Design Process / Steps

Corbin Patten

June 16, 2020

The #1 problem with design and construction has got to be going over time and budget.

On a daily basis, we see people moving projects into the design phase before the research is started. This is like a doctor starting surgery without a thorough diagnosis or trying to build a house on a bad foundation.

0 Pre-Design

Before we get started understanding how to address the elephant in the room. We want to break down a typical process of a project. Right now we call this phase zero because it all happens before design starts and often before you hire an architect or building designer to help you with your project. Phase 1 we call Schematic Design which is takes the information gathered and starts to develop a solution to the problem. This can result in rough sketches of the spaces and ideas of how to formulate a solution to those spaces. Phase 2 we call Design Development which takes those initial ideas and concepts and starts to transition it into a two and three-dimensional model containing floor plans and elevations.Once the overall design is approved we move to Phase 3 which we call Construction Documentation, which is a developed set of drawings that allow the builder to construct your project. This leads us into Phase 4 which is Construction Administration. During this phase we are there to be your advocate by answering contractor questions and interpreting the construction documents.

Now that you have an idea of how the process works, to plan for most projects going over time and budget, we need to start gathering information and understanding your needs.

0.1 Research

Right now, you should be in the Research Phase. This is where you are gathering information and playing around with ideas.  At the point you want to get serious, you will want to check the feasibility of your ideas and understand what the project constraints are.

Gathering Ideas

The best first step is gather as much information as possible which can include images, magazine clips, Houzz boards, and Pinterest boards. It is also important to start making a list of requirements you have for your project. This can include rooms, lifestyle notes, spaces you use a particular way and so on.

Ask The Right Questions

Although extensive schooling and training are required for all Design Professionals, that doesn’t mean all Design Professional are created equal.

Finding the RIGHT Design Professional for you depends on several factors, including: personality, design style, building for taste or to make money, budget and even whether your project requires a specialist skill set.

Choosing the right Design Professional can mean the difference between an enjoyable experience and one plagued with problems and hassles the whole way through once a project moves into the Build Phase. How will your project go?

The questions are the answer …

  • What unique value do you have for our specific type of project?
  • How would you like me to share my ideas, images, needs, wants and research?
  • How can you add value to our home so that we maximize the return on investment when/if we sell?
  • What can I do to help you deliver the best work for us?
  • Do you offer a pre-design analysis service to help move us safely and efficiently towards the design phase?
  • Do you have a team game plan that outlines how we will all successfully work together, even under pressure?
  • What are the specific challenges for our type of project and how have you overcome these in the past?
  • Will you run the tender process to find and select the best construction team?
  • If my budget, timeline and scope of project are unrealistic, will you let me know?
  • What educational material do you provide so we can understand the requirements of our specific type of project?
A great Designer is your Advocate, Teacher, Project Leader and Coordinator.

Find the right expert

Understanding WHAT to do is one obstacle and working out WHO can help you is another. We encourage our clients to be objective and talk to different people in the industry and ask questions.

On a daily basis, our team receives requests for us to recommend design professionals. To make this process easier, we have listed the design professionals that we trust for specific types of projects. Not only do they do a great job, but they provide excellent advice, as well. These are the experts we trust explicitly. If you have other questions about your project, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. If I can’t answer your question, then I’ll direct you to someone who can.

Do You Need A Building Professional?

A building designer’s role is a lot larger than most people realize. When a Building Designer manages your project, they ensure that every part of the process below (and more) is handled to ensure that the biggest investment in your life or career is safe and secure.


  • We only sketch design that a builder uses.


  • Checking the title and, in particular, any easements and land convents that may restrict what or where you can build.
  • Ensuring Compliance with building and safety regulations, local planning regulations and restrictions. Depending on the project, there may be laws surrounding the preservation of the local environment or any historic parts of a building.
  • Leadership - heading up the team of professionals who will work on this stage of the project including builders, tradespeople, engineers, designers and financial professionals.
  • Construction documentation - translates the design into instructions and technical specifications for contractors and construction experts. Ensures those specific cations are met.
  • Project management - site visits and meetings, overseeing the construction and validating quality of work, negotiating with contractors and dealing with and resolving any problems that arise.

This exercise allows you to assess how ready you are to move to the Design Phase. If you are not close to 10 on ALL scales, then it’s best to seek help from an expert to do this research.If you rush into the design phase without this information available, you’ll run the risk of making too many assumptions, which is the # 1 reason projects go over budget and over time.

‘’Measure twice, cut once.” - Builder's Mantra

On a 1-10 scale,

  • How clear are you on exactly what you need?
  • How aware are you of all the various options your site will accommodate?
  • How confident are you that you are aware of all the legal requirements?
  • How aware are you of the process you will need to have in place to get the project completed on time and on budget?
  • How confident are you that you that your budget will achieve your needs?

Give yourself a current overall rating for readiness.

0.2 Analysis Phase

Next is the Analysis Phase by conducting a Needs and Options Review to eliminate assumptions, identify constraints and find your best options. You will receive a document that can be used by me or any other Building Designer that will ensure you reduce project risk and get the best options for your site and budget.

Needs and Options Review

During Needs and Options review we will start by analyzing the 7 questions below. We have a more in-depth questionnaire once people start this process but these questions generally cover a good summary.

Your Question Answer

  • Outline your current situation?
  • How do you live? Is that changing or about to change?
  • What will you need to see to know your project has been a dramatic success?
  • How do you want to FEEL as you move through your new space?
  • Who are the important people this home needs to be designed for?
  • What are the budget, time frames and boundaries we need to work within?
  • What does your home really mean to you?

The #1 Question …

The most dreaded question Architects, Building Designers, builders and every other professional hates has got to be,

How much will my project cost?'  

There are so many variables that a definitive answer is literally impossible. Even worse, the consequences of trying to answer and risk giving ‘bad advice’ will have most experts running away to avoid the question.

The problem is that this question is VERY important. No one can proceed if they don’t have a ball-park estimation of cost. This guide will help you to determine an estimate of overall project costs. Your actual number may be more or less, but it can be helpful to see an estimated figure.

Budgeting Spreadsheet

Similar Articles