There are many projects that require some level of design. Almost every job that needs a permit needs plans. Some jobs require structural engineering or a registered architect. Some customers want an interior designer to help them with the features of the project. Design can play a small role in some projects and a very large role in others. Design is the process of creating a plan or drawing to show the appearance and workings of something before it is built. There are different levels of design detail in every job and the trick is to match the design skill level of the contractor with those required by the project. First, determine at what level design will play a role in your project. Do you have special features of your home that you would like to match or replicate? Are there special challenges that need sound solutions? Will parts of the project need to be calculated by a structural engineer? Are there special elements that only experts understand and handle? Second, determine what design skills will be required for the project. Do you need a draftsperson, an architect, a structural engineer or an interior designer? These are all people that possess special skill sets that contribute to the overall design of the project. Third, determine if your prospective contractor offers these skill sets and is able to provide the necessary design to have a project that is satisfactory to you. Does the contractor offer these design services? Does the contractor have these people on staff or does he have working relationships with them? Can he show you projects and explain how all of these people collaborated on other projects he has completed for other customers? Do you want to be on the design team and does this fit with the contractor’s practices? How does the contractor balance cost with design?
Some contractors and some consumers just don’t value design. They don’t believe it contributes significantly to the project and they are unwilling to provide it or to pay for it. Some consumers and some contractors are very highly motivated by good design. The trick is to match the consumer’s level of desire for design with the contractor’s level of capability to provide design. The benefit to finding out the consumer’s desire for design and the contractor’s level of ability to provide design is to match the levels. There is nothing more frustrating to both parties than a mismatch. Ask questions to find out if the contractor you are considering is a good match. They will seldom change into something more satisfying after the job has started.
Unacceptable: The contractor pooh-poohs the need for design. The contractor represents themselves as a designer or an architect when they don’t have the credentials or skills to back it up.
Good: The contractor understands and has respect for the relationship between design and construction. These services are talked about and decisions are made to incorporate these services into the project as needed.
Better: The contractor has a designer on staff and can offer design services. The contractor knows when to involve other professionals in the project. The contractor has many good ideas, can share solutions that he has used in other projects and is willing to work collaboratively with a team.
Best: The contractor has an architect on staff, or a working relationship with an architect and knows when to involve them in a project. The contractor does mostly projects that are design-driven and has a reliable reputation.