Five ways to optimise the design process

Effective design management will increase confidence that the project will be developed in a positive, collaborative environment for both client and design team.

At the beginning of a project, a client engages a design team to develop a solution that will meet their needs and aspirations.


The client trusts that the designers will interpret and challenge the design brief correctly, considering the project budget, site and timeframe to create an appropriate solution.


The client generally makes this commitment without full knowledge of the design that will be developed. There will be some uncertainty as to how the proposed structure will function, or what the scheme will look like. This can pose a risk to the design team, as they work through numerous options to develop a solution that meets the client’s aspirations.

To manage this risk, the design team can implement measures to optimise the design process. 

Our five recommendations for optimising the design process

1. Use design competitions, but be cautious with CGIs


Paid and unpaid competitions can 'test the waters', allowing the client to meet several different design teams. Before the client commits to a single team, they may discuss a variety of approaches to address their brief. This sometimes results in innovative approaches to both the project and design solutions.


There are some warnings, however. Clients need to be aware that computer-generated images (CGI) [which architects are often required to produce in design competitions], may not be as thoroughly tested as they appear. There is a risk that the client ‘purchases’ a vision that has not yet been resolved or analysed by a wider design team or local authorities. Teams running competitions need to be clear about the shortcomings as well as the benefits of CGIs, and the likely variations once the project gets started.

2. Check the architect’s track record


Before appointing an architect, a client should have a good feel for their experience of previous similar projects. It is helpful also to gain an understanding of how they have previously addressed their clients’ aspirations, maximising the budget and using the site to its best advantage. This may be scrutinised through PQQ (pre-qualification questionnaire) and ITT (invitation to tender) stages.

3. Involve the design team in producing the design brief and associated feasibility studies


A design brief that clearly outlines the functional, spatial and financial requirements of the building is essential from the start. Set the goalposts clearly early, and engage the design team in the finalisation of the design brief, to get the most out of their time and skills. If a design brief was set out at project kick-off, it's recommended to allow the design team to review and respond with a ‘return brief’ to ensure the client’s aspirations have been well understood. 

4. Understand and maximise each design stage


Design teams need to structure the design programme to ensure it includes adequate periods for design and client reviews. The client should use the PQQ and ITT to understand how the design team will use the time available to best effect. It is to the client’s benefit to allow the design team to comment on their project programme as they may bring their experience to find efficiencies in the process. 

5. Agreeing working protocols

Set out an integrated client / design team working process to manage priorities as the design develops. It is key to establish and implement clear procedures from day one to ensure that the design team doesn’t work for twice as long as forecast, and to maximise the client’s satisfaction with the process. 

Using these five points will benefit the whole project team.


At Plan A we work closely with the architect and collaborate with the client team to establish team structures, procedures and protocols that maximise results for all parties. In doing so, we allow the design team to get on with what they do best, come up with beautiful schemes!  

By Senior Design Manager Michael Buckley 


Each project is unique. Design management sets out tailored measures to the specific project constraints to minimise potential for disruption, and maximise efficient working.


Contact us to find out more about working with us on your design project.