communication is a design skill, and vice versa

Communication isn’t always natural

Design itself is a communication skill. We communicate our understanding of the client’s needs using drawings and specifications, which contractors and fabricators then turn in to the space our clients requested we design. So we’re using design to communicate. These are the skills that we learn in design school.

Communication is also a design skill. At a recent social gathering an acquaintance of mine asked me what I believed was the most important design skill to attain and develop to be successful in my business. She wondered if it was an understanding of color or light, an ability to imagine space in three dimensions, or something else. She was a little surprised when I told her the most important skill is communication. And yet communication as a design skill is typically not taught in design school.

Successful designers are great communicators. That doesn’t just mean that we have great ideas and communicate them well. Most importantly it means that we listen. Once we’ve listened and understood, then we respond to confirm what we’ve heard and that we’ve heard.

listen and respond

the first step

Every design project begins with a program. Every failed project usually can be traced back to poor programming. This is your first opportunity (after hiring) to practice actively listening to your client. Ask the right questions, listen to the answers, follow-up with more questions until you truly understand your client’s goals. Then write your understanding out and review it with your client. This type of communication serves two purposes: you will gain the information you need to design the project, and your client will learn that not only are you an awesome designer, but you also hear them. They’re paying you a lot of money…they want to be heard.

design as communicator

Once you understand your client’s needs and have created a design, first you will communicate the design to your client. You’ll need to know what format they understand. Do they need three dimensional renderings to see the design? Do they need to see finishes in person? Are two dimensional plans and elevations adequate for them to visualize your design? Practice your presentation so that you can explain the design in their terms and be open to hearing concerns and questions. Respond without defense. It’s their design, not yours.

Next you must communicate the design to your client’s contractor. This is a two step communication process:

  1. You will write specifications and draw plans, elevations and sections. Then you will package the whole lot together and send it off to the contractor.
  2. He or she will review the plans and ask questions to fill in gaps or clarify. If your drawings are complete, there will be fewer questions. But there will be questions. Your job will be to listen to the questions, understand where the gaps are or clarity is lacking, and respond thoroughly.

value engineering

Before construction begins, there will be vetting of the documents, then vetting of the cost. Budget was discussed during programming, but things come up and sometimes costs overrun budget. Value engineering is the process of bringing the project back in line with the budget. It can include eliminating scope, but more often it will require careful assessment of what was designed to find areas where costs can be trimmed. This is an especially important time to communicate clearly with both client and contractor. Meeting the client’s needs is paramount, and clear communication at this juncture will allow the project to move forward without harsh feelings or angry conferences.

during construction

Issues invariably come up during construction that require construction changes to the original design documentation, especially during a remodel. Be prepared to review these issues and look for solutions. There will sometimes be team members who look to point fingers and assign blame. Listen carefully to the issue, assess possible solutions, overlook blaming, and offer positive solutions that align with client needs.

communicating well

At every step of the project, clear communication is necessary. If you haven’t taken a communications class, or read books on communicating in business, perhaps it’s time. Our business is a service business. We have to be able to communicate to serve. If you want to succeed as a designer, here are some of the qualities you’ll need to cultivate.

  • ask questions: lots of questions. This is your client’s business, not yours. You have a lot to learn. Then…
  • listen actively: be open to the ideas of others, hear what your client is after, repeat what you’ve heard without judgment. Are you really listening or are you just waiting for your turn to speak?
  • express yourself clearly and confidently: think through the problem before offering a solution, even if it means saying ‘I’ll get back to you on that’. Use language that team members understand, not industry jargon or acronyms.

    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” -Albert Einstein

  • watch for non-verbal cues: if facial expressions don’t align with the conversation, ask for a break and make sure everyone is on board. Solutions won’t please everyone, but it is important that solutions are understood by everyone.
  • check your ego: this isn’t about you, it’s about your client. It’s not your vision, it’s your client’s. And it is possible that someone has a better solution than you. Yes you’d love to be able to publish the resulting project, but more importantly you want to do a good job for your client. The bonus is you have a much better chance at referrals this way as well.
  • take a deep breath: not every player will play fair. There may be team members who value blaming others over finding solutions. Take a breath, don’t take the bait. You won’t communicate well if you are angry and reactive.
  • write it down: keep meeting notes, track changes, share the information widely so that everyone is on the same page. Be clear and thorough so that there are no (or at least few) misunderstandings.
  • manners matter: courtesy is part of quality, effective communication. Be positive, be kind, say thank you.
  • presume the best: One of my clients has a tag line on his emails: ‘always assume positive intent’. It’s a good reminder in our business. Presume that something that sounds negative was perhaps carelessly worded and work to find clarity.

If these things don’t come naturally to you, practice them. Good relationships in business require work much like relationships at home. And since we don’t all learn these skills in school, we may need to work to polish them afterward.

Keep in touch,

Photo via Visualhunt

interior design is not about flowers

If you could see me now you’d see the droop in my shoulders. It wasn’t the first time someone demeaned what I have been doing with my professional life for the last 25 years. She’s a friend and she really didn’t mean to.

We were talking about credentials and continuing education required in various professions. When I told her the amount of continuing education I must take to maintain the 3 credentials I’ve attained, she smiled and wondered aloud why I’d need continuing education to decide what color the flowers should be and where they should go.

I smiled at her joke and I cried a little inside. It wasn’t a funny joke. But it does clarify an issue in my field….people don’t know what interior design is.

According to the California Council for Interior Design Certification:

An ‘Interior Designer’ is someone who can complete an interior design project from start to finish, including preparing construction documents for bidding and permitting, as well as supervising the construction and installation of the work. This person in essence becomes your agent to deal with local building codes and building departments, and licensed contractors. They have the expertise to handle all of these different players…

An interior designer works in the field of construction to create the built environment. We sign drawings like architects do, however the scope of our projects is limited to work that does not involve the structural components of a building (the parts of the building that support the roof). If structural components are involved, then a structural engineer must be engaged. If the exterior of the building (known as the core and shell) are involved in the project, then typically an architect will be engaged. On residential remodel projects a skilled interior designer can usually handle the full scope of the project.

