Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We-Design-Day - Interview Yourself!

After our brief look at the History of Design on last week’s We-Design-Day, I’m anxious and really excited to work through the ‘process’ and get into construction phase of my project! But I know I have to slow down, plan carefully and prepare. The easiest way for a project to go off the rails is to get too ahead of one’s self and get lost in the excitement. It may seem long and labourious to work through and understand the steps but after we get through this project, the next one will fly by!

Since I’ve been doing what I do for several years, the process is pretty much automatic but as I decided to revise our original renovation plan to accommodate the numerous lifestyle changes we’ve had, I decided to go back to the beginning so I can share, explain and work through the design process step by step. This shouldn’t be taken as an exhaustive lesson – it’s just my understanding and observances of the process I use.

During my training, I learned a two phase, eight step approach – this isn’t necessarily the way all designers work but it is the method I know and have employed on the majority of my projects.

We’ll start by looking at “Phase One – Analysis”. The four steps noted in the above diagram are pretty simple; this phase is the programming and planning. It is all about learning the (design) problem, understanding the problem, defining the scope and establishing the parameters (of the project).

As I worked on this week’s edition, I contemplated the value of describing each of the steps mentioned above and then working through them… but since there are a myriad of good texts on the subject and a wealth of information already on the Internet; I decided to just work on the process here. If you’d like additional information, let me know as I’ve got some information written that I’d be happy to share.

When a person decides to make a change, it is obvious to them why. They are tired of the look, the function of the space doesn’t suit the present need or perhaps their family has changed and they need more space.

About five years ago, I started looking at making changes to the family room in our basement. I know I had floor plans and a preliminary budget and even had a mock-up of the colour boards but because it was so long ago our needs have changed.

We’ve gotten married, had a baby and my husband has changed careers. So many changes to our lives and our lifestyle make our initial plans out of date with our current needs! So I need to step back and reevaluate my plan. I’ve found that although I can do charts and checklists and matrices in my initial programming, one of the most effective tools I’ve ever used to tour the space with the homeowner (in the case of a residential project) or sit in a meeting room and discuss plans, ideas and ‘wish lists’ with commercial clients (and of course, tour a space if it’s a renovation). Spending ten minutes listening to someone can tell you an awful lot about a person and how they use and see a space.

So I ‘toured’ my basement with me, the homeowner. Below is that conversation…

“This is our basement – excuse the mess… it’s usually a little tidier!” I bend over to pick up a kid’s sock, a toy car and a piece of wooden train track. All of which I toss into a red plastic toy bin. “Ugh – the carpet, sorry – it’s a bad combination to have kids and carpet!” I look at design me and shrug. “This is the main space and this is the only TV in the house. We spend the majority of our time down here – watching TV, listening to music, playing with our son.”

”Is it just the three of you?” Design me asks.

“And our dog, of course! My Mom comes in every so often and my mother in law stays over at Christmas.”

”Do you have parties or entertain?”

“Oh no. Not really. Kids birthday parties, Christmas dinners and we hosted our wedding reception down here!”


“We play darts and a have a few drinks too – we’d like the area to be multi-use and heavy on the kid friendly. It has to be flexible too. Comfy for relaxing and pretty casual. Our cat breaks anything she can knock over. If you look in here, this is presently my husband’s office. He works from home and does all his photo editing and such here. As you can see, it’s full with his equipment and we’d like to move him to my office across the way and make this room part of the main room with my sewing and design studio and a family computer area.” I’d lead Design Me across the small hallway and open the door to my current office.

“This will hopefully be my husband’s new office space and table top photo studio. Oh – we also need to accommodate the odd photo shoot in the family room too… And we need prop storage. His main computer will be in here too. We also have a queen size inflatable bed we set up for guests as this room currently also doubles as a guest room.”

”Would you consider dual purpose furniture?”

“Uhm… Ideally, no – most of it is junk that breaks down after too few uses!”


So in just a few minutes, I’ve gleaned the following:

Kid friendly
Entertaining/games space
Toy storage
Sewing area/storage
Quiet office/small scale studio
Spare room/guest space

From the tour, I’ve also noted that the family has a lot of books and CD’s – all presently well stored but deconstructing the space will require a relocation of the books. They also have several guitars and an electronic piano – I’d ask more about both and how the family sees them in the space.

The thing I have learned in my years in the business is that for most renovation projects, the homeowners (or store/business owners) have a good idea of what they want but often lack the ability or even the desire to pull it all together and they second guess their choices and decisions. No one really knows how a space is used then those who interact with it daily. A designer can look at the space objectively as they have no attachment or preexisting ideas of how the space should be used. Pairing an open eye with the intimate knowledge the homeowners bring, often work very well in creating a well planned space that will fulfill the needs and goals of the client.

A designer can also bring a sense of reality to a project. From a home owner’s perspective, I want to pack in a whole bunch of stuff in what is really a fairly small and already defined space – more than the space can realistically handle. Adding too much will cause confusion, clutter and will not bring the relaxing environment the ‘client’ wants. This, I already know, is an answer I don’t want to hear – I want everything packed in, but it won’t work and I’ve been arguing with myself about it for too many years now.

So, take a tour of your space and see what you learn. Be “you” the homeowner and “you” the designer and see what your space tells you.

Next week, we’ll look at starting to sort out what you’ve learned and developing the program.

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