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Communication During the Design Process

Updated on March 7, 2012

Planning New Construction

Plan Before You Start

The above photo is a job site “under construction.” The blue prints were completed for this residence, prior to meeting with the client for the first time. When we were contracted to work with this client, they had what they considered, a full set of plans. None of the kitchen selections had been made, along with too many other selections, all left undecided on the finished plans.

When a client hires an Architect to design a new home, it is a good idea for them to suggest putting a design team together from the start. This can facilitate the process to go much smoother. They are hired to formulate a set of working drawings for the home. Some firms have their own interiors department and/or a "design/build" operation. I prefer to have a separate interior design firm, as well as a separate construction team.

Putting a Design Team together at the very start is a sure way to eliminate a lot of unnecessary confusion. Most Architects have professional resources that they can refer. They usually can suggest different people that are respected in your community and probably someone that they worked with in the past. Working with someone who is referred is always a good idea. The key is to have a team which can orchestrate the necessary "checks and balances," and that can understand your needs.

An Architect will concentrate on designing the plans for the builder to build the home. There are so many decisions to be made during this process, and these decisions involve a comprehensive and thorough understanding of the entire process. Having professional guidance during this process can be very helpful. It helps to understand the products which are out there, their properties, the costs, and where to put your priorities.

If you look closely at the kitchen above, you can see cabinets and you can see empty spaces. A kitchen should not be built without making major selections first. It makes all the difference to plan the space around specific measurements which incorporate the appliances which the homeowner wants to include in their new home.

Sometimes, a client attempts to run a project, and it can result in decisions being made out of sequence. Too many times decisions are put off. Selecting the appliances and designing a space which flows in critical. Selecting the materials for the project can be overwhelming. It can be extremely helpful to work with a knowledgeable sales person. They understand their specific product, and can communicate with the client's design team.

When specifications are put off, the Architect has no choice but to exclude those items in the finished plans. As a result, these selections end up being specified as “NIC.”

Not In Contract…

Too often we see this "NIC." noted on the finish schedule. Basically, it indicates that no selections have been chosen and therefore these items are deleted from the construction costs. Most of our current projects seem to be new construction or major re-models. Clients seem to be primarily concerned with construction documentation. They want professional help in selecting their interior specifications.

I always recommend that any major construction project should begin by selecting "The Design Team." This team is made up of three professionals, an Architect, an Interior Designer, and a Builder. This is the best insurance to facilitate a successful construction project.

“The Design Team”

You’ll be spending a lot of time and money on this project, so make these decisions carefully. Don’t be one of the clients’ that try and find a designer, after things have already become more complicated, than you’d expected!! The objective is to get all of the planning and pricing together, before you begin.

Communication during the pre-construction phase is more important than creativity and/or money. Every project needs money, and creativity is a plus. But without excellent communication during the planning stage, the project can end up being a total nightmare ~ something you wished you had never begun.

Affective team-work during the planning stage ends up keeping the project in budget and on time. There needs to be seamless communication from all parties involved. Cohesive teams accomplish goals, and usually have fewer mistakes.


It's important to keep the project moving. The builder will want to keep ahead of the actual construction, so that supplies are on the jobsite as soon as the various sub-contractors are ready to begin. Back orders and change orders can set a chain reaction of delays. And, this effects the entire process.

The interior designer is the advocate for the client and the liaison between the client and the design team. A good designer will be able to help the Architect and Builder get answers on a timely basis. This helps to keep the project moving and prevents mistakes from happening.

We always include a game planning session at the beginning of each project. The objective is to visualize the project when it’s complete. The client is asked to select five adjectives, which they feel best describes their space, when it’s complete. The objective is to facilitate good communication, and to help the visualization process. Once the words are selected….they become gospel!!

We anchor on those adjectives throughout the process. It helps to keep everyone on track and working towards the same objective. Seasons change, moods swing, and life happens. It’s easy to want to change directions, but changing can have very negative consequences unless the plan is totally re-evaluated.


Most clients seem to feel very comfortable collecting pictures from magazines. It can be very helpful, to save these photos in a “Construction file.” It becomes a very good visual tool. These photos become your voice. They become concrete examples to illustrate your likes and dislikes. Use sticky notes to jot down your thoughts, while they’re fresh in your mind. The notes help to jog your memory. The pictures are great tools to help express details which may be hard to express and therefore can be misunderstood.

Obviously, it is extremely important to feel comfortable with the people you hire. Trust your instincts. It can save you time and money in the long run. The Design Team is hired to represent the client. Their goal is to facilitate your job and to help keep all of the details ~ organized.

Construction involves a lot of decisions. It can be overwhelming and very confusing. Professionals need to be excellent listeners. When a client is trying to achieve a certain look or feel, it's helpful to present three choices which meet the budget constraints. If the choices are not in budget, a red flag should go up immediately.

The Design Team needs to meet at regular scheduled intervals. It's always a good idea to have one person take notes at these meetings. Keep a list of questions that need to be answered. The documentation helps to keep track of decisions as they are made and lists questions which may still need to be answered.

I prefer to complete most of the specifications before the project gets underway. This does help prevent foreseeable problems. Missing items are more easily spotted, thus minimizing costly mistakes. Certain decisions cannot be made ahead. That is normal and expected. Try not to obsess. This is much easier said than done.

Paint selections always tend to be a very stressful time. I usually suggest that we break the project into public and private spaces. Usually the public space is considered the area of the home that includes the Living areas, Kitchen, Dining, etc and the bedrooms and baths are considered the "private areas."

Personally, I tend to like to keep the public space fairly monochromatic. It helps the space flow nicely, and keeps a better sense of continuity. Paint decks are available for a minimal purchase and can help direct the selections when a client wants some variances. It is always advisable to put large samples on several walls. Request that the painting contractor put them up and label each with the appropriate manufacturers’ code. This will help identify the same color in different lighting conditions.

Paint is one decision that can be put off until the end. They usually look different when they are actually put up in the space. By the time you get to the painting stage, the construction phase will be almost complete.

There are so many selections and decisions to be made during the construction phase. A good builder will spot "NIC" items and may suggest that allowances be calculated for undecided items. This is fine in many cases, but it is worthwhile to shop for those items. Check to see if the allowance is adequate for your selection. This helps to keep the project within budget.

Building a new home or preparing for a major remodel can be a wonderful experience. Spend time with your significant other visiting showrooms and formulating ideas together. Try to come up with ideas which work for both of you. Make notes of the things which you both like and be sure to make notes on the items which you may not agree on. If you have different priorities, keep a list of those items. A professional team will be able to walk you through these differences and help in formulating mutual decisions.

Carefully put your design team together before you begin. An Architect, an Interior Designer and a Builder will help to establish a good team. It may seem like an expense that you can do without, but honestly the cost is worth it. In the scoop of the whole picture, it will save you time and money. The result will be a much more enjoyable experience.

Planning and organization are requirements for accomplishing any goal. Successful communication is the result of excellant listening skills. When these ingredients are put together, the result is undeniably the quest of real teamwork.

If you have any specific questions, I would be happy to address those with you directly. You may email those to me or post a question in the comment area below.


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