No, that’s not the start of a joke comparing architects versus interior designers. And it’s just as applicable to engineers too. The question is really how do we determine how many hours it will take to design a particular project? I’m back to what seems to be one of my readers favourite subjects again – design fees. Last week a comment on my post on BIM-onimics queried the number of hours spent on some of the example projects. This question put me in mind of a number of issues I’d been meaning to blog about one day – the main one being how do you cost the client themselves into your design fees? To me this is often more difficult than the already difficult task of putting a number of hours on creativity. However the more I started to think and write on the subject, the more it has expanded, and so this will be a 2 part post.
As I mentioned in my response to the comment on the number of hours a project takes, and I’ve discussed previously (in my post What makes a great workplace design client) clients come in many forms. I find particularly in the areas I of design I have worked in (workplace, healthcare, labs), the client group expects to be (and in my view quite rightly is) part of the design process. But that said, different clients at both the organizational and the individual level have very diverse views about what their role is, what their architect or interior designers role is, what deliverables should be provided, how many review points they should have, how frequently we should meet and generally how much involvement they will have in the design (and even construction process). The client’s level of industry knowledge and familiarity with the design and construction process also differs. All of these factors will impact on the amount of time I spend working on a project – not necessarily designing, but managing the client inputs, reviews and approvals, answering their questions and producing documents which are specifically for their use and not a requirement for construction.
I don’t necessarily mind doing any of these things. The problem is that if I don’t know the client (and by this I mean both the organisation and the individual) at the fee proposal stage then gauging what kind of client they are and what their expectations might be can be exceedingly difficult, and in some cases downright impossible. If you’re lucky you have a client who is only seeking proposals from a small number of your competitors (or even better you are single select) and they may meet with you once or twice to discuss the project. You have a chance to speak directly with them to clarify the scope and their expectations. It may even be likely that if there was an obvious difference in scope between the proposals the client would come back to you to discuss this. Unfortunately, in my experience this has not been the norm. Maybe in some sectors and firms it is, which is great (give me a call, I’d love to come work with you!). Particularly when dealing with government or large institutions or organisations, competitive tendering becomes a more usual approach.
Even on an invited or short listed tender with a limited number of companies it is unlikely that there will be any significant interaction between the designers and the client representatives. Whilst a site inspection may be held, this usually involves all tenderers and doesn’t really provide an opportunity for the designer to get to know the client. The first time this is likely to occur is after you have submitted your fee, at a tender interview. Indeed for some larger open tenders, there is never even the opportunity for the architect or designer to speak to the client. The only means of contact may be via an anonymous procurement email address, with the whole tender process run by a different individual than the person who will be the client representative.
Especially when the person who becomes the client representative in the design stage has had very little involvement in procurement their expectations can differ markedly from what is documented in the tender and project brief. Individuals can have very different views over what constitutes a review or approval and how the design should progress. With some of my clients I know that if we have a meeting and I present some preliminary design options, I will get instant feedback and go away straight after the meeting to revise and develop the design. However with others, the decision makers are not in the room or further people need to be consulted, I will be lucky if I get feedback and direction 1 week later. These two scenarios affect my resource planning and my project costs. Design is not just dollars per hour, every time I start and stop it costs more. There is also the likelihood that during the time the client is reviewing the schemes they will have more questions, will ask me to explore more options and that overall there will be more meetings and the project will take longer. Now, I can and do try to reduce my exposure to such risks by including a detailed scope and program, limiting the number of meetings and options and other such assumptions within my fee proposal. But still, a number of scenarios have arisen for me in the past where for a wide variety of reasons other issues arise which further complicate the potential project costs or reveal interesting things in relation to the expectations of the client.
Tune in again next week to find out more about some of these issues, a discussion of competitive tendering and my opinions on what needs to happen to help sort out this mess! In the meantime, feel free to offer your own stories, suggestions and comments.
PS. My TEDx video is now available on line. Click here for the Audience Talks. I’m at around 9 minutes of the way through.