Merx has been delivering projects with interior design firms in Asia for 20 years. Our vision on every project is to create “Inspiring Spaces” for our clients. To do this we need to work with a design firm that not only “meets”, but “exceeds” the client’s requirements, brief and vision.
In this article, we have identified 5 key methods and considerations to help various project owners (our “clients”) with their decision-making process when choosing an Interior Designer.
I. Traditional Design-Bid-Build or Design & Build
There are numerous ways real estate construction projects can be delivered with different contractual agreements between the owner, designer and builder.
Two of the most commonly chosen methods in private and commercial projects are traditional Design-Bid-Build (D-B-B) and Design & Build (D&B).
Construction Industry Institute (CII) defines the Design-Bid-Build (D-B-B) as the method where the owner holds individual contracts with each of the designers, the builder (contractors) and all the various suppliers.
With the D-B-B methodology the designer is appointed first, and this same designer maintains their role as the pure independent design consultant throughout the entire project lifecycle. Once the design is fully complete and signed off by the owner the design is “competitively bid” to the market via a formal tender process and a contractor is engaged direct to the owner.
This is the traditional approach to construction project management. Each entity holds no contractual obligation to one another and therefore, the owner bears all associated benefits. The upside here is owners have a greater degree of control and consequently their “deferred risk” is reduced over each of the project processes. Owners get better cost transparency and control via competitive tendering with detailed design, and they also have clearer and more defined consultant interface to ensure the design is as robust as possible prior to tendering and construction.
In contrast, the Design & Build (D&B) method is when the owner appoints a single entity, the Design & Build Company, to manage both design and building services under one single contract. The Design & Build company, instead of the owner, takes on all aspects of the design as well as the construction at an earlier stage in the project.
Having a single team from the beginning in theory creates some efficiencies in workflow, quicker communication and sometimes a faster project delivery. The downside to this approach is that the owner contracts with one single entity before the design is complete which can often create a lack of transparency on the costs once the builder is appointed by the design company.
The other aspect to carefully consider with “D&B” methodology is that the designer “becomes the builder” and this can create conflict between design “integrity” and maximising profit. With design and build methodology the owner has less decision-making control and consultant interface and cost transparency is often lacking.
Our advice to owners:
Be objective in assessing your team’s capacity and technical ability to project manage. Comb through the process flow and cost considerations. Undertake an assessment of the degree of comfort with carrying project risks and liability. Above all, always appoint an independent Project Manager to represent your interests at all stages of the project, whatever delivery methodology you choose.
By engaging a professional independent project manager you will have industry experience on your side to represent you from initiation all the way through to the end of the project.
II. Do they do projects in your sector?
There is no “one-size-fits-all” design company. Most design firms will specialise in two or three sectors, many specialise in just one. Make sure you pre-qualify potential design companies and assess their strengths and weaknesses across their dominant sector expertise – workplace, hospitality, residential, mixed use, retail or government.
Does the design firm have mainly residential experience? Or are their portfolios stronger in commercial establishments? Have they successfully addressed comparable client needs before?
One of the most common issues that arises in commercial/workplace construction, which is a different concern for residential worksites, is the issue of permitting. Designers that specialise in residential codes may not be familiar with commercial building authority approvals.
The ability to manage and meet all project considerations are what owners should be looking for in interior designers and contractors. Having a stellar track record of undertaking similar projects in your sector are easy references to have. A firm should be able to showcase their past clients with strong referrals and their past works should be similar to your own project vision and goals.
III. Is the design firm familiar with your industry?
Focusing on your industry requirements, here is a list of questions to equip owners when appointing an interior designer.
- Do they have knowledge of how your own business functions and can they design according to what businesses in your industry would typically need?
- Can they give insights into the latest office or space use trends and what others are doing within the sector?
- Are they able to work well with your organisation’s decision making structure? Do they appear capable of managing relevant stakeholders?
- Do they understand the particularities and custom requirements for your industry’s office?
- Are they able to customise particular interior design requirements in your sector?
IV. Is the design company’s design principles the right fit for your project?
Design firms can be generally categorised into first or second-tier designers. Almost all design firms promise to address budget constraints by adapting to the client’s requirements. What’s ideal is ensuring they have a solid track record in meeting and not exceeding budgets.
Seek clarity over your project expectations first and identify which of those are negotiables and non-negotiables. Next, match these requirements to prospective design firms. Discuss openly what can be value engineered or not.
Consider if the designer’s principles align with what your company wants to achieve? Through the initial meetings, observe their style. Are they forward thinkers? Contemporary designers reflect their ethos on their design. They tend to be experimental and eager to push the boundaries of designs. Or are they more traditional and stick to more conventional styles? Also, consider the sustainability and wellness principles offered by the design firm and how they will design your office with sustainability at the forefront.
As Michael Bellaman, President and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, said , ”The most common problem is people don’t know what they want vs. what they need.”
Sifting through what are your “essentials” and “non-essentials” will greatly contribute to deciding the best design team for the job. Having difficulty with this?
You may wish to tap onto Merx’s client representation services.
V. Is the design team right for you?
As a client, you will be spending an extensive amount of time with the designer to discuss, plan and refine the work. Engaging a team that you can easily have rapport and work with for an extended period of time will make the whole process smoother, more efficient and enjoyable.
When it comes to workplaces and commercial projects, the customer-vendor relationship easily extends beyond the project. It makes sense to be well acquainted with the design team, particularly their design leads and decision-makers and core representatives.
Don’t overlook the importance of chemistry between the project stakeholders. A lot of the time it’s about the fit of personalities. The vital element of a successful project is trust. With the right group of people, building trust and clear communication channels become a much easier task.