Serving the general public means that our services must be anything but generic. Our clients are at different stages of their lives with different incomes and different needs in terms of design services.
One challenge we encounter is learning how to adapt to a particular project's needs without sacrificing great design and service in order to satisfy our client's project goals. We do that by honing in on where exactly the client is seeking to add value, asking the deceptively simple question:
What Do "Design Services" Mean to You?
Your answers, to the above question, may look like one or all of the following three points:
- conceptual design and visualization (DESIGN)
- permitting or pricing drawings (DOCUMENTATION)
- construction process guidance and expertise (ADMINISTRATION)
All three are well within the architect's wheelhouse, and full services involve continuous involvement in all of these areas, which is ideal for complex projects. Traditionally, architects are heavily involved in a project from conception to completion. However, we understand that some clients need more specific help getting over just one or two of these humps en route to realizing their building goals. This may mean assistance just with a concept, putting to paper what a solution to a known problem might look like; this then could be conceptually priced. An organization now has some guidance for a real fundraising goal. Or, perhaps you're rebuilding a dilapidated family heirloom home, and you need less help developing ideas and more help on the permitting and pricing. We find it's best to listen to the story first, and offer our proposed role later.
These three items correspond to the three major components of any project:
Design - Documentation - Administration
Does design matter? The answer is always yes, but to some clients it matters more than others. From functionality to aesthetics, design brings resolution to challenges you may not yet be able to perceive. Don't just skip this phase because you have a napkin sketch by friend who watches a lot of Chip and Joanna. An experienced design professional can study a plan quickly and create new ways of adding value your project. The design phase also addresses zoning requirements and neighborhood context with an eye toward streamlining the approval process. Most importantly, the design phase is where your curiosities can be explored in collaboration with your design professional and is a great time to answer all of your "what ifs?", and perform a check up on how much those "what ifs" can cost (or how much money they can generate!)
Let's say you've got a pretty strong idea for what you need, and a trusted contractor ready and willing, but you're not quite sure how to get started making sure everything is safe and legal, and getting all the approvals in place for a permit. Are you allowed to have that detached apartment in the back for airbnb's? Just how close can you get to your neighbor's fence? Are you in a district where historic requirements may control some aspects of the building's appearance? And wait, didn't the flood maps just change? We can tell you what information you need to pull together, and produce drawings of what you want to do to get all OK's needed from the neighborhood, city or state entity that you need to deal with. We can also let you know how long these things will take - important information when making a financial plan! We can document on a sliding scale as well - just what you need for approvals, or a complete description of everything you are buying from the contractor. More documentation beforehand = less surprises for your checkbook!
Maybe you have a solid plan on a couple sheets of graph paper, and you're doing a small project that doesn't need too much in terms of approvals - now you head to the bank, where they stump you with some quantitative questions that you're unable to discern from your crystal ball. How long will the project take? Who will be doing the work, and who will be making sure the work is acceptable? And most importantly, how much will it cost?? You can talk to an architect, and when you do, it's important to be ready to talk money. You talk with your financial planner freely about your finances, right? If architects are helping you with one of the biggest investments you'll ever make, they need to have an honest discussion with you about what you can afford, and they can help bring your vision and your budget into alignment.
What do "design services" mean to you = Where do you want to add value?
Once you have determined where you are looking to add value, you are ready to have your first conversation with a design professional about your project. You may still be unsure of the process and that's okay. The American Institute of Architects also has a great website called TopicA for clients looking to understand the benefits of hiring a design professional. You've read this far - you must be serious about your investment. It's never a flawless journey, but architects have planning skills that will add value on multiple fronts and help you achieve your project goals!