Architectural Design Training: 5 Questions to Ask During Your First Consultation

Architectural design training prepares students to participate in every stage of the design process. From creating initial sketches, to finalizing blueprints, to overseeing the build itself—drafters have a role at every phase.

And one of the most important moments in this process is the initial client consultation. This is when you'll start brainstorming ideas based on your client's overall vision.

It's so important to communicate clearly during this stage, so you can understand what the client is aiming for, produce sketches that reflect their wants and needs—and avoid disappointment, delays, and extra costs down the road.

But not all clients start out with a clear vision, or know exactly what they want. How will you figure out what kind of design to propose? By asking the right questions. These are 5 great questions to start with during those all-important, initial design consultations.

1. What will the space be used for?

In order to be considered a success, the structures you design must be functional. They must be usable, and meet the specific practical requirements of your client. In order to determine what these requirements may be, you'll need to ask what the space will be used for, and who will be using it.

In the case of a residential project, you'll want to ask about who will be living in the home (a family with young children, an elderly retired couple, a single resident, etc.).  For commercial builds, you'll need to determine the purpose of the structure (retail space, restaurant, hotel, etc.). Function will play a central role in your design proposal, and will impact the building codes and regulations you'll need to follow.

2. Are there any specific design wishes?

It's important to understand the architectural styles that are influencing your clients' design preferences.  Do they love art deco? Mid-century modern? American colonial?

You may want to look at some examples together, and discuss stand-out design elements to get a sense of the overall aesthetic they're aiming for.

The client may also have specific, practical wishes—such as oversized windows for an abundance of natural light, or very few stairs to increase accessibility. They may have purchased land because of a spectacular view, and want to ensure the building is positioned to maximize that view.

Design wishes may centre on business and marketing goals, the latest design trends, or the practical needs of future occupants (a couple planning to have children, for example). Some clients have very fixed ideas about what they want, while other may need some prompting (additional questions) to clarify stylistic preferences and functional needs.

To clarify preferences for residential projects, you may need to ask questions like:

How big is your family (and will you have children and/or elderly family members living in the house)?

What will be the most important room in your new home?

How long do you plan to live in the home? (Is the client looking to re-sell within a few years?)

What "dream" materials is your new home constructed with?

3. What is the budget for the project?

Every square foot counts when you're designing within a tight budget. Talented designers know how to maximize space and reduce added costs without sacrificing too many items on their clients' "wish list". But it's crucial to understand financial constraints before sketching out initial concepts, brainstorming design ideas, or discussing preferred materials. You'll need to inform the client on what is actually possible within their budget to avoid unrealistic expectations and disappointment down the road.

4. Are there any particular materials you'd like to use?

An increasing number of architectural design clients are interested in, and knowledgeable about, their materials options. You are likely to get questions about new alternatives to expensive and luxurious materials (that look and feel just as great). And inquiries about the ever-growing range of eco-friendly options for flooring, paneling, countertops, trim, and even drywall.

(Review the latest green building trends with this post on popular eco-friendly design materials.)

5. Do you have a vision for the surrounding landscape?

Landscapes are often considered an extension of an interior living or work space—and many clients will want to utilize these outdoor areas to their fullest potential.

Condos and apartment buildings may need a designated rooftop or garden space for residents to share. Homeowners often want to create a kitchen, dining, and lounging area in the back garden.  Corporate clients may want to build a welcoming, comfortable outdoor space for employees and their families to gather for social events. Or, they may simply need extra parking to accommodate future growth.

The architectural designer should ask questions about lifestyle (or corporate culture) to understand what the exterior space will be used for, and which elements are most important to integrate into the landscape design. It's important to note that many clients are interested in sustainable gardens, and may have specific requests for eco-friendly elements.

Interested in learning more about architectural design training and career paths? Looking for a top-rated architectural design college in Toronto?

Consider the 10-month Architectural Design Diploma offered by Herzing College at the Toronto campus. Click below to learn more about the program, browse a detailed list of courses, see admission information—or chat live with a friendly advisor. We're here to help!

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