In our culture, a lot of value is placed on the DIY ethic, in which it seems we’ve empowered everyone to do just about anything. The result is that people aren’t always prepared to value expert opinion, but instead engage with experts as minimally as they can. This is due partly to the widespread idea that all opinions have equal validity – especially when it comes to the world of design.
It’s often assumed that design decisions are just options or preferences and that design knowledge is less valuable than the knowledge associated with other professions – for example, medicine or the law. I can agree that an aesthetic mistake doesn’t have the same potential consequences as a legal or medical error. However, there is still a wide gap between what the average person thinks goes into a design and what’s actually in a well-conceived piece of architecture. In short, an opinion isn’t the same thing as knowledge, especially when it’s not grounded in sound technical, functional and aesthetic principles.
All of this is by way of a preamble to today’s topic: clarifying the conditions for an optimal relationship between designer and client. Here are what I think are the most important steps for making this relationship a smooth and productive one:
- Careful selection of the designer by the client, based on past work, references from previous clients, and intuition – does this person seem like a good fit?
- Careful attention by the designer to the client’s needs and desires – good listening leads to responsive design proposals.
- Building of trust between the parties
- Mutual education of the parties about the reasons for design decisions
- Preparation of construction documents that encapsulate the agreements and understandings reached by the client and designer, so the builder can execute them
- Engagement of the designer in decisions that occur during construction – to ensure that integrity of the design is maintained to the end of the project
I mention this last step because in any new build or renovation project it may be tempting to cherry-pick a random assortment of ideas from design sites and magazines, but the outcome is likely to be unsatisfying. The designer’s role is to hold the entire project in perspective, allowing the pieces to come together harmoniously while balancing the client’s practical and budgetary needs. To work most effectively on the client’s behalf, the designer needs to be involved at every step of the process – not to micromanage, but to see that the intention of the design is manifested from beginning to end, thus ensuring the quality and integrity of the outcome. If design decisions are worked out in sufficient detail with the client beforehand, and made clear to the builder later, then all parties can go ahead with confidence and do what they do best.
Next time, I’ll look more closely at the roles of the client and the builder, so stay tuned.