Design is a process: How to get the best possible solution for your project

Something came up recently which caused me to think. I was discussing a new project with a client and they asked an interesting question: If I had one piece of advice to give them at the start of their upcoming project, what would it be?

My immediate response was that they should ‘think of design as a process’. It then took most of a decent bottle of wine to explain what I meant. This is the abbreviated, and non-alcohol-induced, version!

Commissioning the design of a building, or the design of anything for that matter, is different to most other purchases you are likely to make. Usually, the thing that you are buying already exists which means that you can walk around it, touch it, feel it, smell it and, to some extent, try it out.

In contrast, at the beginning of your design project all you have are some requirements attached to some aspirations, otherwise known as your brief. It is likely that the design solution will take a while to emerge and the eventual building will not become a reality for many months.

This can be frustrating but if you try to see the design process as an opportunity to fully explore your particular circumstances, to really interrogate your brief, then you will be more likely to arrive at a solution that is right for you. With your architect as your guide, you can use the process to evaluate different ideas and in doing so you will find that your brief develops too.

So, design is an iterative process of idea generation and evaluation in response to a problem, and exploring potential solutions allows you to understand the problem better. But there is more to it than that and there are some important pitfalls that are best avoided.

It will take some time to arrive at the right solution and it is important that the process maintains momentum. You don’t want it to run so fast that you don’t have time to process or make decisions but equally it shouldn’t be so slow that you lose track of what has happened and the whole process stagnates. You and your architect need to work together to ensure that it is just right.

Recognisable progress is also key but be aware that this is unlikely to be a linear progression towards the ultimate solution. There will be twists and turns and even dead-ends. When you see design as a process none of that really matters and you will be more relaxed about asking ‘what if’ questions and more open to, seemingly, daft ideas. Daft ideas are often just good ideas put forward out of context and the context will change as the process unfolds.

Building the right kind of relationship between you and your architect is fundamental to the success of your project. As a client, do you want your architect to give you exactly what you ask for or do you want them to give you something that hadn’t occurred to you? That question is best answered by finding someone you can work with and by both parties allowing the design process to take its course.

In summary:

  • Think of design as a process.
  • Don’t expect the ultimate solution to emerge straight away.
  • Considering a number of potential solutions will help you understand the problem in more depth.
  • Keep an open mind and don’t close things down too quickly.
  • Ask ‘what if’ questions and embrace  ‘daft’ ideas.
  • Find someone that you know you will be able to work with.
  • Make sure the process has momentum and is driven to a conclusion.

The design process is the means of arriving at the best possible solution for your project. Having some appreciation of how it works will help your architect give you the building that you want, even if you didn’t know what that was at the beginning.

This article was written by Andy Foster for the May 2017 edition of The Sherborne Times.

Title image: Sam Ryley
Other images: Adam Richardson