July 25, 2011

The Bachelor Flat.

To my mind, Episode Two hinged on gauging contestants’ capacity to organise themselves into a structure that would allow a theoretical project to become a reality. This is so much a part of the reality of the design process, and a challenge to even the best architects and designers, at times.

The client brief is, by necessity, one of the first layers of project constraint, but one that also creates a lot of opportunities. As I’ve said on many occasions: No matter how good a designer, a project will always be a reflection of the quality of the client. In the case of Top Design, of course, our designers had no choice of client, yet it was still incumbent upon them to get the most out of their client. That starts with asking the right questions in order to get the best brief. On the show, questions were limited to three for expediency’s sake. In real life we can ask as many as we like but the quality of the questions is critical in both circumstances! And then, in absorbing the answers we need to become empathetic to the client and therefore able to deliver a design that both reflects our core values as a practice, but also the client needs/preferences.

One then asks, How far should one push outside a client’s brief? In my experience, it’s most productive to push beyond the comfort zone, but at the same time not too far that confidence in you as a designer is lost. It’s a delicate art, however if trust can be built slowly and consistently over the course of a project, the collaboration between client and designer becomes a great one, and I believe that this is the way that the most creative solutions are achieved.

Since Tobias Partners was established we’ve have had the good fortune to work with some truly wonderful clients, people who have trusted us implicitly, but also the kind of people we had no trouble listening to. So when we pushed them into new territory, they more often than not respected our initiative. Some have even pushed us to discover new things. This has resulted in some great outcomes, and long lasting relationships.

Episode 2 of Top Design explored many of the aspects of the design process as I conceive it. But then, I have to say that I was generally disappointed with the contestants’ management of this critical aspect of design – either not asking the right questions, or not listening enough, or interpreting client briefs in a literal and ultimately unexciting way.

This is not the way to push urban spaces, or the architectural industry forward. It is not even good business management policy.

See you next Wednesday at 8pm on channel 9 for episode 3 of Top Design.

Author: Nick tobias