The Design Process


If you read my previous blog post about the cost of design, I hope you are ready to pursue the process of designing your project.

The next big question that I often get as an architect is what the process is, what should I ask my architect about the process, and what should I expect during the process.

Our Process

The process is not the same for all firms, but I can explain our process here at Zipper Architecture. The process has several stages some which occur in a consultation phase and others which happen after the proposal or design contract is signed.

The Meet


We typically like to meet with our potential clients as early in the process as possible as this helps us advise clients in a number of building and design issues to prevent problems or conflicts with codes and municipalities in the future. This meeting is for both the clients and Zipper Architecture to get to know each other. This is important because we have to try to learn as much about you as client, family, or business as possible so that we can design for you.

During this initial meeting we often talk about a number of items.

The property or properties that our clients are looking at so that we can become familiar with the restrictions, topography, vegetation, municipality. If there are surveys, topographic work, Septic or Well information that is all helpful to bring, but not necessarily a requirement at this stage.

The Program or the number of rooms and spaces and what their functions are. Are there any special requirements or adjacencies to other spaces etc. The program often dictates the size and layout of the project.

Style or type of project. It is important to understand what our clients want their project to look like both on the inside and the outside. Often this is best achieved with images, pictures from the web, Houzz, Pintreast, or Google. I always recommend bringing some of this information to the first meeting.

Lifestyle, schedule or other routines that would help us understand how you the client will interact with the project.

The Proposal


The second stage of this process is the Proposal. This is where Zipper Architecture will give you a letter proposal for typical projects which outlines the location for the project, the scope and description of the project, and what is included in our fees and what is excluded in our fees.

This proposal is the where funds exchange hands and we start working on your project.

The Design


The actual design process begins after the proposal has been signed and deposits have been paid. The number and types of phases vary by project. For example, a small renovation may only have a design phase and Construction documents Phase. For most projects Zipper Architecture follows four phases of design.

Conceptual / Feasibility Study

This phase is where we examine a potential lot or building to determine if the scope and program of the client’s project are compatible with the location that the client is looking at. This phase is typically done when clients are purchasing a property and want to determine if the property is a good fit for their project. We try to give clients the best information and identify any conflicts that may arise early in the process so if another location needs to be found the clients can make changes.

So how do these questions relate to the design fee. The short answer is time. Most architects determine fees based on the amount of time it will take to design, and produce, and coordinate the required documents for construction. Architects have a limited amount of time and that time is often divided amount multiple projects. So if your project has a lot of time intensive criteria to work with, it will likely cost more to complete that work. An architect may either be required to hire additional help or alter the work load to accommodate more complex projects.

Schematic Design

This phase is the traditional start of design when clients own the property that we working with. We typically gather or assist the client in the gathering of additional site base information including surveys, topographic information, tree surveys, as built existing building information. In addition, we meet with planning and building departments and other departments that may have jurisdiction over the property to determine any restrictions or guidelines such UDO or Zoning Codes which often have elements that we need to work within.

After Gathering the required base information Zipper Architecture begins to design the project. Typically, the early parts of the process are worked out using hand drawn sketches to work through ideas quickly and efficiently. After a path has been chosen, We develop basic floor plans, exterior elevations and massing models by using 3-D design software. We continue to refine the computer drawings until the exterior design and the floor plans have been approved by the client.

Design Development

From the approved exterior and floor plan package developed in Schematic Design Zipper Architecture begins to develop the interiors of the project. This includes casework, tile, material selections, colors, etc. Through the refinement of the interior spaces often some modifications are made to the exterior. Once this process is complete the client should have a great understanding of both the interior and the exterior of the project.

Construction Documents

This is the last phase of the drawing and design documentation. This is where Zipper Architecture develops drawings and other documentations often in coordination with other consultants such as Structural engineers, that is required by the building department and the contractor to actually construct the project. This part of the process is often a little less client involved as much of the decision and design have already been determined. These documents are typically submitted to the city or county in order to get a building permit and are used throughout construction buy the contractor to build the project.

After the drawings and the project have received a building permit Zipper Architecture typically offers Construction Administration. This involves answering questions that come up during the construction process or working through conflicts that occur. No set of documents can possibly cover every situation, so this allows the design intent to continue to be interpreted throughout the construction process. In addition, Zipper Architecture typically makes monthly site visits if desired to review the construction progress and look for conforming construction work. We typically like to be as involved with the contractor and construction process as able as this helps our clients get the best project with the smoothest construction process.