An interior designer works in the field of construction to create the built environment. Click To Tweet

design and documentation

Prior to building any construction project, documents must be created. Prior to creating these documents a design must be completed. My job as your interior designer is to work with you to determine the needs of your project, create a design to satisfy those needs, then document that design and see it through construction. There are several steps involved:

programming:  You will answer questions about the use of your space; what works and what doesn’t; when the space is or will be used and how and by whom; what you want it to look, feel and sound like. We will talk about the function of your business and of other businesses like your business. I will take measurements and draw base plans.

schematic design-design development: I will layout the walls within your space, determine power and plumbing needs and locations, create designs for millwork and custom furnishings, design the overall look and feel of your space. I will coordinate the consultants we may need to engage for acoustics, lighting, art, architecture, graphics, etc. I will also engage fabricators to create specialty items. I will determine how the various codes will impact the space and begin a conversation with your local building and fire departments to affirm that we are designing to code. During these phases I will present the design to you as it develops and refine it to meet your aesthetic and functional needs. Depending on the use of space, particularly with commercial projects, functional needs and code compliance will drive much of the layout.

permit documents-bid documents-construction documents: To communicate your design I will create drawings and write specifications. The various consultants on the project will also create drawings for their specialties which either the architect (if there is one) or I will coordinate into a single unified set. Using these documents (which can number hundreds of pages) we will first apply for necessary permits. This process can take months to complete and will often include the submission of further documents to satisfy your local building/fire/health departments. Once permits are issued, and if this project will be bid, drawings and specifications may need further clarity and revision and will be issued to bidders to get final pricing for the project. Once bids are in and a contractor is chosen, documents will be issued for construction.

construction administration: During construction I will visit your site regularly, get to know your contractor’s superintendent well, answer questions as they arise, review items and finishes prior to installation, point out problems when something is not built to plan, keep you apprised of progress, approve your contractor’s billings so that you only pay for work that has been performed, and engage other members of the team as needed.


Part of the job of an interior designer is to understand and have the ability and knowledge to research codes that are applicable to your project. When creating the design for your project, all of these codes must be addressed and complied with. Prior to applying for necessary permits, the requirements of these codes must be met in your permit documents. Codes fall into several categories:

building codes: These are codes that keep you and your employees and customers healthy and safe. We call these codes ‘life-safety’ and they include things like the width and length of corridors, exiting, fire sprinklers, the size of windows, emergency lighting. There are plumbing codes that specify how many toilets and lavatories your space must include and what type of fixtures are required. There are energy codes that limit the amount of wattage that is allowed for lighting and specify where motion sensors are required. There are local codes that can include just about anything and which I will research and discuss with your local building department as early in the project as possible.

health codes: Health codes address kitchens and restrooms in your commercial project. They also have requirements that must be met for tattoo parlors, swimming pools, medical facilities, water systems and multi-unit housing.

accessibility codes: The federal ADA regulations include very specific requirements that allow space to be utilized by people with various disabilities. These requirements are far-reaching and include things from parking lot ramps to the height of wall sconces in hallways and the size of toilet stalls.

education, credentials and certifications

There are many people out there who call themselves interior designers. Some of them are decorators who choose colors, select furniture and drapery, or, like my friend said, locate your flower arrangements. An interior designer is credentialed in some way, has specific education and knowledge, and can do the work of a decorator and much more.

education: An interior designer receives education on everything discussed above. In addition we learn about color, lighting, acoustics, three dimensional space, art and architectural history, available and appropriate finishes and materials, and even furniture and millwork design.

There are many accredited educational programs, from 3 years (post-graduate) to 4 or 5 years, which provide some type of degree. The program I completed was a 5 year Bachelor of Science program. Different programs provide differing levels of education. If you are looking for an interior designer’s qualifications, start with education but also look for advanced certifications.

certifications: As in most professional fields, there are many advanced certifications available to interior designers. The three that I’ve attained are listed, but there are others as well, particularly in the realm of sustainability.

  • CID: In some states (as in California) the term ‘Certified Interior Designer’ is codified in the Business and Professions Code and can only be utilized by interior designers who have taken the certification exam. These interior designers have specific education and have proven their knowledge of process and codes and their competency in applying this knowledge.
  • NCIDQ Certified Interior Designers have distinguished themselves by demonstrating a specific set of core interior design competencies, supported by verified work experience and a college degree. They have proven their mastery of aesthetic considerations as well as of current standards established to protect public health, safety and welfare. They have earned the industry’s highest standard of proficiency in interior design principles by successfully passing the NCIDQ Examination. (definition from the NCIDQ website)
  • LEED AP ID+C: The USGBC created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation program to credential leaders of sustainability in the built environment. The accreditation that I studied, tested for and practice is in interior design and construction. There are other ‘green building’ programs as well as other accreditations within LEED. All indicate specific knowledge around sustainability.

So yes, an interior designer can help you choose flowers. And most designers, after years of study and practice, have a ‘good eye’. But we also have extensive knowledge and experience that qualifies us for much more than that. I hope this clear things up just a bit. And don’t worry, my feelings aren’t really hurt.

Keep in touch,


opening a restaurant….the reality of budgets

can you afford your dream restaurant?

Waiting for my new client to show up for our first sit down meeting, here’s the text message I got: ‘Hey Leslie. I’m sorry about this. We’ve discussed hiring you, and it’s twice as expensive to hire you than what we can afford (sic)’. This was ten minutes into the meeting they were apparently not showing up for.

check your reality

I’ve talked about this before (here and here).  Restaurants are expensive to open. Begin with a reality check. When I ask about budget, don’t tell me ‘enough’. I’m asking for a reason….I want to help you! If you can’t do it one way, there may be another option. If you want to reach your dream, full disclosure will get you there more efficiently.

