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The Anatomy of a Good Design Concept

Updated: May 28, 2021

Coming up with a design concept to complete your design proposal is the essence of being an architect. With many starchitects originating from non-English speaking countries - from the Dutch Rem Koolhaas to the Japanese Toyo Ito, design concepts transcend translations and languages. However, while design concepts are not bound by language, the steps and stages of achieving a successful design proposal requires a good command of English. From collecting client information to conducting the building approval process, these are some tips to delivering a good design concept.

1 Know What Your Client Needs and Wants

To put it plainly, a design concept is the big picture idea or the project's guiding principle. One of the core characteristics of a successful design concept is that it caters to the use of the space. There are various ways in which you can collect information about your client and or/user. One way is to conduct surveys to gain insights into the design goals of your client. You can also do this through meetings, where you can explain your design process and set expectations. Meetings are also a great way to brainstorm and collaborate on design ideas if you find it difficult to speak up or conduct meetings you find it useful to read some of my tips about preparing for meetings to speak up with more confidence.

2 Know Your Site and Surroundings

Site analysis and feasibility are essential to ensuring that the design proposal fits the requirements of the project. Studying the site and its surroundings would illuminate its opportunities and constraints. While visual diagrams can help present the location, orientation, and size of site elements, it is likewise important to communicate these findings to the client.

Some questions you might ask yourself:

How do the surroundings impact the design?

What constraints are driving the design process?

3 Discuss and Secure Agreements and Logistics

Beyond the architectural and design considerations, it is important to flesh out (expand on) the project's practical necessities and logistics. This includes reviewing building codes and relevant block regulations. A successful design proposal also involves establishing and agreeing on the budget and design brief. A deliverable of this step can include the scope of your design services.

Some questions you might need to ask someone:

What planning regulations are impacting the design? If I don't know who can, I ask?

What legal responsibilities do I have?

4 Synthesizing the Information to Produce a Proposal

This stage requires creating a comprehensive design proposal with all the elements into consideration. This involves visualising the form, program and materials of the project. A design proposal can include delivering a design concept package that consists of initial visualisations or sketches of the project and necessary area tabulations.

Some design concept stages might include master planning, concept design, schematic designs, and construction documentation packages.

5 Developing the Design

After the initial design process, you and your client can work together to fine-tune (refine) the project. This includes communicating back and forth with feedback and revisions to achieve a project that achieves the design objectives.

Words of the Days:

Often my students ask me what the exact meaning of the names of all these plans are. It's important to mention that they can often mean different things between offices and countries, so if you're not exactly sure, ask someone.

Design Concept: Noun. The big picture idea or the guiding principle of a project. Master plan: dynamic long-term planning document that provides a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development. It can also be an overall plan with notes. Photomontage/ Montage: an image created to help the client visualise the design. Often it can be referred to as a 'photoshop' montage as it is often associated with using photoshop.

Schematic design: is the first phase. In this step, an architect talks with the client to determine the project requirements and goals.

Construction documentation package: the drawings used for guiding the building contract


Feel like the whole process is difficult to understand and you want to feel more confident you know what you're talking about? Find out more about my 1:1 & group coaching programs and follow me on Instagram for daily tips and English lessons.

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