What Is Your Problem?

Framing the Design Problem With Your Architect During the Pre-Design Phase

I know that I want something...I think I know that I want something...I'm pretty sure that I want something...wait, what do I want again?

We've all been there.  "We're living on top of each other. This house needs more space!" "I'm tired of tripping over toys.  We need a place for the kids to play!" "My boss' office is so far away.  I wish she wasn't three floors away every time I have a question!"  You know that things need to change.  You have some great ideas for your home or business that you'd love to implement but you're not sure where to start. It would be great to hire a professional but you should really have my ducks in a row before you do.  Right? Wrong! It is a common misconception that a client needs to have a clear and concise laundry list of requests for their project prior to engaging an Architect. By waiting to include him/her, you would be robbing yourself of one of the greatest services architects have to offer you - Programming.  WE HELP GET YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW! We also give them names, paint them in coordinating colors and load them up with as much personality as you can stand...but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  

At a high level, Architects thrive in the realm of "what-if," "I wish," and "wouldn't it be great if..." Ever have dinner with an Architect?  O.k., probably not but if you had, you'd witness him/her aligning the silverware with the edge of the table and shifting their pasta noodles into strange patterns.  We're wired and trained to make sense out of obscurity.  That's what we can do for you!  We listen to you, we wonder with you and we translate the beautiful chaos into exciting, tangible design solutions...for you and with you! 

During the programming phase of a project, your Architect will ask more questions than provide answers.  These prompts may seem to be natural parts of your friendly chats but they are in fact extremely targeted. "Tell me about your morning routine." "When you cook, do your kids like to play nearby?"  "How do you interact with your coworkers" "Do you wish there was more collaboration in your office?"  During this phase, Architects fancy themselves as something similar to archaeologists. We're digging for the pieces of your personal and professional lives that drive and motivate you.  We use the artifacts that we discover as the cornerstones of the design strategies that we begin to show you in upcoming phases of the project.

So what is the lesson?  The earlier you fold us into your vision, the sooner you'll arrive at the most important goal of any problem - framing the design problem.  With a clear and deliberate set of goals and aspirations laid out before a design team, a project is staged to develop as a well-oiled machine of creativity and efficient problem-solving.

Pre-Design Phase Recap


GOAL: To clearly outline the design problem.  This can be a complex but is the most critical point in a project as it sets the tone for all future development.  A good foundation makes for a good building.  Such is the case with design.  Most projects commonly depend on several major cornerstones.  The first is the development of clear project goals, required spaces, their necessary sizes and all special requirements.  Also critical is the development of a clear project budget and its requisite structure as well as an ideal project timeline.  The final key goal of the Pre-Design phase is the clear determination of what is feasible for any given site or space.  This involves rigorous research into the site, climate, local environment, zoning regulations and building code restrictions.  The end goal of all of the above components to Pre-Design is to 1) understand what exactly you want to do, 2) confirm whether or not you'll be able to do it, and 3) understand how much it will cost you in terms of time and money.

ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: The Architect becomes your guide through all of the above efforts, performing the legwork to 1) ask the pertinent questions that will help you to define your project aspirations in a clear and tangible way, 2) perform all technical and legal research to determine the feasibility of your project ambitions and 3) coordinate the evaluation of your schedule and budget to accurately forecast the future project development and, ultimately, concisely frame the design problem on which future project phases will be based.  Services commonly include field measurements, site and climate research, code review, zoning review, project programming, budget & schedule assessment.

CLIENT ROLE:  The client, as directly as possible, should be prepared to accurately outline the project goals and communicate all information about the project as accurately as possible.  In addition to painting a clear picture of how much they would like to spend and when they would ideally like the project to be completed, it is critical that a client play an active role in identifying their likes and dislikes. Typically, an Architect will synthesize an overall understanding of a client's goals by prompting and listening to a collection of helpful anecdotal stories during early design conversations.  "In my current space, I really hate..."  "It would be great if the new space could allow us to..."  Not to worry, the delivery of information can be messy and disheveled.  As long as the conversation is open, honest and ongoing however, the message will be received and it should have a powerful influence over the project.


HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY IN THIS PHASE: A clearly-defined define problem sets the tone for optimal efficiency at all other stages of the project.  Organization and an agile road map for the project development makes the remainder of the project quicker and less costly.  Instead of taking 3 steps forward and two steps back, a project that is staged properly in the Pre-Design phase reduced backpedaling to a nominal minimum. An Architect's  research during this phase into zoning and code restrictions/requirements will also save valuable time and money by preventing the project from delving into areas of exploration that are unfeasible, thereby allowing time and energy to be spent only in areas of development that are productive toward the end goal of the project.

Be sure to check out the previous posts in this series as well as the subsequent posts covering the remaining phases of your project.  Links are provided below:

01 - What...Would You Say...You Do?

02 - Soup-to-Nuts: The Stages of Your Project

03 - What is Your Problem?

04 - Blazing Your Trail

05 - Making Your Project Tick

06 - Speak With Purpose

07 - Price It, Permit It & Put the Rubber to the Road


American Institute of Architects - Programming

American Institute of Architects - Emerging Professional's Companion: Programming

Ellipsis on Pinterest - Phase 0 - Pre-Design