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How to select and work with your designer

Once you have completed your feasibility study, and confirmed that you can afford what you want, you can proceed to the design stage of your project. 

To begin the design stage you will need to select a designer and enter into a design contract that records your concerns about cost management.

Meeting with more than one designer will help you find the perfect one for you. We refer to “designers” because whilst most will be architects, it is also possible to use experienced individuals including building surveyors or engineers. Your choice will depend largely upon the nature of your project.

When entering into a contract with your designer you should tell him or her that you desire to follow a staged design management scheme. This allows you to control cost and avoid abortive design. 

One of the most important elements of the contract is payment. The cost of design can be very expensive. It is recommended that you agree a fixed fee for the later stages, but for the first part, the schematic design stage, it is reasonable to employ the designer on an hourly basis. To employ your designer for the whole of the design process on an hourly or percentage basis would be the same as to ask your contractor to work without a fixed sum. The risk is obvious. 

After you have selected your designer and have signed a contract, the fun begins. 

At the schematic design stage your designer only needs to produce hand-drawn sketches. They need to show clearly 1) how you want the final building to look and function and 2) its relationship to the site.

This stage is inexpensive and will take very little time. When the schematic drawing is complete, get your quantity surveyor to price them again. Once you have confirmed you like the design and the budget is still acceptable then you may proceed to the next stage.

This second stage of your design development has the most detail and is where most of the time, and design cost, will be expended. 

During this stage it is very important to have your quantity surveyor provide cost advice to the designer. This will help the designer know what will and what will not fall within your budget. For example, will your budget allow for cedar window frames, stone counter tops or ceramic tiles?

Breaking down your project into the stages described here will keep the control of your project in your hands. Maintaining that control ensures you will like what you see and your project will be within your budget. It really is that simple; it just takes good project management.

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By Chris Potter

Chris is the owner and founder of Chris Potter Associates. He is a highly experienced construction professional with experience as a contractor and consultant quantity surveyor and project manager in the UK and Caribbean construction markets.

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