This is a relatively small world, so any architect or designer who has done restaurant work knows people who have built restaurants. We will involve whoever we need to verify what you are hoping to do. A GC can give us an idea of cost based on square footage and level of service, I can estimate fees (permitting, architecture and design, etc.) and furnishings, we can throw in some ballpark numbers for equipment, owner costs, the cost of your lease. This is a service that most architects and designers will provide without fee.

Restaurant design and construction is unlike any other retail/commercial work. Ventilation, food safety and life safety targets are higher and thus result in significantly higher costs. Be realistic, don’t pretend that you have endless wads of cash ready to spend if that’s not the case. And do understand that you’re not opening a gift boutique….a much less expensive proposition.

If you’d like to figure this out on your own, here are the items that should be on your spreadsheet. The hard numbers I’m showing are specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, a very expensive area to build. But then, salaries are also high here so there are more bodies who can afford those seats!

1. construction

Depending on your program, this may or may not be your biggest number. These are the checks you will write to your general contractor for all demolition work, construction, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, millwork, finishing. This number should include all of the sub-contractors costs plus the GC’s own labor and materials. When talking with a GC it’s important to be sure this number also includes overhead, profit and insurance.

Here are 3 scenarios that may help you determine where you fall:

  1. You’re leasing a space that is an existing restaurant with enough electrical, an existing grease trap, hoods in place and up to code. You will be modifying kitchen equipment (except hood locations), lighting, hvac, millwork and finishes. Let’s presume this is a mid-range restaurant with table service. Expect $100-150 per square foot.
  2. You’re leasing a space that has never been a restaurant but is a ‘warm shell’. That means that there is electrical and plumbing in the space. Your vision is a fast food or fast casual program. Expect $200-250 per square foot.
  3. You’re leasing a space that has never been a restaurant but is a ‘warm shell’. Your vision is high level dining with table service. Expect $300-350 per square foot.

Take these numbers as base numbers. They can easily go up. And if you plan to do the manual labor yourself, then double the length of your construction schedule (which could be anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months depending on complexity). Remember, every day that you pay rent and are not open is also costing you. Do yourself a favor….hire a general contractor.

2. owner costs

These are wide ranging and will depend very much on your operation. As a start, here are the costs that you will need to research for your restaurant:

  • licenses (business, liquor, etc.)
  • table top: serveware, glassware, candles, condiments, etc.
  • kitchen small wares
  • artwork
  • POS system
  • branding: logo, menu, signage, environmental graphic execution/installation
  • attorney fees: don’t negotiate your lease or partnership agreement without help
  • music system
  • food and liquor
  • staff training
  • rent…for every month you are not open for business

3. kitchen and bar equipment

Grills, ranges, fryers, refrigeration equipment, ice makers, dishwashing, specialty equipment….this will be one of the highest numbers in your budget. You can verify some of these numbers online (if you have a very small kitchen and little equipment). If you choose to use your own online resources, double whatever number you come up with. You likely don’t have enough hand sinks, you forgot faucets, etc. Otherwise, talk with a dealer and get a ballpark number for your kitchen equipment.

4. furnishings and fixtures

This number will include your tables and chairs, light fixtures, host stand, some accessory items. Your designer can put together a budget number for furnishings based on your program and level of finish. Expect somewhere between $300 and $600 per seat.

5. fees

It was my fee that sunk that deal that began this article. And if they couldn’t afford my fee, my guess is they couldn’t afford their restaurant. Here are the fees you can expect to have to pay:

  • Architecture and Design: about 10%-12% of construction costs (that was number 1)
  • MEP Engineering: assume an additional 15% of design fee…this doesn’t track with design fees, but it is a decent ballpark number
  • Food Service Design (kitchen design): assume an additional 10% of design fee…like engineering this doesn’t track with design fees, but again it is a decent ballpark number
  • Structural Engineering: this will vary depending on conditions
  • Lighting Design: unless this is extensive, lighting design will come out of the design fee already mentioned
  • Graphic Design: this is the cost for design of logo, menus, signage, environmental graphics and will vary depending on need
  • Permitting: assume an additional 3.5%-4% of construction cost to cover building permit, planning permit, health department permit, signage permit, sanitation permit. Make a few phone calls as some jurisdictions tack on some pretty hefty fees that can be very unexpected. Especially sanitation.

and then

Once you put these numbers together, tack on at least a 5% contingency. 10% would be better. If all of these numbers together add up to less than your bank account, then you are good to go. If not, find some friends/neighbors/investors who also want to own a restaurant. Better yet, find people who want to be silent partners.

If this is your dream, follow it. There are plenty of us out here to help you…just ask.

Keep in touch,

And a giant PS….shout out to my friend and colleague Lev Weisbach, architect extraordinaire, for providing feedback on this post.

after the election: design


Do you want to talk politics? Me neither. But I do want to talk about what we, as designers and architects, can do as we move forward into this new and shifted world. How will we protect the environment that may not be top of the new administration’s list of priorities? What kinds of projects will we take on pro bono in support of the disenfranchised? How can we create a world that is inclusive when our country is so divided? Closer to home, how do we provide a workplace that is all-embracing, safe and productive?

help people go home

Build houses with Habitat for Humanity. This is one of my favorite organizations to volunteer with. I’ve learned to hang gyp, tape and mud, pull electrical, wire an outlet, paint a wall, wire a switch. Helping build a building has taught me much about what’s behind those lines I draw for a living. Better still this helps people stabilize their lives. Habitat for Humanity is nationwide. Find them here.

design for everyone

We don’t have much choice about ADA. We complain and moan about having to put a ramp in a facility that wouldn’t be used by someone in a wheelchair anyway. It’s time to turn that conversation around. Let’s look for opportunities to use the principles of universal design: design that accommodates the widest range of individuals. We are a diverse population of cultures, abilities, economic levels. Designers and architects can lead the way to design that works for our aging population, the deaf, those without sight, varied cultures as well as varied abilities. When clients complain about spending money on accessibility, show them there’s another way to have that conversation.

fight for good design

There are clients out there (we won’t mention any names) whose taste is…..questionable. When working with those clients you need to stand up for good design. Don’t give in without a fight when they want to build something that offends the sensibility of the neighborhood. Do take the time to work to educate your clients about what design really is: a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints (Wikipedia). Make sure your client’s goals are acceptable to you before accepting a commission. Consider walking away from a project that forces you to short change good taste or appropriate design parameters.

bridge the divide

“After seeing the legibility of the election’s results—and the connected spatial and divided geographies of urban versus rural, the coasts versus middle America, and of white versus black versus latino, and many others, I appreciate the charge to the ‘revolutionary act of knowing others.’ This is a conversation that is needed, and it cannot only happen in the space of the media and social media and politics. It needs to also happen in spaces and places where we all live, work, play, and connect. Our shared nation is as tangible as Main Street and as real as our many different types of homes, workplaces, and public infrastructures and facilities.”—Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the NYC Public Design Commission.

