Broadening Your Design Base

Opportunities for Building Designers Part 9 of 20

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Let’s look at broadening your design base. You might be a Leonardo de Vinci yourself and be capable of handling all the facets of total design, but the chances are you are not.

Recognizing your abilities and shortcomings is probably the first step to establishing a broader base of design operation.

Many successful architects are lousy designers and will admit it. However, they know how to tie a project together, and how to hire the right personnel to do the designing as well as how to keep peace on the design team.

Many other architects are great designers and lousy businesspeople.

Most successful architects and building designers have tried to develop their taste and judgment so that they create the design concept themselves or so that they can readily direct their design team in such creation.

They then take a significant role in client contact and the development of new business plus a management role in the design team.

Can building designers reasonably operate in this manner? It would seem so, providing they can handle it. Yes, there is every reason for an interested building designer to search out the possibilities of expanding his practice in this manner.

In general, the most necessary services include:

  • Site Planning
  • Building Design
  • Civil Engineering (Grading, Drainage, Etc.)
  • Structural Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering (Air Conditioning, Plumbing, Etc.)
  • Specification Writing
  • Interior Design
  • Landscape Design
  • Graphic Design

It is a good idea to have an accountant and a management consultant on hand.

If a building designer were to offer to perform all the above services, he would be headed for trouble with various state boards.

However, it is eminently possible for a designer to gather a group of qualified persons with the proper licenses and to speak in the name of the group when offering complete design service.

There is also no need for massive expense in advance for such an offer. While a few professional engineers have been confused by their organizations on the subject of working with building designers, you will find that most engineers are hardworking and sincere, like yourself.

They can see the advantage of being associated on a joint-venture basis on large projects where they otherwise might not have a chance.

However, it is essential that the group consolidate before the offering of those services.

Not only are we told that is legally essential, but it is a much better business since you can present a brochure showing the background and experience of individuals who would work on the job.

How do you get the work?

If you have been reading everything said in this publication, you are aware by now of the value of contacts. The reason for public relations is to identify you as a building designer with those people who may ultimately need your services.

Were you to establish a group as outlined above, that fact in itself is newsworthy and should be reported to those newspapers and magazines read by your potential clients.

Also, a group of this type deserves a professionally prepared brochure describing the group qualifications to perform complete design services.

As a part of your agreement with the members of the group, it is wise to require that each member of the group call on designated clients from a master list to acquaint those clients with the available service and to leave a copy of the brochure.

By making a master list, there is less chance of duplication or oversights.

Such a group is eligible to perform design services for the largest clients including state, country, and local government agencies.

Military bases retain firms of this type all the time. Saturation of the market is a crucial element in public relations.

How to prepare for broadening your design base:

Assuming you are qualified at your specialty of building design, focus your preparation on which role you will accept in the group. Are you the leader of the group or one of the participants?

There has to be a captain of this ship, a chairman of the group, an arbitrator, and if that is you, your preparation should include knowledge of how such a group works and how to achieve the best results from a group effort.

There are college-level classes available in “group leadership,” and “the dynamics of participating groups.” There are also excellent books available in the library.

You may be one of the fortunate who seems to know how to stir up enthusiasm intuitively and lead a steady team pace.

Preparation for the leadership of such a group requires that you know enough of the technical side of each member’s field to be able to tell that the design is in keeping with the concept and that one of the team members is not making a monument at the expense of the others.

Most architects receive adequate training in school to be able to handle such coordination properly. You will be competing with that education, and you should try to fill in any gaps in your knowledge.

How to handle broadening your design base:

Your client expects to receive a wholly coordinated and correct set of construction documents for their money. They expect your group to do all of the checking and coordination and not to get involved in it themselves.

They want to be constantly aware of the progress of the job and want one individual to whom they can turn to for information at all times.

For that reason, it is wise to assign a project manager for each project. Let that project manager have full responsibility for running the job, which is standard practice in most large offices.

You will have to assign budgets to each of the participating individuals, and one of the best methods of doing this on medium size projects is to split the fee in advance, according to the amount of work each will be contributing.

Your contract with the owner must be specific about payment for changes, of course, to avoid exposure to considerable extra design costs that are hard to allocate to the individuals.

As complex as these projects can become, they are highly remunerative and are well worth the effort of securing.

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