Step One – Define your brief
From the outset of the process, having a clear idea of your brief before approaching a designer is a good idea. Think about what exactly you are looking to accomplish and how a designer can assist you in this process. At CDD, we always recommend our clients to list their main aims for the project, considering how they want to use the existing space and perhaps a potential aesthetic that they want to achieve. Also, consider and communicate from the beginning the make or break factors of the project. This could be a strict budget or a non-negotiable time-scale in which the works need to be completed. Having this discussion early on with your potential designer will help to avoid any misunderstandings or disappointments later down the line.
Step Two – Check the credentials
During your initial research, check that you are hiring someone who has the right qualifications in architecture and interior design. This will ensure that the practice conforms to strict guidelines on health and safety, insurance and quality management schemes. You wouldn’t want to put your trust in someone who is not qualified for the job!
Step Three – Do your background research (and read reviews!)
Narrowing down your search for a designer could be made easier by doing a little bit of background research. Ask around family, friends or neighbours whether they have anyone they could recommend. Reading reviews can also give insight into the designer’s approach and professionalism – something you want to determine from the very beginning of the process!
Step Four – Similar schemes
There are many designers that carry out an array of different types of projects but picking one that has worked on similar schemes to yours is extremely useful. Think of it in this way, you probably wouldn’t want to pick an architect who works mainly on large-scale hospitality schemes if you want them to help with your rear extension. Have a flick through their work examples and gauge whether their level of experience when it comes to carrying out similar works.
Step Five – Matching aesthetics
While you are evaluating which designer would be best suited for the job in terms of their experience, analyse their portfolio of work and see who matches your ideas in terms of aesthetic. But also, don’t be afraid to enquire with the practice if they could show you some similar examples to your potential scheme. If the designer is local and the previous client does not mind, you could ask to visit the completed scheme and get a first-hand feel for the designer’s work. Trust your instincts and go with what you are drawn to – and also make a pro/con list to help you narrow down your search!
Step Six – Location, Location, Location
Where is your designer located? This is often something people do not place much importance on. However, a designer who is in close proximity to the property usually means they will have more personal involvement with the project. It is also extremely helpful when it comes to coordination on-site or if issues arise and decisions need to be made quickly.
Step Seven – Knowledge of the area
A local designer is not only useful when it comes to site visits and coordinating with contractors, there is also the added advantage that they will have worked with the local authority around the area. This will be extremely useful when it comes to the planning stage and especially if your property is situated in a conservation area or is listed. While there are no guarantees your scheme will gain approval, a designer with knowledge of the local planning system and experience in designing homes that adhere to the planning policies will have an added benefit.
Step Eight – Understanding the timeline
Enquire as to how long the designer estimates construction will take (worst and best case scenario) and ask about timescales for key points in the process including:
- Turnaround time for architectural drawings for planning
- The timescale for obtaining planning permission and how long the permission will last
- The timescale for building control approval
- How long the tender process can take
This will allow you to plan your time more efficiently from the beginning and will help you determine who will be the best fit for the job if timing is a key factor. This will be particularly important if you are moving into temporary accommodation while the building process is on-going.
Step Nine – Make a shortlist
Making a shortlist of designers you are interested in talking to about the potential scheme is worthwhile. Most places will offer a free initial consultation to give you a feel of the services the practice offers. When you have firmed up your shortlist, invite them to site to discuss the proposal in a little more detail. This will also give you the chance to see if you can comfortably communicate with them – Remember: construction work is a journey and you need to choose the person that you feel is the right fit to join you on this process.
Step Ten – Fee structure and project involvement
When you have narrowed down your shortlist of potential designers, they should provide you with a proposal for the works that will break down their fees and their involvement during the different stages. Read this carefully and understand what they are charging for. Designers have different ways of working out their fees but for instance with an architect/architectural designer; they will usually base their fee on a percentage of the build cost. Make sure when reading their fee proposal that they have clearly stated how far they will be involved. For example, when working with an architect, have they quoted for RIBA stages 0-4 (up to construction) or is project management (Stages 5-6) included in the fee? Whatever you require for your scheme, make sure it has been clearly written and both parties are in accordance before starting any work to avoid any confusion or potential arguments later down the line.