Published by fastcodesign.

  • Create a workplace that allows for differing opinions and will support differing points of view.
  • Encourage conversations that lead to understanding that begins in the workplace and extends to the world outside.
  • Organize volunteer opportunities for your employees or give them time to volunteer during work hours.

consider pro bono work where it’s really needed

The new U.S. administration may not support many of the social and environmental organizations historically funded by our government. If there is room in your budget for pro bono work, see if any of these organizations are in need of a new space, a re-organization of existing space, perhaps new furnishings, etc. Do some research and work for the organizations that you believe in.

work locally

“As we consider what the U.S. presidential election means for our nation as a whole, we must not lose sight of the positive influence we as architects and designers can have on our local communities. In fact, it is on the local level where politics and policies tend to have the most direct impact on everyday citizens. So while I recognize that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the wake of the election, I take comfort and pride in knowing that we, as a community of design professionals, will continue to focus on improving our local communities.”—Phil Freelon, architect and design director, Perkins + Will.

Published by fastcodesign.

build with the environment in mind

Encourage your clients to build sustainably: use local products, reduce power needs, use products that are produced sustainably, install low water landscapes, build near transportation, keep building health in mind. Build to LEED standards or Green Globe Standards even if the project won’t be certified. Pay attention and suggest building methods that protect our fragile earth and those of us that plan to live here for a while.

speak up

The AIA came out with a statement after the election that didn’t reflect the feelings and attitudes of its members. The backlash was fast and it was huge, leading to the AIA walking back their original statement. Pay attention to what the professional organizations that you belong to are saying. Do you agree? Use the power of your peers to make a statement, start a trend, open a dialogue, support your beliefs.

any other ideas?

This has been a divisive election and has left many feeling sad, disappointed, frightened, dis-enfranchised. What else can we do to mend?

Keep in touch,


ps….if you haven’t seen the book in the photo, here’s a link. There are multiple sites online where you can also download a pdf, but I recommend buying the book and keeping it somewhere accessible. I keep my copy on my coffee table. And no, those aren’t my fingernails.

who needs a mentor?


I need a mentor. So do you. You may be at the very beginning of your career or even still in school…a time when mentors are a common topic. For those of us who have been doing what we do for a while, mentoring may not seem like such an obvious need. It is.

consider these 3 reasons to seek out your own mentor

  • Careers are not static

In this age of technological leaps we don’t begin a career and continue on a single path through retirement. ‘Lifelong learner’ has become a catch phrase on every resume and in every job interview. Over the course of your career you will need to learn new skills. Mentors can guide you to find the training you need, suggest skills to pursue and even teach some of those skills.

When I was a young designer, CAD was just entering the workplace. To stay relevant I’ve spent hundreds of hours learning to use the newer technologies that allow me to continue to do my job. My mentors along the way have both taught me the skills I need and directed me to find the training they couldn’t teach.

  • You are making a career shift

You’ve been in the trenches for years and you want to change directions and go into management. You’ve got great design skills but marketing taps talent and connections that you haven’t had an opportunity to use. Commercial office space designs fill your portfolio….now you want to change directions and do some retail design (or residential, or hospitality, or health care…). Or maybe you’ve been doing this a long time and now you want to teach.

Finding a mentor that understands the direction you want to go, someone who has even traveled that path is invaluable. They’ve been where you are and can help you to see your options for change.

  • You are bored

A mentor will challenge and inspire you. Perhaps you’re bored because you’ve been doing the same thing the same way for years or decades. Maybe it’s time to tap a new source of business. Or augment your business with a new set of skills. A mentor will see you and your process through a lens different from the lens you use. Just as designers use the critiques of others to solidify design solutions, we can all benefit from the critiques of outsiders to refine and sharpen the direction of our careers.

finding a mentor

So now that you’ve decided that a mentor is worth seeking, where should you look and how should you approach? There are programs that work like dating sites. You can cast a wide net using social media. Networking events might be an option. But the bottom line is that a mentor/mentee relationship is just like any other relationship. It requires give and take, a personal connection and that magical chemistry. So I’d skip those first three suggestions.

  • Forget the term ‘mentor’

…this is a relationship. Giving it a title is uncomfortable. The most useful mentor relationships build on themselves, so very likely you already know several people who might mentor you. Don’t formalize a request (‘will you be my mentor?’), instead ask a question. Ask for a specific piece of advice. If this relationship is to evolve into a mentoring relationship, this will be the beginning. If not, you will know to look elsewhere.

When I first began writing a few years ago, I reached out to a friend who is a journalist. I asked if we could get together because I had questions about how to charge for my writing. She offered me her ‘friends and family rate’ to answer my questions. Clearly she was not interested in mentoring. I continued my quest.

  • Look to people who respect you

One great way to begin an effective mentoring relationship is to find someone to whom you’ve already proven yourself. Someone who knows your work and your abilities. This individual will already be in your court and may have the time and inclination to help you build skills, change direction, or otherwise grow as a professional.

  • Do you need to build skills?

If you’ve been living and working in the same geographical area for some time, there are people already in your circle of acquaintances who can help. Don’t let age or title narrow the pool. If you are looking for specific computer skills, perhaps someone younger would be an appropriate mentor.

