Communicating Design Intent

Design Intent is an expression that is used frequently in the AEC industry and can often mean different things to many people. Design Intent stems from an individual’s preconceived expectations and, due to those preconceptions, has the ability to create either an instant consensus or a sore misunderstanding. What Design Intent really embodies is information that is not fully developed or defined, but needs to be communicated to allow important decisions to be made. This may sound like a shaky proposition, but it is a necessity for a successful project.

By nature, all projects, whether big or small, involve a process of discovery. Schemmer has never started a project that is already 100% figured out. Design and construction are complicated pursuits and depend heavily on human expertise. At Schemmer, our discovery process involves quantifiable factors, such as building cost, size, time and quantity, in addition to the discovery of ambiguous factors, such as our clients’ individual tastes, personalities, preferences and measure of quality. The key link is the communication necessary to bridge the gap between all of the pieces. This creates the necessity for Design Intent.

So, how do Schemmer architects communicate Design Intent? We start by taking the initiative to manage the process. At the onset of a project, the client and Schemmer’s designers bring different levels of experience and expectations to the drawing board. Information can often be tricky to extract, so we use Pre-Design tools to help the project team communicate and to accelerate the gathering of information. Several effective information gathering tools we use at Schemmer include questionnaires, checklists, photos, graphics and detailed meeting minutes.

It is important that this information is gathered early on in the project, before any actual “design” happens. The Pre-Design process can effectively spell out Design Intent for the project team and can also serve as a reference source throughout the later stages of the project. As design begins, traditional graphics like floor plans, elevations and 3D modeling can quickly begin to reflect the Design Intent and demonstrate the team’s collaborative decisions.

Amount of defined information throughout the design process