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  • Writer's pictureTraza Design

Working with an architectural designer - Special Considerations

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Continuing with our series, "working with an architectural designer" we will discuss some special considerations an individual client building for themselves should keep in mind. This is written for that individual who has rarely obtained experience working with designers or is not too familiar with building construction. There are some expectations you may have that differ from normal industry practice. One example is understanding that a designer expects to be paid for their services whether the client decides to proceed with construction. Throughout this article we will investigate some other considerations for an individual client.

"Design Creep"

"Design creep" is when the design cost creeps into the construction budget. For this reason, it is extremely important for the client to understand that the design budget is separate from the construction budget. Special care should take place to inform your designer of any construction cost limitations. A knowledgeable designer will ask this question as soon as possible whether it is the initial client meeting or is a project questionnaire form where general information about the client and project are gathered. "Design creep" can easily take the project cost beyond client's expectations. Have a conversation with your designer about this topic and if possible, make sure it is clear on your agreement. The most important thing between a client and their designer is strong communication.

"Schedule Creep"

"Schedule creep" is a remarkably similar idea to the design creep. Is the expectation that the schedule for the design is a part of the construction schedule. This must be controlled as it can delay a project beyond the anticipated construction commencement or completion date. Have a dialogue with your designer concerning schedule. Describe to them any major milestone dates you need to hit and listen carefully for any review processes that need to occur during the design phase of the project. The involvement of an architectural designer from the beginning is not only important for the drawings they can prepare but mainly through the knowledge they can offer you.

Business and personal affairs

Often clients will mix in their business and personal affairs. If a business use is involved, a client should make note whether they own the business or are part of a business entity such as a partnership. Who is the point of contact in this set up and who the billings should be addressed to? This is also important because during the design phase a designer will need definitive answers to multiple questions, and it is best if they came directly from an authoritative figure. This is also true when it comes to married couples or partners in civil unions. A client's spouse or domestic partner may not be bound by an agreement entered solely by the client. Similarly, as a client you should understand the business structure of your designer.

Baseline Services

Architectural designers tend to divide their services into two categories: "basic services" and "additional services". Additional services are services that are not a part of the standard services that the designer may offer. Discuss and make it clear with your designer what specifically falls under the "basic services" category and what is not covered. If possible, make sure this is clear within the design agreement. This is important as it will help create an understanding between owner expectations and design services available. Each designer's "basic services" may differ, so it is important to have this conversation as early as possible. Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you use the same designer for two different projects, their "basic services" may also differ as each project is unique and may require different types of services. Sometimes "additional services" cannot be avoided because of the nature of the project. As a client it is better not to assume and take care to provide as much risk management as possible.

Delivery Method

Do you know your project delivery method? Do you know what project delivery methods your designer can offer? If these are unknown, having a conversation with potential designers is important. You may require a fast delivery of services, but your designer may not be equipped for such delivery. On the other hand, your designer may be a part of a design-build team that will allow you to only have one point of contact that will work together in both design and construction alleviating your need for two agreements. Services, timeline, cost, and overall quality of a project are affected heavily on the project method that is selected. For more information about project delivery methods, check out our article: Selecting a Project Delivery Method for Your Next Project - At a Glance.

Intellectual Property

This can be a difficult topic for a client to understand and ultimately accept. The drawings, details, renderings, and any other form a visual representation belongs to the designer. A client has no ownership of the drawings they are provided for the services they paid. This is ultimately a good thing for a client. Simply put, a client cannot use the same design that was created for one project and use it in another. No building project is the same. Even if two buildings are constructed in a similar location, the timeline may be different and thus affecting prices, system availability, material continuity, etc. This provides a level of risk management to an Owner. Drawings provided by an architectural designer for your project are uniquely created to provide you with a project that fits into your schedule, budget, aesthetic preferences, and system needs. These drawings are then seen as a loan from the designer to the client for the sole purpose of the project that they were hired for and nothing else.


Ultimately, communication is key for a designer-client relationship. Everyone involved wants a good project with no delays, no major changes, no cost increases, and little to no conflicts. Potential clients should seek an architectural designer for the value that they can provide to the project team. They can provide more than the deliverables they offer and can be your main resource for risk management. They can be your partner during the long and difficult process of building construction.


How can we help?

Do you need a design partner? We can help! We would love to collaborate with you on your next project. Our involvement in a project is most valuable at the earliest stages of a project. This is because most big decisions often with the biggest consequences are made. We want to provide you with professional advice when it matters most. We offer architectural design services and construction documentation. Visit our website to learn more.


Jorge Saenz
Jorge Saenz

Very helpful information! Keep up the great work!

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