My son has a friend who is a wizard at PhotoShop. While he can’t give me career advice, he can help me boost my skills. And while he is helping me learn PhotoShop I can help him explore career options.

  • Do you need perspective?

If what you’re looking for is perspective and direction, you may need to reach out to someone who’s been working in your field longer. A superior in your current position might be an option, or perhaps someone you know outside your firm.

One of my early mentors worked for an architectural firm and served as architect of record on several projects that we did together. He eventually convinced me to leave my job and come to work at his firm. When I needed help or advice, he was always my first stop.

  • Don’t be shy

Talk about what you want to do and where you hope to go with it. Talk about it at networking events. Talk about it at parties. Reach out to friends you haven’t seen in a while, and those you saw last week, and mention your plans. You have a much bigger circle of contacts than you realize. Let them be part of your path…many people enjoy being a helpmate.

I was at a party last night talking with a woman I’ve known socially for a decade. She dabbles in art but we have no common business connections. I mentioned that I am going to start teaching design and she offered to connect me with her cousin who has been teaching design for several years. Here’s a connection, and possibly a mentor, that I never would have known about if not for a casual mention in a social setting.

  • Reach out to strangers

While reaching out to strangers goes against everything I’ve already said, sometimes it is appropriate. If you are changing careers or looking for a career shift, you may need to look outside your circle of acquaintances. While I don’t suggest putting a request out on social media, I have been known to offer to buy lunch for someone who worked in a business that I found interesting. Answering ads for jobs is another way of meeting people in the business you hope to enter. Just be sure that you have enough to offer for this to be worthwhile. Be clear about what you have to offer and where you are still building skills and knowledge. Attend professional development meetings, seminars, conferences, classes. Reach out to the people you meet.

  • Give back
    • This has two components:
      • Offer what you can to your mentor. Buy lunch, proof a website, offer design advice, write a letter… Don’t let this be a one-way relationship or it won’t last and it won’t be fruitful. No matter where you are in your career, you have much to offer.
      • Mentor someone else.

Good luck on your quest! And if you need a mentor in my business, I might be a good place to start!

Keep in touch,


the best ideas


The last brainstorming session I led was a complete failure. It was a few years ago, before I’d read all of the articles telling me how useless brainstorming really is. As a writer, I’m a big fan of the ‘free write’, where you pick up a pen and a piece of paper and sit quietly writing whatever comes to mind. This is a great way to clear out the cobwebs and get to a place where your writing starts to come together and head in a cohesive direction. I saw brainstorming as the same concept but used collectively. Not so much. Every idea that anyone threw out was immediately beaten to a bloody pulp before another idea was suggested. All of the beating made many in the group fearful of throwing out any ideas at all. We got nowhere.

brainstorming=the loudest person wins, everyone loses

Now I know….brainstorming doesn’t work. But we creatives still need ideas. And group think by its very nature will generate more ideas, and a wider diversity of ideas, than can any one of us sitting alone. There are a couple of methods that have been developed in the last few years that seem to yield better results.

ask questions

Frame-storming (coined by Tina Seelig at Stanford and used by Matthew May in his book ‘Winning the Brain Game’) turns brainstorming on its head. Rather than generating ideas, a problem is set forth and participants generate questions. Hal Gregersen of MIT calls this question-storming and the Right Question Institute calls it QFT (question formulation technique). This method seems to engage more participants and incur less judgment, thereby allowing more ideas. The QFT method follows five steps.

  1. Design a ‘question-focus’: this is best presented as a statement of the problem being addressed.
  2. Generate questions: in small groups assign one person to write, all others throw out questions for a designated time period. No discussion or debate is allowed.
  3. Improve questions: groups work on questions, refining some and expanding others.
  4. Prioritize questions: each group selects its favorite questions, shares them with the larger group and everyone votes on the best questions, those that provide new avenues into the problem.
  5. Define next steps: create an action plan on whatever question(s) rise to the top.


Dr. Tony McCaffrey developed a technique he calls brain-swarming. A problem or goal is written at the top of a white board, available resources are written at the bottom. Individuals use sticky notes to write down ideas for tackling the problem. Discussion and refinement occurs as the board is filled in.

Leigh Thompson and Loran Nordgren, professors at the Kellogg School, have developed a process they call brain-writing (the phrase was originally coined by UT Arlington professor Paul Paulus). With brain-writing, ideation occurs first and individually. Once ideas are written down (or in Nordgren’s case they can be recorded on an app he developed called Candor), they are brought to the group and discussed.

Both methods of write first/talk later have proven to yield more potential solutions from a larger percentage of participants. Everyone has an opportunity to participate equally.

in the context of design

So let’s say you’re in a design charrette, what might these techniques look like? Pretend the goal is to design a SLO food restaurant in New Orleans.


Questions like ‘what is available locally in NOLA?’, ‘who would buy SLO food….locals or tourists?’, ‘is there a history of SLO food in NOLA?’, ‘what about local traditions?’, etc. might shape the discussion.


The top of the white board would say ‘SLO food restaurant in NOLA’, the bottom might list available SLO foods, budget, existing conditions, available fabricators, time constraints, etc.


We all come at design differently, so the brain-write approach would allow each participant to address the problem/goal from their comfort zone. If it were me, I’d begin with the dictionary and move to online research into place. Someone else might begin with images.

Next time I’m called on to lead a brainstorming session, I’ll try one of these methods instead. Sounds like a lot more fun than beating mostly bad ideas to a bloody pulp.

Keep in touch,



designing designers

designing designers

Photo via

There is a lot of information out there about how to do your design job. Whether you design space or tech or brand or something else. But what about how to be a designer?  How do we design ourselves to be the best designers we can be?

Heather Phillips of Fast Company interviewed 3 designers to get their take. Here is a synopsis of their thoughts, along with my own additions, about finding, growing and keeping your best design self present.

find your superpower

What do you bring to the project team? What’s your gift? How do you know?

