10 tips on how to be a good client.

We have worked on a range of projects, ranging from values of tens of thousands to many millions and the recurring theme,in terms of client, is that our clients all know what they want or, if they are unsure or new to the process, have asked for and acted on the advice they received.

It is unlikely that everyone will know how to be a great client from the outset. Let’s say you have just taken the decision to engage with the wonderful world of construction and have decided to build your own house. What skills do you need to bring to the process? I will set aside, for now, the contractual and legal requirements and focus instead on ten fundamental points.

1. Consider yourself as the leader of the process, rather than simply as a participant. Sure, your architect will help steer the project through the many stages but they are doing this for you, rather than for themselves. On all projects, they will ensure the design team and contractor retain sight of your vision.

2. Accept that in order for a project to be successful, it needs to be given enough time to develop. Your architect will help you plan out each stage utilising their knowledge of design process and the need to coordinate many external influences. A design concept, or parti in architect language, can be brought to life very quickly. Developing the concept to a design suitable for planning submission, for example, takes a lot longer.

3. Have in mind similar projects that you like or know to have been delivered successfully and discuss them in your early meetings with your architect. We often use previous projects as illustrations of how certain elements have been delivered successfully. We also advise clients, particularly on domestic projects, to keep a scrap-book of magazine or brochure clippings. A good architect will not be put off by this approach.

4. Set down your requirements in a clear and concise manner. This can start off as a single paragraph and subsequently be developed into a comprehensive list of requirements. This is called the ‘brief’ and it is the single most important document to get right as early as possible. At the same time, do not be afraid to say that you don’t know exactly what you want. A good architect will help you develop the brief and will use it to inform the development of the project.

5. Be realistic about your budget at the outset. If you have a specific figure in mind, let your architect know and this can be used to inform the design process. If an early design is shown to be over budget, the same clear-headed approach needs to be followed to decide whether to increase the budget or reduce the scope of the design, either by reducing the amount of accommodation or by reducing the quality of certain elements.

6. Consider how to follow an integrated process. This sounds quite complex but we describe this as encouraging your professional team to work together. Your architect will naturally set the team up to do this but if you find yourself being emailed with information in isolation or being copied into emails that are of no interest to you, it suggests that your team is not working in an integrated fashion.

7. Appoint the right people at the outset. This sounds more difficult than it is. If you have already worked with a good architect, continue to work with them and ask them to recommend the team required for a project. Meet the team and ask them how they see their role on your project. If you are appointing an architect for the first time, interview two or three and ask them how they will approach your project. Following this procedure throughout the project, ie speaking to more than one of any consultant or supplier or contractor before choosing, will give you a good feel for who to appoint.

8. Consider fully the setting of your project and consider the elements that stand out. We call this the ‘context’ and it is one of the things we study very carefully before we even start producing a concept. By considering the context, you will be ready to engage in a very enjoyable discussion with your architect from the outset.

9. Carefully consider the need to use materials and designs that are ecologically sound. We should all be aware of our planets dwindling resources and sustainable solutions should be the norm. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a design will be vastly more expensive, as sometimes just considering orientation and placement of windows can help reduce heating requirements.

10. Be prepared to sign-off the design at key stages advised by your architect and understand the responsibility sign-off brings. I will post a separate blog on programme and the RIBA Plan of Work but for now, see the design as a series of stages, with each stage developing the design through the consideration of increasing levels of complexity. As the design progresses, the ability to go back a stage becomes more onerous in terms of cost of fees and impact on programme.

Above all, the design process can be an exciting and enjoyable one if the key points above are observed. Bear in mind your architect is fully trained in all elements and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

sketch axo of a residential masterplan.
sketch axo of a residential masterplan.

4 thoughts on “10 tips on how to be a good client.

  1. This is so invaluable, every client should read this as it will benefit the whole construction process. Such a good idea to address this john, as the client is key, has huge responsibilities and is not simply someone that is paying you to work for them!


  2. I’m with you there, Adam. It’s great that John has addressed this issue. If you’ve never appointed an architect before, how are you to know what to expect or know what your responsibilities are as a client?


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