The design process is a problem-solving exercise, and it begins by understanding a great many issues. These issues, of course, include what is first presented by the client, but many are hidden beneath the surface. Our clients come to us because they need a new building, an existing building renovated, or a combination of the two. The process begins by understanding the client, which in the case of a large organization, is made up of many people with a variety of opinions about what the project is to accomplish. Understanding the priorities of people involved even before understanding the project scope is critical to a successful process.
Most people are not as good at communication as they think they are. By asking questions, a deeper understanding of the client can be achieved, and as a result, a clearer understanding of what is to be accomplished can be found. Meaningful interactions with the decision makers are necessary so that the reasons behind the stated goals are made clear. These initial interactions many times lead in a direction the client did not think possible.
Sample starter questions might include:
- What is your organization best at?
- What are the most important characteristics of your organization type that contribute to its success?
- Which of these does your organization fall short with?
- What opportunities does your organization need to leverage to become more successful?
Capture Everyone’s Vision
It is the Architect’s job to understand the goals of the client so that the best possible solution can be accomplished. There is value in understanding the client’s initial communications in all forms. Clients sometimes bring written words, just want to talk, or in rare cases bring very loose sketches. It is important to draw out of them what is the impetus behind these. When a deeper understanding of their wants and needs is found, the design solution will be more than just satisfying what was initially asked for.
The initial part of the design process is exciting for some clients and a little scary for others. It is the Architect’s job to demonstrate to the client how the design is a response to their wants and needs even if solutions are going in a different direction than their preconceived notions. As part of this communication, it is the Architect’s job to reassure the client that costs or other challenges can be managed.
Earn their Trust
The ideal solution is one that demonstrates an understanding of the client’s organization as well as an understanding of the goals of the project. There have been multiple times I have stood with a client taking in the project after construction when the client has said that this is not at all what I envisioned when I hired you. This is so much better.
My advice to people or organizations who are about to hire an Architect is to find someone you trust and give yourself over to the process. An experienced Architect knows that all issues can be managed, and solutions can be found. There is great confidence that comes from getting to the other side of complex issues multiple times. It is what we do as design professionals and you should hire one that does not create worry, but has experience, confidence, and allows you to relax.
Roger Hartung, Principal, AIA, NCARB
Proud Chicagoan, Cyclist, Backpacking Enthusiast
Mantra: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” – Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock