When you are immersed in continuous change you sometimes don’t always take the time to appreciate when added-value gets delivered to the client as you have moved onto another project. An exercise undertaken last year subsequently led to extensive academic research into looking for ways to reduce or eliminate architect- led bias at the design stage.
How many times have you heard the word ‘architect signature design’ or clients saying, ‘ oh we left the design completely up to the architect’? Now how many times do you hear ‘ I wish we had put more thought into the design; it doesn’t work for us now that we have more people living in the house’ or when presented with a design’ that’s not what I had in mind or worse’ why are so many things changing at the build stage’.
So, here’s the thing; architects are trained to gather a brief in terms of the functionality of the space but they are not trained to interpret the human mind unless they completed additional training. When clients approach an architect to carry out design work there is a certain element of distance automatically put between them and the ‘designer’ with automatic assumptions being made that place the client in the design minority. However, research suggests that everyone is a designer (Rittel, 1987), albeit everyone designs on occasion but not always and the word design is not so much a monopoly as a verb, rather an output and contributor to the products it creates. Involving the client as the user is an essential component referred to as Human Centered Design so begs the question why the client is not core and central to the process from the outset?
We need to create a dialogue first and foremost in a mutually understood language so that trust can be built, and common ground established. Architecture needs to engage all our senses and connect one’s self with the wider world and it is less about the technical dynamic than it is about self-consciousness (Pallasmaa, 2012). So together we have created a Design Questionnaire that covers all aspects of a new home build, on a room-by-room basis and uses images accompanied by emotive words to capture how a client is feeling when presented with the images.
For example, contemporary is a common style the practice is asked to design for new build homes at present. However, almost immediately there is a conflict between the client’s idea of what contemporary is and that of the architect. Just yesterday a prospective new client was giving a brief over a video call to one of the team; the standard 4- bedrooms, etc, oh and contemporary -style. The client in question was interviewing several architects to find their styles and obtain quotes. The client was subsequently sent on the Design Questionnaire to understand how different styles of homes, art, fashion, room styles, furnishings made them feel and more importantly to impart on the client that good design is about interpreting what they want and need and making it work around regulations and budget. It also allowed the team to price based on the level of detailed design work required, ensuring the architect priced accordingly and correctly. More importantly the practice has been able to ensure business continuity in the current restricted climate by engaging in a thorough manner with the client.
The important thing to remember is that customer interaction requires just that, interaction. No architect can, nor should bear the weight of coming up with THE sole design for a client. How do they know what the client has experienced, because herein lies the answer to a lot of the design intent for their new home. Neither party can see into each other’s minds so creating value-add tools that augment the experience for all are both necessary and vital. Having them available by remote access during these times makes them all-the-more valuable.
Karen Douglas is a Black Belt Lean Practitioner and Director of Dwellbeing