  • Track your activities
    • Track what you do, when you do it, and how you feel after doing it. The tasks that leave you feeling great and energized are probably the tasks you are really good at.
  • Be clear about where you fall short
    • Don’t hide your flaws and shortcomings….flaunt them. Look for opportunities to work with people who are good at the things you are not so good at. Learn from them.
  • Talk to past clients, peers
    • Ask for a testimonial to use on a website, business card, or just to save for future needs. Other people will be able to highlight strengths that you haven’t thought of. They can define you relative to others they have worked with which will help you understand how you stand out.

create your space/day/team deliberately

Do you thrive in a chaotic environment? Are you at your creative best after lunch? On Tuesday? Is there that one team member who saps your strength? Who feeds your strength? What conditions do you need to be creative and productive?

  • Divide your time between work that feeds you and work that doesn’t
    • Set aside specific times for administrative work if that doesn’t feed your creative self. And make sure that your most creative time of day/week is set aside for creative thinking. Don’t waste it on email.
  • Know yourself and fight for what you need
    • Take time off when you need to attend to family or personal needs or just to regroup. Set a meeting schedule that works with your personality….don’t let meetings interfere with your creative time. Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired.
    • Create a workspace that works for you.
  • Be conscious about how team members affect you
    • If you are forced to work with someone who challenges you (and not in a good way), don’t let that define your place on the team. Keep in touch with team members who you work well with to maintain balance.

you are good

When negative thoughts bubble up (and they will), how do you keep them from blocking your creativity? When a project isn’t going how you’d hoped/planned/promised, what is your recourse?

  • This may be ‘imposter syndrome’, your own inner voice telling you that you are a fraud
    • Imposter syndrome burbles to the surface when you are working at the edge of your comfort zone. Embrace the opportunity and dig in…learning fosters creativity.
    • Change your posture. Really. 
  • Check yourself.
    • Are you tired? Hungry? Stressed about something outside of work? If so, fix these things first. Eat, take a walk, meditate, exercise, nap.  You are most creative when your body is functioning at its best.
  • Review a successful project in which you participated.
    • Remind yourself of your contributions….how you helped the project to succeed. What wasn’t working that you were able to correct. Make a list of what you brought to the project.

The more deliberate you can be in designing yourself as a designer, the easier it will be to overcome the obstacles that you will face. You’ve got this.

Did I miss anything? Let me know….

Keep in touch,

There will be obstacles. Design yourself to overcome them Click To Tweet

dear favorite client


You hired an interior designer for a reason. Your local building department said you needed one. The health department suggested that a designer could get your restaurant open more efficiently than you could. Maybe you wanted to streamline your office space. Or you’re one of those really wise people who knows your own limitations and architecture falls outside of your skill set.

You’re a left-brainer who thinks in spreadsheets and actuarial tables. What can you expect from a creative? What do they do exactly? And how?

there isn’t just one design process

Well dear left-brained client, we’re all different. We all do things differently. We approach projects differently and access solutions differently. We each have a creative process that is, at least in some way, unique to only us.


My process always begins with words. Lots of questions which always lead to more questions. Then I sit down and begin looking up definitions of the words that were answers to the questions. The dictionary is my first resource when I begin a project. And words guide my creative process until the project is complete.


Marcio Kogan, a Brazilian architect, sees his projects as movies. He walks through a scene in his head, creating his building as he does. Clearly he has a sense of humor…once the project is built he often creates a film starring the now real project.


David Darling and Joshua Aidlin camp out on the site of their future project. They feel living and sleeping at the site allows them to ‘extract a building’ from the location rather than adding a building.

playing with clay

Anna Heringer calls part of her process ‘claystorming’….conceiving her ideas by shaping hunks of clay. Like grown-up play doh.


Niroko Kusunoki of the Paris based architecture firm Moreau Kusunoki creates intricate pen and ink cartoon style drawings, complete with thought bubbles, to place buildings in their surroundings and refine how they work.

photo courtesy moreau kusunoki/architectural record

photo courtesy moreau kusunoki/architectural record

Some designers begin with sketches, some with 3D renderings, some with photos, some with movies or music or art. Many with a combination of inspiring sources. We use whatever creative avenue works for us, then almost magically –and often in the shower, or upon waking in the morning, or while walking the dog—we are able to peel back the layers of the problem and reveal the solution.

embrace the process…and your designer

So get to know your designer before you hire your designer. This is a personal relationship as much as it is a business relationship. You may not understand how your designer thinks, but you need to appreciate how he or she gets from where you are to where you want to be. And you must trust your designer to know and follow their own process.

The perfect client, from our perspective, is the one who not only respects our creative process but embraces it. With every project we begin it is our hope that you will be our new favorite client.

Keep in touch,

dear design school grad, redux


la quinta plan

Congratulations graduate!

You designed your way out of college with all of those sleepless nights and huge pots of coffee. I bet you know every show on television after midnight. Now that you’re ready to create the next greatest building interior, here are a few tips from the trenches (well at least the trench that I work from).

If design doesn’t feed your soul, don’t do it.

I was a senior in business marketing when I switched to design. Business school did not inspire me and someone suggested interior design. First I laughed (right, pick pillow and curtain colors for a living?) Then I started talking to professionals in the field. What I heard sparked a fire in me that I couldn’t articulate and hadn’t felt before. So based on my gut reaction, I added another two years to my college career and made the switch. I still can’t articulate the feeling, but I do know that if I am not creating, drawing and solving problems that create better lives for my clients, I don’t breathe as well.

If design itself doesn’t feed your soul you still have options: sales, facilities, move coordination. Find your niche.

There are no shortcuts.

When you graduate you won’t be designing the next cover project for Interior Design Magazine. You will be creating presentation boards, putting documents together that show other people’s designs to their best effect, putting together finish schedules, specifying furnishings that someone else chose, cleaning up the conference room. Your job is basically to make other people’s jobs easier. This is the path.

