5 Keys to Successful Building Design: An Intro for New Students

What are some of the challenges you'll face as a new building designer? What steps will you go through when creating new building concepts from scratch?

Key questions for anyone considering a career in building design.

On the surface, building design might seem like a purely technical occupation. You work with computer-aided design software all day, do a lot of calculations, and produce highly detailed drawings and blueprints.

But the truth is, building design is about much, much more than plugging measurements into a computer program. It's truly an art and a science.

And doing well in this field will depend on your ability to master all kinds of hard and soft skills—like problem-solving, communication, research, and creative thinking.

What are the keys to successful building design? Let's take a look at five golden rules you'll study in training and practise every day on the job.


1. Client communication is everything

Building designers are involved in every stage of the design and building process. From drawing up those very first concepts to ensuring the construction team completes every last detail to spec, you will be there coordinating the team and keeping the client updated on progress.

As a building designer or CAD technician, you'll often act as the go-between for the lead architect and the firm's clients.

From day one, you'll be responsible for gathering information about projects, taking notes, creating drawings, and answering questions. And once you gain experience, you'll be conducting client meetings on your own. You'll be meeting directly with the person or group who is contracting the firm to design their home, office, renovation, etc.

It is absolutely crucial that you listen very carefully to your client's needs and goals and work with them very closely to produce a design that matches those objectives. Your clients need to trust that you understand their vision and will do whatever it takes to make it a reality.

This will involve a lot of back and forth, negotiation, creativity, and problem-solving—the heart of your work as an architectural designer.


2. Function over fashion: Is the space actually usable?

It can be really tempting for new building designers to get carried away and throw all the latest trends and technology into the concepts they create for clients.

But the truth is, while creativity is really important in this field, functionality is the true king of effective architectural design. Think about it: how good will a space be if it can't be used as the client intended?

In fact, one of the first questions you'll ask clients during that first meeting is: Who will be using the space and for what purposes?

You'll need to know how many people will be living in the house or what kind of business it is. Are there any special needs? Which rooms will get the most traffic?

When you're creating your initial sketches, you must ensure that the space respects those practical needs. Fashion and creativity will be important elements in your design—but they should never outrank function.


3. Respect the budget!

When your client gives you a budget for their building project, never assume that number is flexible. It's your job to figure out a design solution that is beautiful and functional AND fits the budget.

If things are tight (and they almost always are), you'll need to educate your client on what is and is not realistic—and propose ways to cut costs while staying true to the overall vision.

This will involve steps like redesigning the space to reduce square footage (a huge money saver) and selecting less expensive materials and finishes. 

It will be your job to come up with as many cost-saving alternatives as possible, and help your client see that sticking to the budget doesn't mean compromising their needs and goals.


4. Think eco-friendly and energy efficient

Speaking of saving money...some of those cost-effective design solutions you propose should definitely include eco-friendly and energy-efficient building ideas.

Things like water recycling systems, solar heat for rooms, high-performance insulation, and high-efficiency lighting are good for the planet and easier on the wallet.

Plus, a well-designed sustainable building will continue to save your clients money on maintenance and running costs far into the future.

Many of your clients will request environmentally friendly building materials and systems, so you'll need to stay informed on the latest products. Luckily, these types of materials and technologies are increasingly popular and easier than ever to find. There'll be plenty of options to choose from once you finish building design training and start your career.


5. Know the Ontario Building Code inside and out

What's the quickest way to ruin a creative, amazing design? Failing to ensure it's up to code.

Every professional architectural designer will agree: you must know your local building code inside and out. If you do a building design program in Ontario, you can expect to spend a lot of time studying the Ontario Building Code.

Why is knowing this stuff so important? Because the Ontario Building Code contains all of the regulations you must follow when constructing or renovating a building.

It sets minimum building standards that include fire protection, accessibility, public health and safety, and environmental conservation. If your designs don't follow the rules outlined in the code, they won't be approved. You'll need to go back to the drafting board—and that means delays, additional costs, and disappointed clients (not to mention a seriously annoyed employer).

So, there you have it. Five simple rules you'll follow for every design project you work on. And why building design truly is a careful balance of innovation, functionality, technical skill, and resourcefulness.

Think you have what it takes to build a successful career in this field? Take your first step by learning more about Herzing's Building Design Technician program.

Chat live with an advisor right now, or click below to explore the program in greater detail. We're here to help!

Explore the Building Design Technician Program


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