannot be done with your potential project.

PHASE 2: Schematic Design (SD)

(idea exploration)

Once we’ve got all of that background information collected, a lot of times we’ll have found something about your organization that sparks an idea or leads to some inspiration. Most of the time, we have 3-4 ideas about how the challenge you’ve given us might potentially be solved. Each of those ideas is typically developed into what we call a project “schematic design”. The details aren’t all worked out yet, but we spend a little time exploring multiple ideas, and then present those ideas to you so that you can give us your thoughts. Which one really hit the nail on the head for how you want your project to take shape, or how you want your organization to function, or the look/feel of the first impression when a new client approaches the building and walks in the front door? Normally we discuss, you tell us which one or parts of a couple ideas you are really drawn to, and then we develop the idea further so it starts to feel more “real”.

PHASE 3: Design Development (DD)

(idea development/practical coordination)

Once we get to that point, where we’ve narrowed it down to one big idea and are developing it further, that’s called the Design Development phase. So we drew in a “coffee area” or a break room, but what do you ACTUALLY need in those spaces? Is your staff big enough that you need two refrigerators? Does your family love to cook, so you want a 48” commercial gas range? What kind of cabinet accessories make sense for your needs? How EXACTLY are we going to provide enough shade on the south side of your house so that the bedrooms on the south side of your home aren’t roasting hot while your living room is always freezing cold on the north side? This phase takes the initial big idea and asks, “Okay, now HOW, and with what materials?”

PHASE 4: Construction Documents (CD)

(creating the “how to” manual)

Once we’ve answered those big questions, we’re well on our way to putting together the final set of permitting/bidding/construction documents. They take the “how and with what materials” questions one step further, by attaching dimensions, waterproofing, transitions from one material to another, and additional detail that takes it from a drawing that you can understand, to a set of document that you can use like a kit of parts and instructions for building. We need to provide information that gets to the level of contractually enforceable and clear enough to price/bid. Every piece of trim, every door handle, every sink, faucet, and cabinet knob…it’s all in there. Typically not just paint colors, but also specifically calling out which line of paint, what level of quality, one coat or two, primed before the texture or after, or both? There are a LOT of questions we work to be VERY specific about in these documents.

PHASE 5: Bidding & negotiation (BID)

(get a price!)

After we have those documents finished up, they get sent to permitting authorities and contractors alike. In many cases, those entities might ask for clarifications, or ask to switch a material to a less-expensive option, or one that has a better warranty, or construct a detail in a slightly different way. We work to respond to questions and clarifications as quickly and completely as possible so that they can put together a complete bid in a timely fashion.

PHASE 6: Construction Administration (CA)

(quality control & support for the client and contractor)

When the bidding deadline closes, we help owners evaluate bids and move forward into construction! Once that happens, we’re reviewing shop drawings (like cabinets and trusses and doors/hardware, to name a few big ones!), making site inspections, reviewing substitution requests, attending progress meetings and providing guidance and direction as questions or coordination items arise, and eventually, certifying that the building is complete and safe to occupy.

WHEW. Y’all. That’s just the TIP of the iceberg, but gives a great outline to what the process typically looks like. There are lots of twists and turns within that, but it’s a pretty predictable process, generally speaking. Hopefully that quick primer is helpful, and we’ll be linking some of the jargon-y terms to the phases and clarifications once the series is complete so that you know what we mean! 😊

Stay tuned! There’s more learning to do!