  • Study hard
  • Learn the amazing computer programs that are available to you and offer these skills every chance you get
  • When you finish a task ask for another
  • Expect to work long hours when a deadline is approaching and don’t make plans the evening before a presentation….you will have to cancel

I began my career in small design firms so that I was exposed to the full breadth of design projects. My projects weren’t spectacular (small office spaces, very basic tenant improvement work), but I learned how to run a project from start to finish. If you choose to begin your career for one of the larger firms, you may work on more prestigious projects, but you will do a smaller piece of them. You know your personality, so move in the direction that best fits who you are. And whatever you do, do it well. The devil truly is in the details…mess up the details and the senior designers in your firm won’t want you on their projects.

You are a problem solver first….never forget that.

Pretty isn’t the highest priority. Your first job is to solve your client’s problem, and before you can do that you must understand what the problem is. Research your client’s business, ask questions about your client’s lifestyle. Understand your client’s family, customers, employee needs…whatever is appropriate to this project. Determine the best way to make this project function so that your client’s life is better as a result. This is how you solve their problem. Then make it pretty or hip or cool or dark…aesthetics are important, just not the first order of business. A project that looks good but doesn’t work well is a failure and you won’t get hired again.

Learn all you can before you begin and then learn some more.

There are certificate programs and short degree courses. Take the long course. Design is not just color theory and lighting science, it is a way of looking at the world. The only way to get there is to take the long course…and understand that there is no end. In order to create successful design you will need to understand the world as it grows and changes. Keep reading, talk to experts in other fields, pick the brains of the contractors and fabricators you work with, travel, take pictures. The world is an exciting place and everything you learn will make you a better designer. Get accredited and certified in whatever areas you have interest. That alphabet soup behind your name helps to tell your story.

Pretty pictures aren’t built projects.

Part of every design job includes an understanding of the local jurisdiction’s rules, operating procedures and building codes. You learned some of this in school….learn more. Anyone can draw pretty pictures (well almost anyone), but can these pretty pictures be built? Learn how to research this information and the senior designers in your firm will be begging to have you on their teams. Even if this never becomes your area of expertise, know enough to ask appropriate questions as a design begins to gel. It seems to get more difficult all the time to navigate the myriad rules and regulations that sometimes feel like roadblocks, so get used to finding ways around. I learned early on (thanks to my friend Ed), that the best way to complete a project successfully is to meet with building officials before design has even begun. Explain the project goals and ask for guidance to avoid potential bumps in the road.

Welcome to the world of design! I hope it fills your soul and makes you as happy as it makes me.

Keep in touch,
NCIDQ (this means I’ve studied and passed the national interior design certification exam)
LEED AP ID+C (this means I’ve studied and passed the LEED exam for interior design and construction, a green building certification)
CID (this means I’m a certified interior designer in the state of California and can sign my own drawings)

dear realtor…

need help with that retro permit?dear realtor….

You just got a dream listing. The house is gorgeous and you go about doing what you do to get it ready to market. Minor repairs, painting, staging. And yes, it’s in the city limits so you order the resale inspection. Dang, there is no record of a permit for that obvious bathroom remodel. Or the hot tub out back. Or those retaining walls holding back the hillside. Or that fabulous new kitchen. And by the way, the hot water heater isn’t elevated and there are no smoke detectors. Your seller really wants to move on, so what to do?

resale inspections

the dreaded resale inspection

this is what you don’t want your resale inspection to look like!

When you put a house on the market, a resale inspection will be performed by your local building department. The realtor or the homeowner can initiate this process. An inspector will come out and look at the house and compare the state of the house with the permits that have been pulled on the house. The report will be broken up into several sections. It will contain:

  1. a list of issued permits
  2. information about the type of property and accessory structures
  3. a checklist of items that are in violation and may or may not require correction
  4. a list of items that require correction and re-inspection
  5. a list of items that require submission of plans for a complete permit review

This last item is what causes fear and hand wringing. One through four you can take care of on your own. Number five might be a whole other can of fish.

they just needed a new refrigerator

Often your client doesn’t know when a permit is required. Or they were just going to replace the fridge and it turned into all new appliances, light fixtures, flooring, and a sink in the island. Or maybe they just decided to replace those old aluminum windows with something that didn’t scream 1952. And that hot tub in the back yard….no one said a permit was required! Yup….a permit was required. But what’s done is done. And now you’ve got buyers chomping at the bit and you need to draw the un-permitted work and get it approved. You need a retro permit. You’ve got this. First, take a breath.

make friends

Call your local building department. Ask them to direct you to their submission requirements….they probably have a web page. If you have the ability to draw to scale and follow the rest of their instructions, then get out your straight edge and start drawing. Do some research into codes that are applicable to your client’s situation (building, fire, electrical and plumbing) and include this information on your drawings. Hopefully the work was done to code…. Once you have all of the information on the drawings, create as many sets as the building department requires (usually 3 or 4) and check their website to find out when they have ‘counter hours’. Every building department has certain hours, ‘counter hours’, during which they will approve plans on the spot. Reserve a few hours to go down and talk with your building official. With luck your plans will be approved and a permit will be issued. Often, however, there will be questions. Especially if you are new at this. If there are questions you will need to go back to the drawing board.

deep breath

This is where calm and finesse come in. And a great deal of patience. You will need to follow one of two paths:

  1. but wait there’s more: Perhaps your building official just needed more information (you forgot to show the electrical outlets?) You will need to gather information and revise your drawings. If you received written comments from the building department then in addition to your revised drawings create a narrative to respond to each item. Again you’ll need to create as many sets as the building department requires. When you’re ready, try to set a meeting with your building official to review your revised drawings. Go through each question or comment, respond to it on your drawing as well as in a narrative, and very nicely respond to whatever questions remain. Hopefully this will be the end of this part of the process and your permit will be issued. At this point you will make a final payment for your permit.
  2. it may require a hammer: Is there something at the house that is not built to code and was flagged by the building official? That will need to be fixed. If work needs to be done, revise your plans and show the work completed. Add any other information that the building department requested and create a narrative if you received written comments. Create as many sets as the building department requires. Now take your drawings back to the building department and with all the sugar you can muster have another go. Once the building department is satisfied, you will make a final payment and the permit will be issued. Now hire the necessary professionals to complete the work you showed on your plans.

