The Architectural Design Brief – Checklist

What is an architectural design brief?

The architectural design brief forms the very beginning of the design process. It is a project management document containing crucial project information with set outcomes that need to be achieved upon completion. It can provide an overall plan for the project and also be a useful reference document when tracking progress and efficiency. The brief is relevant in both educational and professional settings.

Student projects are often based around a real life project, with an imaginary client often included.  A live project usually exists in order to fulfil the needs of a client, which then forms the grounding for a project brief. Typically the client’s requirements will be drafted in a document called the Strategic Brief. The architect will then need to develop a response to this in a key document called the Project Brief. It will often contain information about the project, stakeholders and deliverables alongside constraints such as the estimated time and costs required for completion.

Now it is important to note that depending on the level of involvement the client wants the architect to have, the chosen architect(s) may be in charge of putting either one or both of the client requirements and project briefs together. A thorough and informative design brief is therefore an imperative part of the design process. It is an essential point of reference not only for the architect, but for all people involved in the design and implementation of the project.

The more information we can gain from the client in the early stages of design, the more effective our decision making and problem solving process will be.

Scroll to the end to download this article as a handy PDF guide!

Types of Design Brief

Types of design brief
There are two main types of architectural design briefs that we will focus on here which in many ways are quite different from each other. There is the private or domestic client that may be looking to have a home designed. They could be someone that has never employed an architect before, and have little or no experience of the architectural design and construction process. The commercial client however, generally is more experienced, and often has very different priorities to a domestic client.

How the Brief Evolves

how the architectural design brief evolves
It is important to remember that the design brief can evolve over the life of the project, it is not a static document that is completed at the start of the process. The brief must be developed with the client and end users to reflect the changes and challenges that occur as the project progresses. Having brief evaluations at set stages in the project helps to ensure that all stakeholders involved are on the same page. It is important that the brief not only fulfils the aesthetic aspirations of the client but also the functional requirements and needs too. With student projects that are developed without a client focus, it is possible to consider the site or place as the client, and consider the needs of the site itself, and how the project design is going to meet those needs.

Helping Your Client Develop a Brief

how the architectural design brief evolves

Often clients, particularly domestic, may find it daunting to compile a design brief and as such it is important that we, the professionals, guide our clients to give us the information we need.

We have put together two checklists/questionnaires (which are certainly not exhaustive) to go through with your clients to help you get the information you need from your client in order to inform your design and fulfil your clients requirements. These lists will take you to the technical design stage where you will have a new set of questions and a new brief that will have to be developed.

Our Design Brief checklists

architectural design brief 2

Briefing requirements will vary from project to project depending on scale and need. You will also find some aspects will be dictated by local authority regulations, planning requirements and conservation restrictions – it is important to be mindful of this from the outset.

You may also find that the brief will change and develop as you work on your early proposals as you interact with your client and gain a better understanding of their needs.

See below our checklist of questions that you can start off asking your client:

Residential Client Brief Checklist

architectural design brief
Initial Client Questions:

  • Full contact details of client – address, phone number, email
  • Full site address
  • Details of any other important parties in the design process
About your client:

  • Describe your current home. What do you like and dislike about it? What is missing, and what would you change.
  • What kind of ideas do you have about design and / or materials? Do you have any images from magazines/internet that show us a style that you like?
  • Are there any particular design features that are important to you?
  • What kind of style do you require for the project? e.g. contemporary, traditional, industrial, bold, elegant, minimal etc.
  • Do you have any specific materials or surfaces in mind that you would like to see included in the project?
  • Do you have specific time requirements for the project to be complete?
  • What are your budget requirements?
  • Do you have any specific accessibility requirements, for example is anyone in your family disabled or do you have any regular visitors that would have special needs?
Sustainability & Energy Efficiency:

  • Do you have any specific considerations toward sustainability and energy efficiency – is there a particular system you would like to use: i.e., solar panels etc.
  • Have you considered using alternative energy and heat sources?
  • How much time and energy would you be willing to invest to maintain your home?
About the site:

  • Why did you choose this site? 
  • Is there anything about the site that you particularly like or dislike? Anything you would like to keep or remove?
  • Are there any particular views within the site that are particularly important to you?
About the occupants:

  • How many people will be living in the new home?
  • Do you foresee new additions to the home? (ie children) 
  • Are there any pets that will need to be accommodated?
About the lifestyle:

  • Describe your lifestyle and the kind of spaces that you need? For example, work from home, entertain often, etc
  • How much time do you spend in the different areas of your home (indoors and outdoors)?
  • What type of entertainment systems do you require? Music, TV, projectors, speakers throughout the house?
  • What type of storage do you require? Specific hobbies that require lots of storage space? Large wardrobe space?
Indoor spaces:

  • Number of floors / rooms / spaces and use for each?
  • Are there any particular areas that are to be more private than others? Or particular rooms that you would like to have connected?
  • Do you have any preferred room layouts/relationships or orientations? – a south facing kitchen for example.
Outdoor spaces:

  • Do you have any specific ideas or plans for the outside spaces that you would like us to consider? 
  • Any specific requirements for entry or street access?
  • Have you thought about landscaping or including a garden? (green or blue spaces)
Specific questions for clients looking to extend or renovate current homes:

  • What would you like to see in your newly extended/renovated home that it currently lacks?
  • What additional areas / functions / activities will be housed in the new proposed space?
  • Do you have any particular preferences for the relationship between the rooms?
  • Would you be happy to reconsider the internal layout?

