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One of the best projects I have ever been involved with, was when my client engaged a top notch firm to work with us in a Design and Construct (D&C) project where the time frames were very tight. It was a real team effort to get this project complete. They chose the large firm because of the firepower that they could bring to the project: a senior project architect responsible for checking all the work that his staff produced, along with a young but experienced architect who was responsible for driving the development of working drawings and getting them to us on-site. She had a team of draftspeople working under her. They had firepower but the job demanded it because we were basically building what they were designing the next day. Sometimes we were waiting on-site to get the next design so we could continue... no joking, it was really like that.

Maybe you’re not building a $1.2 million fitout with $50,000 plus, in architect’s fees. Who should you use?

Your options include smaller firms or maybe a one-man band. If you’re thinking a smaller company means less fees and more personal service... that is sometimes the case and sometimes not.

GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND

My advice is to do your homework when looking for the designer of your new premises – there is always plenty of information on the web about any designer. Look at jobs they have designed, awards they have won, and people they have worked with. It’s all there but what you really want to know is how they will work with you and do they completely understand what it is that you want.

Discuss your needs with your chosen shortlist of designers (no more than three) and ask them to provide a detailed fee structure to complete the works you have defined in your initial game plan. Once you have received their offers you can then analyse the proposals to lead you to a final decision.

PRO TIP: During your evaluation look carefully at the inclusions and exclusions. Have they incorporated your requirements? Review the fee structure, think about their different personalities and consider which one would work best with you.

Your other option is through your builder. Most fitout companies offer a Design & Construct (D&C) service where the builder engages a designer on the client’s behalf to work as part of the project team. The designer could be an in-house person or they could be a contractor with the building company.

I personally offer both facilities to our clients depending on the extent of the work and the current work level within my company. Smaller, simple layouts we will handle internally. With more detailed and involved design I recommend one of several designers we have worked with on past projects. This cuts out the need for you to source a designer if you are comfortable with the D&C method of building.

Advantages of the D&C method are that you have a one-stop shop with one point of contact. Having the builder involved together with the designer, can control the costs a bit better, especially if you have provided your preferred construction budget range.

PRO TIP: Most people don’t really want to tell builders and designers what the budget is. I think this is because they think saying $250,000 means the builder will come back with exactly that figure and they may have got it cheaper. The client may have no real idea of what it’s going to cost because they have not done any homework to this point. This is where they find out if they can afford to do the fitout, but it’s a bit late if they have already leased the building.

In my mind, this is a dangerous game to play because within the process of design and construct, the design in particular can be adjusted to suit your budget. I have in the past not asked clients what their budget was and delivered excellent proposals, only to find out that I was double the cost of what they were budgeting. That’s not only a surprise to them but also to me and I may have spent a good 10 – 20 hours preparing my proposal. On the other hand, I have delivered proposals where I have had absolute dumbfounded faces across from me. I sat there thinking this is either going to be really bad or really good. Fortunately for me it was really good and our cost structure was suitable and in line with what they were thinking.