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It’s a well – known saying that to do great architecture one must have great clients.
It certainly sounds easy but ask anyone who works in the profession. They will happily regale many a horror story of lost hours, demotivated architects and designers frustrated with mounting design changes and revisions and never-ending variations throughout a project.

Karen switched sectors from corporate HR and coaching into architecture almost 9 years ago and quickly found herself immersed in the client side of an RIAI practice. It was there that she observed a frequent pattern of activity at the design stages and onto the latter of planning, tendering and build management that was frequently demotivating the design and technical teams and devouring bottom line and profit on fees. This observation would progress into something much bigger.


It was during a Masters in Business in Lean and Continuous Improvement at SETU in 2018 that Karen undertook an Action Research ( live in practice) Thesis on the design stage in architecture.

Karen discovered a way to drastically reduce re-work through re-design and scope creep throughout a project. This was through the introduction of a design protocol document that used a variety of innovative ways to ask questions and probe clients for design choices that are stored deep in the subconscious.

This protocol document has been further refined and is now a design Journal ‘ Coming Home’ that is sent to clients to gather a comprehensive working brief. It also educates clients on the process, terminology and stages of designing spaces. The journal assists the architect by building the more behavioural brief which in turns uncovers the true design brief.

For the client it has allowed them to tell their own story and access memories in their language, thereby speeding up the process of getting the design right. For the architect, designer and practice it has re-allocated professional fees to where they are needed most and re-invigorated teams who want to spend more time designing in optimum flow state.


The process of using lean tools and techniques ( both hard and soft skills) to continually improve how an architect or designer gathers design information has been a tried and tested model in a live practice. Yet, it has yielded results that are not just monetary but career -changing for business owners and employees engaged in the practice of architectural design.

Karen’s role is first and foremost as a coach to the architect and designer by continually helping them find ways to spend as much time on tasks they enjoy and improve their finances through tool building and soft skills training on client brief development for project success.

Karen works with architectural practices and sole practitioners in a CPD Learning & Development Capacity delivering ‘ Leaning into Architecture – Extracting a brief from clients to do right first time design’ online and in person and brings a personable, professional and behavioural science approach to an artistic and technical form.

Karen also works in a design consultancy capacity on a per project basis with architects, engineers, interior designers to produce working client briefs and design strategies that increase the quality of the final design and maintain a healthy profit margin and fee scope.

The most economical way an architect can get to the best design for a project is having all the information at hand before starting to design. The brief gathering element of the design process is hugely important as it can save a lot of time and money. The soft skills needed to put clients at ease are a specialist skillset not taught at architecture school. Combining a humanistic and psychological approach in the journaling unlocks what the client really needs without an architect having to ask a lot of questions. This is not an overnight fix. The clients should have time to journal to understand what they themselves want. By the clients deep diving into their own pasts early in the process the architect is not starting from scratch. This is a hugely important tool to be able to ‘get ‘ the clients and thereby allows a quicker method to reach design freeze.

Ronan McGee, MRIAI Principal, DMG Architects


Design Brief Consultancy

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