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How to Effectively Brief a Designer

Briefing a designer is a balancing act between on the one hand fully communicating your aesthetic preferences and functional requirements, and on the other not limiting the designer’s creative output.

The contribution of the building designer to a finished home, garden or commercial building extends far beyond the appearance of the structure or outdoor environment. Good design can enhance the way you live and work. The key point in the design process for you to directly influence the project’s outcome and how effective the designer can be is when you formulate the brief.

The design brief

A thorough and articulate design brief anchors the project. It serves as an essential point of reference for all parties throughout the design and implementation process. It is the tool which best delivers the project as envisaged, on time and on budget.

The ideal design brief addresses the relationship of three core elements: architecture, interior and landscape.  Even if your project involves just one of these, your building designer will benefit from your vision of all three. For example:

  • Do you want to maximize the outlook from the interior of the home to the garden?
  • Will you have a swimming pool?
  • Do you have a vast collection of artwork which you wish to display?
  • Will you have a pivotal piece of furniture to showcase?
  • Do you want the colour palette inside the home to extend outside?

What’s more, the design brief should consider both short and long term requirements:

  • To what use will the internal spaces be put in the short term and how might that change?
  • Will furnishings need to be child-friendly in the future?
  • Will there be any additions to the building in the long term which will influence the layout of the garden in the short term?

Many people are daunted by the prospect of formulating a brief because they think they need to address matters about which they know very little – you don’t. The technical design issues are for the designer to worry about. All you need to do is address the personal elements of the project which deal with form and function, clarify your project expectations and arrive at a budget.

Form

Form addresses questions of appearance; it is all about your style and the things which you like, for example:

  • Do you like contemporary architecture and design or a more traditional style best represented by a particular period?
  • Do you like minimalist interiors or is there another style which best describes your personal taste?
  • Do you like colourful interiors or do you prefer more muted palettes?
  • What surfaces do you like – timber, stone, glass, steel?
  • What finish do you like in furniture – leather, wool, suede?
  • What types of window furnishing do you prefer – curtains, blinds, shutters?
  • Do you like gardens with areas of paving or do you prefer areas that are grassed or pebbled?
  • What types of plants do you like – trees, shrubs, grasses, succulents, flowers?

It is important to avoid making actual design decisions or selections. Leave that to your designer because they have the knowledge and access to products which are simply not available to you. Show them examples of what you like – photos, swatches, tiles – and then leave them to design the spaces and suggest selections in keeping with your preferred style.

Function

Function addresses the use to which the spaces will be put, for example:

  • How many living spaces, bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  • Do you need a guest room with an ensuite?
  • Do you need a study?
  • Will any rooms be multifunctional – used most of the time for one use, say a home office, but occasionally used for another, say a guest room?
  • Will the use of a room change over time, for example a guest room might become the baby’s room?
  • Do you entertain often?
  • If you need an office, for what tasks should it be suitable?
  • What technical requirements do you have for computers, phones, faxes, presentations and entertainment?
  • Do you require large storage spaces?

Once again, as with form, it is important not to make actual design decisions. Let your designer create an outcome which addresses your functional requirements.

Project Expectations

This is where you lay down what matters most to you, for example:

  • While all projects should be sustainable and designers should incorporate sustainable practices into their designs, it may be especially important to you that your project achieves maximum sustainability (even if that impacts on the aesthetics and the budget).
  • If you operate your business from home, it may be particularly important that you are able to hide both household appliances and business equipment and documents at different times.
  • Your priority may be that your home environment be warm and welcoming, child-friendly, pet-friendly, etc.
  • How long you plan to live in the house has an impact; for instance, if you only intend to stay for a short time you need to ensure that you do not overcapitalise the asset.

Examples

A picture is worth a thousand words and for your designer this is very true. Collect photos, newspaper clippings and magazine articles that show elements of form and function that you like. These become important references for the building designer to understand your likes and dislikes.

Budget

Sometimes you only have so much money to spend and need to get an idea of what is achievable for that budget. Sometimes the outcome is paramount and you may need to spend more than you thought. Either way, there is no point in spending too much time on a brief before you know what things cost. Don’t be afraid to ask your designer what about prices and then work back from that to arrive at a budget. Your designer has the benefit of experience costing previous projects and will be able to give you a very good indication of what your project is likely to require. Most important of all: When they tell you – believe them! 

We all secretly harbour the hope that we can achieve monumental outcomes for very little outlay but we can’t. A realistic assessment of what is achievable from the start is the foundation for a successful and stress-free outcome.

Finalising the brief

Never be afraid to seek the help of your building designer in formulating the final brief. By working closely with them you build a valuable dialogue and ensure that you both clearly understand the creative references, functional needs, and roles and responsibilities.

And never be afraid to change your mind at this early stage of the project. Design briefs often evolve and the final brief can be quite different to the original version. The important thing is to take the time to get it right because design changes once the project is under way might cause delays, add to the cost, and even undermine the integrity of the overall design.

A good design brief is the foundation of success. In formulating your brief, you empower your designer to do what they do best with the potential to deliver a project quite literally beyond your expectations or comprehension.