In this short post, we will take an overall look at the design process.
The process of design is cyclical and iterative, which can be defined as a six part process. The architectural design process can be approached in a number of ways by different designers, but generally it will follow a very similar pattern:
1. Research and Data Collection
Research forms the basis for any design project. The type and scope of research can vary, be it a meeting with a client, a site analysis or a desktop study about the history of the site. Either way, the collection of data, discussions with the client or site visit, will all be the basis to forming a starting point for design.
These early stages of research are crucial to developing the character of the project.
I have written an in depth article about carrying out an Architectural Site Analysis, which you can read here.
The goal of the early stage of design, is to gather data that will present the problems associated with the task, and the research process will effectively continue throughout the design. A thorough site analysis will start to form a picture of the context of the site, its limitations, its merits, problems, and allow the designer to focus on developing a response to these issues.
Likewise, discussion with the client, and developing a brief (see article below) will also lead to valued data about the end use of the building, its users and overall goals of the project.
Discovering historical data relating to the site and surrounding context can lead to developing a concept that perhaps reflects some of this history.
Research can take the form of data collection, discussions, studies but also model making and sketching to discover as much as possible about the site and proposed project.
You can never do enough research in the early stages of design.
After the research phase of the architectural design process, the designer has collected enough information to begin to establish ideas and concepts, and prepare to develop solutions to the problems that have been identified.
The initial research and proposal stages may weave into one another as data is collected and responses are made to that data. As the proposal phase continues, more definite ideas will emerge, and a wide array of tools will be used to convey these early ideas. Sketches and models will be used in plans, elevations and section to develop proposals, along with 3d discoveries to imagine a contextual approach to the design.
The sketchy nature of this stage of design allows for fast moving ideas, with the exploration of many solutions in quick succession.
3. Analysis of proposals
Following the development of initial proposals, these ideas must be analysis and critiqued in order to establish the feasibility of these proposals.
It is important to establish the criteria that the proposals will be measured against, be it according to client needs, performance of the building, budget, aesthetics and so on. The criteria is often diverse, and there will be varying factors to evaluate at different stages of the design.
Once these criteria have been established it will be possible to analyse the initial proposals. In a student setting this will often take the form of a crit, which is an opportunity to discuss you design ideas with your peers and tutors. Although the architecture crit is something many students fear, it is a great opportunity for you to be challenged in your ideas, and respond to feedback. The crit will urge you to clearly communicate your initial design ideas.
In a professional setting, these initial discussions may be with the client or user, engaging in a dialogue to ensure the criteria are being met, by these early proposals.
4. Review and develop
The final stage of this process is a broad stage. The review and develop stage of design can happen numerous times, as we have mentioned the design process is iterative, meaning the process can be repetitive or even cyclical. Design is not a linear process, and can skip around in a random series of responses as it address issues and reacts to changes.
After the design has been analysed, the designer can then refine the design ideas and begin to develop the scheme. It may be that the analysis has presented issues with the design that require circling back to earlier stages, in order to refine ideas. On the other hand, the design may only require fine tuning, and can be developed in more focused detail.
The refining and development process requires constant reflection on the initial stages of design, referring to research and data collected in the early stages, and revisiting early proposals and ideas.
This cycle will continue until the analysis suggests that the criteria of the project have been met and the design is able to develop. This development will proceed through to technical design, as the finer details are established.
5. Design Development & Technical Design
There comes a point in the design process when the client will approve the design in order for it to be taken to the development phase. The design will then be refined in more detail, factoring in other elements of the scheme. At this stage, drawings will be developed at scale, with the integration from structural engineers, mechanical engineers and other external team members. The design will begin to consider more detailed elements such as materials, fixtures and fittings along with finishes. At this point cost will also begin to play a more important factor, and for larger projects a quantity surveyor may be brought in to manage that aspect of the project.
The project may need to be prepared for planning applications, and therefore may require 3d models, or visualisations to convey the final design. In some cases, sales and marketing literature will be considered for larger projects as the client begins to consider promoting the development.
Technical information will be developed to begin to provide a full picture of the design, and how it will be constructed. The finer details of how materials will relate to one another, connections between elements, will all be considered at this stage, as the design is prepared for construction.
The architectural design process will be different from project to project, and from designer to designer. The stages mentioned above are a guide to the process, but each architectural designer will have their own approach, and will develop a design in a diverse set of ways. As the design process is carried out over and again, it will become more natural, and more clear. The design process will be based on your own views, ideas and inspirations, and although you will draw from other designs, factors and influences, ultimately, the design will be a reflection of you, and the skills you develop over time.
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