Pacific City in Huntington Beach, California | Courtesy Eric Figge Photos and a representative of Lifescapes International

Roundtable – October 2018: What do architecture and design firms wish CRE developers knew about design?

Carrie Rossenfeld Roundtable

From SoCal Real Estate’s October 2018 issue

Kevin Newman, Chairman and CEO, Newman Garrison + Partners | Courtesy a representative of Newman Garrison + Partners

Great question; it’s one we have been asking ourselves for years. That being said, I wish most developers understood the design process better and the amount of time it takes to develop a vision that can be economically developed and marketed properly.

As a design firm, we enjoy the collaborative effort and process, which includes all major design disciplines — architecture, interiors, landscape, and architectural lighting. Incorporating these during the design phase allows the entire team, including the client, to establish a strong marketing vision. And, depending on the complexity of the project, having structural input early on during the schematic design phase is beneficial to fulfilling the design vision.

Unfortunately, most developers seem hesitant to bring interiors or structural consultants on board during the schematic design phase. Instead, they wait until the design has been approved and the design development has started — or even later.

This causes the developer to absorb costly change orders to redraw the approved design to incorporate the interior vision while impacting mechanical, plumbing, and structural designs that have already been established. At the same time, the overall vision is impacted because the collaborative design process isn’t as seamless or cohesive, but rather disjointed.

Our experience has shown us that the most profitable projects are the ones where all of the design disciplines are engaged in the design process early. They all have input and add their creativity to the mix. I might add that having a client who also is a strong visionary and understands the design process makes this all the more a probability.

This is why our firm decided several years ago to integrate interiors into our design studio. It allows us to have a unified, collaborative design process while incorporating and fulfilling the client’s vision. The interaction and collaboration between our in-house studios during a design session is magical. The idea of sitting around a design table and throwing out concepts pushes the creativity and energizes our team.

I wish at the end of the day we could have all of our clients sit in our studio for a week to experience the process we go through. It’s exhilarating and filled with a lot of hand sketching and verbal discussions on how we can create a marketing edge or discuss new materials we can apply — it’s endless.

Kimberly Graham, co-regional managing principal, Southwest Region, Gensler | Courtesy a representative of Gensler

Everybody’s talking about experience. We know that enhancing performance is all about the user experience. Clients in every sector are trying to understand the dramatic evolution of how people work, live, and play today.

With the U.S. workforce inching toward full employment — and 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day — the war for talent is only growing in intensity. Employers are in desperate need for new tools to win that war. Retailers everywhere are struggling to engage consumers and earn their loyalty in the face of increased competition from e-commerce and each other.

Companies and organizations that omit design from holistic conversations of experience do so at their own peril. Delivering a great employee or customer experience is crucial to strong business performance. But that isn’t enough; we need to set a higher bar and broaden our metrics of success.

Last year, we unveiled the findings from the Gensler Experience IndexSM — a first-of-its-kind research study — proving that design is the differentiator between good experiences and great ones. We conducted in-depth research including ethnographic studies, informing a survey given to 4,000 people across North America.

This research quantifies, with hard data, what we as designers have always believed to be true: Design is just as crucial to providing great experiences as any other factor. Businesses that don’t invest in design are overlooking an opportunity to improve sales, build consumer loyalty, and engage employees.

Previous studies have evaluated human experience and its impact on business, but this is the first time that design has been measured along with traditional factors. A business or public space that gets everything else right can use design as the “X factor” to distinguish itself from others.

In today’s experience economy, we know that creating a good experience isn’t enough. The best places — ones that engage people’s emotions and keep them coming back — have to be great. It is no longer enough to design a workplace for work alone; a positive employee experience depends on well-designed spaces where they can socialize and be inspired. Higher employee engagement increases company innovation and enhances performance, creating a strong business case for investing in design.

Naveen Waney, principal, Platt/Whitelaw Architects | Courtesy a representative of Platt/Whitelaw Architects

An architect’s design produces the best results for a developer or owner when both parties maintain a close and continuous partnership. Working with private and public clients, our firm sees strengths on both sides in how our clients support the design process. But regardless of public or private, every client needs to deliver a building that meets the demands of the end user. An architect should be an integral component in this process.

Rather than going into an architect relationship with a lowest-bid mindset, select an architect and firm based upon their experience, qualifications, proven work, and established trust. Basing a partnership on these values will likely yield better results and cost savings in the long run.

After careful selection, embrace the value your architect brings by involving them in your visioning process. The right architect can elevate a developer’s position as a steward of the community by expanding upon what’s possible, identifying and resolving challenges, or even serving as an ambassador to communicate with community and user groups, all while helping to safeguard the budget and improve the project.

Throughout the design process, stay engaged. The more your architect knows about what’s happening on your side of the development process, the better the outcome. We expect the same — a responsible architect will want to keep you informed. It’s a team approach.

Remember that your architect is doing more than drawing plans and pulling a permit. Architecture is an art and a science — architects continuously educate themselves about emerging technology, materials, and health-and-wellness research than can help achieve a developer’s building goals. Encourage their suggestions.

Design isn’t formulaic or an off-the-shelf service. It’s a process best performed in close synchronization with the client. When an architect works as an extension of a developer, the vision and the reality stay closely aligned.

Gary Simmons, principal, Taylor Design | Courtesy a representative of Taylor Design

Consider user experience over a “product.” It’s not uncommon for a developer to push for lower fees from the architect with the only request to design a product.

Architects and designers must communicate their value by demonstrating how to better design for a solution that provides for a better user experience. While speed to market is important, the greater value is in delivering a highly efficient design that provides for the greatest use of the space, rather than a simple turnkey product-driven design. In turn, spec drawings that are done quickly to meet a product demand rather than a solution can be difficult to adjust for individual client needs.

Take into account all of the restrictions and codes that will impact the building’s long-term use. The bottom line is to not oversell a client on what a space can accommodate without evaluating the design constraints.

Brand matters to the client and future tenant. It used to be that the medical community didn’t want to appear as if they were overspending money on a pretty facility rather than patient care. But that has changed. Quality design now matters more than ever. Whether it’s a customer or tenant, the work environment is important to the overall brand image, and the architect’s ability to provide that in the design is crucial.