Commercial Client Brief Checklist

architectural brief commercial
Initial Client Questions:

  • Full contact details of client – address, phone number, email
  • Full site address
  • Details of any other important contacts in the project team
Client Information:

  • Why is this project being developed?
  • Why did the client choose this site?
  • Who are the other participants of this project?
  • Does the client have any specific wishes with regard to design?
  • What attitude do they have towards architecture and design?
  • Will the drawings need to be understandable by non experts?
  • Has the client worked with an architect before? If so, who?
  • What are the time constraints of the project?
  • Are there any particular phasing requirements?
Fees:

  • On what basis is the calculation of fees based?
  • Should the project cost be estimated in order to base the fee calculation?
  • What is the client budget?
Basic Design Factors:

  • Depending on the type of project questions will vary, however some of the domestic questions may apply.
  • What is the client looking to achieve with this project?
  • What do the surroundings look like? Landscaping, trees, orientation, climate etc?
  • What are the existing buildings and surrounding buildings? What materials are they?
  • Does any later construction need to be taken into account now?
  • What sort of materials would the client like to use?
  • Are there any specific design goals? sustainability targets for example.
  • Does the client/company have any leaning toward a sustainable energy efficient ethos?
  • Would they like to include new technologies in the project?
  • What are the infrastructure requirements of this project?
Occupants:

  • Who will use the building?
  • What are the requirements of the users of the building?
  • Are there any specific accessibility requirements?
  • There will be many more questions in this category following discovery of proposed building occupants.
Spaces:

  • What floors / rooms / spaces are required? (Indoor and Outdoor)
  • How would the spaces need to connect?
  • Are there specific spatial requirements?
  • Are there any specific external landscaping requirements?
  • Are there any specific mechanical or electrical requirements?

You might also be interested in:

We have lots of helpful architecture content. Be sure to check it out:

Architecture Assignment Brief Guide
Space Planning Basics

Conclusion

Above are just a few of the things that need to be considered when developing the initial architectural brief. It is key to really take the time to understand the requirements of your client and the site in order to develop solid design solutions for your project. If you think there are any questions/points missing, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below to let us know your ideas. Thanks!

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24 Comments

  1. Thanks you very much for thia posting.. i very need it. Studying about this. Its very help me. Thanks

    Reply
    • Exactly. very useful

      Reply
      • It’s very informative, thanks a lot.

        Reply
    • This has been very helpful for my school project

      Reply
  2. I was just working on a new breif (we call them programmes here) and this helped a lot with some of the general questions to ask a new client.

    Thank you very much!

    Reply
    • Hi James, thanks for the feedback. Much appreciated 🙂

      Reply
  3. Wow!!!
    This was darn helpful.
    We’ve just been given an assignment to prepare a brief and finding this article was a total relieve.

    Reply
  4. Hi I have to develop a Residential Design Proposal for a client. This Design brief here is great. I would like to buy your ebook, but I don’t know which book is suitable for me. My proposal will include: Design problem, Design Factors, and Design Brief. Can you recommend for me. Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Jolly, I’m afraid my ebooks are about architectural and construction detailing, not about the topics you mention. Regards, Emma

      Reply
  5. THANK YOU SO MUCH, IT IS REALLY HELPFUL

    Reply
  6. brilliant

    Reply
  7. Awesome info – just what I needed!! Thanks so much sharing it – it is much appreciated & is going to save me a WHOLE LOT of frustration YAY!!!

    Reply
  8. Thank you so much for this post. I am currently writing a simplified building construction process book and this information has been helpful.

    Please, can I use extracts from this write up? I’ll duly reference the source. Thanks

    Reply
    • Sure you can use the post as a reference. Crediting the source would be appreciated. Many thanks, Emma

      Reply
  9. Hi Emma, What a great list, and things i hadn’t thought of (I’m a new student at 61 years old) .I guess I’d also like to know a little about the neighbors in planning a house .. do they have a practicing rock’n’roll band or something. Liked the questions about their current or last house, and what they liked or would change. Alll in all very helpful. Thanks

    Reply
  10. Very Helpful 🙂

    Reply
  11. it’s very helpful in term of collect more information from client. I suppose there should be other other design brief checklist like hotels, office, etc. Could you share me those if there is?

    Reply
  12. thankyou very much for this posting , very useful

    Reply
  13. Very helpful, was looking for this everywhere

    Reply
  14. Hello, I’ve been trying to develop a design brief for my thesis project should there be an introduction about the project why is it necessary? Why I’ve chosen that site? Or should I dive right into the requirements and area specifications?

    Reply
  15. I should have said although it is a drawing checklist it efectively contains all the information required for a brief and could be adapted to suit

    Reply
  16. ThIS is very enlightening and helpful. It made me wonder also, what is the difference between a working brief and a Functional brief? any thoughts?

    Reply

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