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Evaluating Design: how your project can have integrity

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For many, the merits of hiring a design professional for a project are obvious. For some, however, the value added by a design professional is not readily apparent. To understand how a design professional adds value to a project, one must first learn how design is evaluated. If all design is created equal, then it doesn’t make sense to hire a designer with extensive training and expertise. However, if it is established that some designs are better than others, then a value proposition can be made. Let’s look at how designs are evaluated to understand why hiring a qualified design professional adds value to a project.

Design is a process. Creativity ebbs and flows, and must be given time for discovery, reflection and execution. Most designers go through a process of reasoning and questioning that seeks to uncover the root values behind a design. For a client, this would mean discovering and articulating their needs and desires. Design evaluation questions range from broad over-arching themes to extremely specific details. The answers to such questions provide an outline for how the design is conceived, refined, and implemented.

The first set of questions should aim to establish a purpose and a goal. To establish purpose, a good set of questions would include:

  • Do I want to do this? (What is my project? What do I want to get out of this endeavor? What needs will it meet or desires will it fulfill? What practical steps will it include?) This question establishes a basic scope for the project and desire to move forward.
  • Can I afford to do this? (What is the cost of a project of this scope? What is my budget? Do I get all of the things I want for this price? What do I have to give up or sacrifice to ensure my project is affordable? Is there any other method or project I should consider as an alternative?) This question establishes an ability to pay for a project before diving in.
  • Should I do this? (What is my motivation for pursuing this project? Am I going to be satisfied with the project when it is completed? Is there any ethical concern which would prevent me from pursuing a project like this? Am I getting a good value with this project?) This question uncovers the emotional aspect of a purchase and seeks to establish a line of reasoning for pursuing a design project.

As an example, I recently went through these questions with my husband as we sought to purchase a vacant lot on which to design our future home. Our questions and answers went something like this:

  • Do I want to do buy a city lot and build a house on it? Yes – the existing homes for sale are not appealing to us, we want to live in the city, and we want to build our own home that we design.
  • Can I afford to buy a city lot and build a house on it? Yes – our financial situation is stable, we have a clear budget in mind that is within our means, and the alternatives available to us are of equal price but lesser value (real and perceived).
  • Should I buy a city lot and build a home on it? Yes – part of our goal is to provide space for both a future family and regular guests; alternatives do not meet these desires. We are able to provide a unique home for ourselves, our future family, and our friends to enjoy. This project will accomplish both a personal and career goal.

Once these general questions have been answered and it is established that a design project is feasible and desired, the next set of questions should establish a clear goal for the design. If we take the example of designing and building a new house, some questions would include:

Am I building this house for myself, or for a family? Am I expecting a large number of guests to visit my home? Am I designing a home that will serve my immediate needs only, or be flexible to meet future needs as well? Do I place more importance on beauty, functionality or ease of maintenance?

These practical, broad reaching questions begin to uncover how a design should function, and which needs are most important to meet. These questions begin to guide the design’s appearance and functionality. For a home, it would determine the floor plan, how the rooms are arranged in relationship to one another and how much overall space is required. These questions would also begin to determine the material choices and what the overall mass of the building looks like.

After the basics of the design are worked out, a design professional can begin to evaluate the overall shape and function in more detail. By asking a set of detailed questions that relate to both theoretical and practical ideals, the design is molded into something unique that responds to the individual client. Many of the detail questions will focus on how the design meets the needs and desires of the client by incorporating a definition of beauty, outlining how the design should function, and balancing whether the design should stand our or blend in with surroundings. A good design professional can uncover how a client makes decisions: based on behavioral habits, emotions, or a logical thought process. By understanding how decisions are made, a good designer can anticipate the client’s wishes and incorporate them into the project. An example of a detailed question that meets a larger goal could be about counter top material choice.

Do you prefer granite, butcher block or quartz?

Many would choose granite because it is a popular option, but a design professional can help you evaluate what is the best choice for you.

Are you aiming to impress friends or keep up with the latest trends? Do you want something luxurious or simple? Do you prefer the feeling you get when you are around warm, natural materials? Do you want to have unique materials that are uncommon in other homes? Do you value easy maintenance above all else?

Answering these practical questions will help you decide between granite, butcher block or quartz.

Beyond the designer’s ability to address the practical considerations of a project, they add integrity to a design. A design that has integrity means it was created in such a way that was consistent in concept, value, principles and expectations. A design professional can guide a client through a series of reflective questions, clearly articulate the client’s needs and desires, and produce a design of superior value by adhering to a value standard established through proper design evaluation. Designs with integrity are rare, because few people take the time to go through the design evaluation process and ask the hard questions. Now that you understand how design professionals can add value to a project, consider seeking one out to help guide you through your next project. Doing so will ensure your project is one of integrity.

 

October 18, 2011

7 Comments

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  1. Lee Calisti
    October 26, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    Well written Brinn. I may have to quote you on this sometime in the future. I really like your questions and explanation of the design process. We don’t just sit down and draw.

    • Brinn Miracle
      October 26, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks, Lee. You’re right – we don’t just sit down and draw! Everything has to be evaluated to see if it accomplishes the goal (whatever that may be). Hopefully more people will be interested in asking these questions and will get a better design because of it!

  2. Enoch Sears
    November 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    Brinn, thoughtful and well written post. Drilling down to the specifics like the granite countertop example was especially convincing.

    I’m glad to hear you and your husband are planning on designing and building your own house. I hope you will share the process with the rest of us. Is the Mr. a designer also?

    • Brinn Miracle
      November 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

      Thanks Enoch. I’ll definitely share the design and construction of our home as we go. We won’t be starting for a few years, but I’m sure I’ll do a few design posts between now and then before we break ground. My husband started out in architecture before switching to finance and economics (we met in a delineation class). Now he is a financial analyst, so between the two of us, we make a pretty good team.

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