I will share with you one of the most valuable lessons that I learned in college … it is the definition of success. Success equals expectations plus one. That is to say, in order to truly succeed - at anything - one must not only meet, but exceed the expectations that exist. This especially holds true in the design process. While I have spent the last several years using this column to address issues related to design, it dawned on me that I had never really discussed the design process itself.
Furthermore, I have noticed that many of my clients are unfamiliar with both the stages in the design process, and what to expect at each stage. So, I felt it was important to spend some time discussing the stages in the process. After all, if the expectations are not clear on the front end, it becomes very difficult to succeed - which is a recipe for disaster and disappointment for all involved.
A Known Sequence
Though I have been challenged on this issue in the past, it remains a fact that the design process is a linear process, with an established sequence of events that must be completed for the best results. In other words, one must complete step A before B, and B before C. Now, can they be completed out of sequence? Yes, they can … but the results are often inefficient and wasteful. Think about the way that we learn to read.
First, we learn the alphabet - what each letter looks like and the sound that each letter makes independently. Then we focus on sounds that result from a combination of letters. "TH" and "SH," for instance, have distinct sounds when placed together that they do not make when they exist on their own. The learning process continues as we learn how to put sounds together to make words. Eventually, we focus on reading several words and then sentences together to comprehend their meaning. The design process is very similar. Each stage in the process builds on work completed in the previous stages - it is a cumulative effort.
Stages in the Design Process
The following section will briefly review each stage of the design process, as well as some of the activities associated with each event.
Masterplanning: This is the first step in the process, where you establish what your project should consist of, and if it should exist at all. The main objectives of this phase are justification of the project and exploration of potential design solutions.
Programming: Once you have determined that the project is at least worth exploring, a narrative should be developed that will describe the scope of the project as well as its various "components," such as the individual areas within a single facility, or facilities that comprise a greater complex. This narrative will often include required adjacencies (areas that must be located one another), desired sizing, and any special requirements or considerations. The program communicates the owner's desires and requirements to the design team in written form.
Concept Design: This is often the first time that the effort includes any form of graphic communication. The conceptual design is the first attempt to translate the written program into graphic form. It will typically consist of Bubble Diagrams, which identify the anticipated location and size of each area in the program. It may also consist of renderings that highlight the exterior, entry, or other key design elements of the project.
Schematic Design: This phase in the design process builds on the Concept phase through the development of Block/Schematic Drawings, geared to identify elements such as walls, counters, and key pieces of furniture or equipment. These drawings focus on defining the footprint of the space, but do not contain a great deal of detail within these "blocks."
Design Development: At the end of this stage, the general floor plan is typically locked in and the detail within each space must be defined and developed. Whereas a bar's locations and dimensions might have been identified in the Schematic Phase, it is in Design Development where the individual pieces of equipment are selected and incorporated into the design. At the end of this phase, it should be expected that all walls, furniture, fixtures, and equipment will have been included on the drawings and clearly identified. While it is not necessary to know the manufacturer of an individual piece of equipment in our bar, it is important to know what equipment is required, as well as the required dimensions and configuration.
Construction Documents: Also called Working Drawings, this stage consists primarily of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) coordination required to make the building function. The "systems" within a building are very similar to those which exist in the body when you think about it - Structural (skeleton), Mechanical (breathing), Electrical (basis of cell communication and activity), plumbing (well, you should be able to figure that one out yourself), etc. This phase requires a significant amount of coordination between a large number of disciplines. It is an extremely important aspect of the design process, as a mistake in this stage can be very costly.
Specifications: Once the Construction Documents are completed, written specifications are developed to convey all of the information to the construction team. These specifications include details on the manufacturer, model number, and any required options for everything from the door hardware to the paint, and the flooring materials to the foodservice equipment. These specifications are then used by the construction team to gather pricing from General Contractors and their sub-contractors.
Cheaper to Change Paper
At the end of the Specifications phase, the design documents will have been completed and the bidding and construction phases will begin. As you read through the phases of the design process, and the activities contained within each, it becomes apparent that there is a sequence of events that must be followed. Can you imagine trying to develop written specifications in the design development phase - before most of the engineering of the space has been finalized?
Only if the entire development team (including the owner) is aware of the required sequence can the design process be effective and efficient. I often encourage clients to hold off on proceeding to the next phase if they are not 100% sure of the current direction. Going backwards is difficult, as it requires both undoing and re-doing the work that has been accomplished. Not only does this require a substantial amount of time, but it also increases the risk of costly mistakes in the development of the drawings.
Throughout the design's evolution, the development team must check back with the previous phases to ensure that the design solution is consistent with the original objective. In other words, at the end of Design Development, and before the initiation of Construction Documents, the team should review and compare their current effort to the end result of the previous phases … just to make sure that they are content with the current direction.
If all is well, then keep chugging along! If all is not well, however, then it is time to stop, review, and address the elements of the design that are not consistent with the overall objective. After all, it is much cheaper to revise the design than to make revisions in the field, in the midst of construction. Stated another way, it is much easier to change paper than it is to change concrete and steel.