The design process

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How do you get from an idea to a fully designed scheme? Here is a breakdown of the design process…

View out of a light-filled open plan dining room and lounge onto a mature garden

Over the last 15 years we have been adapting the RIBA Plan of Work to our projects, aiming to make the process as transparent as possible:


Concept Design Stage

In this stage we work closely with our clients to get to know them better personally and explore what the key drivers are for the project. We define and refine the brief in a series of collaborative design workshops in which we review a number of different design options, ranging from the straight-forward to the “what if” scenarios. The aim of this stage is to provide clarity on design feasibility and an outline budget. The outcome of this stage enable the client to make decisions of which design option, or which mix of options to take forward into the next stage. It is basically defining what the project is.

We also use this stage to gather information about the existing site and commission surveys needed for the following stages.

The environmental strategy is set out at this stage.

If specialist consultants such as quantity surveyors or energy assessors are needed for the project they are ideally appointed early on in this stage for their strategic input.


Planning Design Stage

In this stage the focus is on the external appearance of the proposals and their impact on the surroundings. Aspects such as materials, building shapes, access, landscaping – everything that is relevant to the approvals process.

In order to make decisions on these aspects we develop the concept designs further and add accuracy to the proposals. This includes ideas about the look and feel of the house and also internal layouts which work hand in hand with the external shape. We define key connections, views and day light paths within the house, important alignments and the overall design principles.

The outcome of this stage is a set of detailed set of planning drawings, often along with a Design and Access statement which explains the design rationale and its application to planning requirements and historic context.

The stage also serves to define in more detail the environmental building performance the project is aiming for. This would particularly affect the planning process in case visible elements such as external insulation, ventilation systems, air-source heat pumps or solar panels are to be included.


Technical Design Stage

This is the most involved stage as we are defining and documenting how all aspects of the project will be built.

On most projects a structural engineer will join the project at this stage, if they haven’t already. Alongside them

Together with the specialist consultants we address individual elements such as

  • environmental building performance
  • facades, roofs, floors
  • windows, doors, large format glazing
  • kitchens, bathrooms, utility areas
  • lighting, power, heating, ventilation
  • sound, media, data
  • renewables
  • layout updates
  • interior design elements/ fittings
  • colours, materials
  • Building Control requirements

The different design elements are structured in a design programme to ensure client input is spread over the duration, aiming to avoid a bottle-neck of decisions. This allows the clients to carry out their own research in parallel and feed any ideas and requirements to the design team.

The outcome of this stage is a set of drawings and documents which is sent out to a range of suitable contractors for competitive tendering. Tender returns are reviewed to enable the clients to pick their preferred contractor.

Alternatively, if a preferred contractor has already been identified, a ‘negotiated tender’ can be an option.

Read about the architect’s services we offer in each stage

Construction stage

Read about the architect’s role during construction here

View out of a light-filled open plan dining room and lounge onto a mature garden