Once you’ve completed either path one or path two, schedule a final inspection. If the planets are aligned, the inspector will sign your permit and this will be the end of the process. Now pop that champagne!

if this all sounds like just too much…

Contact me. I’ve pulled permits….lots of permits. While this part of my job may not be very creative on the one hand, it does require a certain finesse and definitely a great deal of calm. And the ability to create drawings that satisfy the building department. I get them and I’ve got this. You are busy….you have hands to hold and marketing to do.

I have skills to get you a retro permit. Let me help. Click To Tweet

Keep in touch,

it’s about the process

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

I was on vacation last week and spent a lot of time watching ghost crabs. They work very hard digging holes just above the shoreline. If you sit quietly you’ll see that some of them are very neat about their digging….pushing up big claws full of sand and tossing it clear of the hole they are digging. Some of them are not so efficient and drop the sand just outside the hole until it begins to tumble back in. Apparently this is the difference between youth and elder, and even between male and female. In every case, eventually a wave washes in, the hole is covered, and the whole process begins again. Seems like futility is built into the process.

On the topic of process vs. product, many a quote has been written. The brainiest among us usually lean toward process being more important than product. Journey being more important than destination. Ralph Waldo Emerson is attributed with the saying “Life is a journey, not a destination”. I have a favorite twist…”It’s not the journey or the destination, it’s the seatmate.”

Regardless of your take on journeys, destinations and partners, there is a lot of process involved. Surfers paddle for hours to ride waves for a few seconds. Designers spend 5% of our time on big design concepts and 95% of our time on execution. Dinner takes hours to prepare, and my children are excusing themselves within 10 minutes of arriving at the table.

So what’s my point? If it’s not about measuring the value of process over product, journey over destination, or even who is along for the ride, what is it about? It’s about being present for and enjoying the process. No matter what you do for fun or for a living, there is process involved. And parts of the process may seem futile or unnecessary or downright painful. But if 95% of everything is process, then we best find a way to enjoy it. Even the parts we don’t really like. If you have children you might remember when they were young and you spent your days wiping noses, quieting tantrums, changing diapers. Now that they’re teens (okay, speaking personally) it’s a whole new set of issues that fill my journey from morning till night. And I know that one day I will look back on this time with the same sweet melancholy that I do on the toddler years.

My point being, enjoy it while it’s happening.

Find patience when the process seems futile and the sand keeps falling back into the hole. Find comfort in the act of chopping onions even though no one will notice that there are onions in the chili. Find joy in the strength gained by paddling out. Find clarity in the conversations with clients who need help understanding.

It's really all about being in the process, being on the journey, not just napping until you arrive. Click To Tweet

Can I help you on your journey to a better website, a smoother permit process, a fabulous restaurant design?

Keep in touch,


design a new year

cocktail party

If you’re a freelancer like me, every day is a new start. We are continually beginning again. There is no pipeline feeding us work and inspiration. As a result we are constantly engaged in engaging ourselves, looking for pathways that both inspire as a designer and help to pay the mortgage. Are you looking for something to put the designerly spark back in your step? Maybe a new revenue stream or source of inspiration? You’re a designer….design a new year! Here are three ideas that work:

go to cocktail parties

Seriously. I am not a big fan of the networking events where you stick your hand out and offer a business card. But give me a social occasion and I’m golden. While you’re together mention what you do for a living. Talk about projects you’ve worked on, people you’ve worked with. Designers don’t just work design, we live design. And it’s an exciting world, especially for those who don’t inhabit it.

  • Attend neighborhood socials
  • Go to your kids’ school events, dinners, fundraisers
  • Accept invitations to a friend’s house for dinner, especially if there will be people attending that you haven’t met
  • Throw a party and invite the neighbors

I’ve been re-designing my house since we moved in 17 years ago. And the neighbors have been watching the transformation. They’ve all been over for a party or coffee and have seen what I’ve been up to first hand. So when the realtor next door needed help with drawings and a permit before selling her client’s home, my neighbor called me to see if this was in my wheelhouse. A few months later I’ve now helped not only the realtor next door but others as well. Retro permits are now a whole new revenue stream for me.

learn a new skill

You are undoubtedly great at what you do. And you’ll be great at what you don’t yet do. Learning a new skill will create potential opportunities, and it will ignite pathways in your brain. That excitement is what feeds designers. And if you are a multipotentialite like me, learning new skills is probably how you breathe.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. ~Socrates

So choose something that you don’t know how to do. Look for skills that inspire you, not that will necessarily lead to a specific revenue stream. Find something that engages you and makes you smile. Maybe it’s a new musical instrument or a new technical skill. Be serious about it…take a class, sign up for a series of webinars, buy a book of lessons. Don’t just do it when you have a free moment. Set aside an hour or two every week and put it on your calendar. Make it real.

Last year I worked on web design skills: CSS, HTML, PHP. I wanted to re-build my own website, and being a designer I wanted it done my way. In my case this led to several clients who needed help developing their online presence either via a website, newsletter or both. This year I’m working on Photoshop and SketchUp, two programs that I know and use, but not proficiently. They both feed a creativity that inspires me. Who knows where they will lead?


You know a lot. Because you already know these things, they may seem mundane and uninteresting. They aren’t either. The things you know are interesting to the right audience, in the right environment. And teaching is not only a great way to learn and grow your own knowledge, it is also an opportunity to make an impression. In a room full of people, the name of the person leading the conversation is more likely to be remembered than the other 100 names.

Sit down with pen and paper and make a list of things that you know. Next to that list make a list of who might benefit from each of your pools of knowledge. Then start making contact.

  • Give a talk at a local school

This is excellent practice and carries very little risk. It can be a career day at the local middle school or your college alma mater.

  • Be the expert on a panel or at a business organization’s monthly meeting

Talk to people in another field about your business and what you can do for their business.

  • Be the speaker at your design organization’s event

Talk about the niche you work in, share your methods and your process, create a conversation with your audience. Use the opportunity to share what you know and gain some new knowledge.

  • Share a skill or specific knowledge in a video

Then post it on your website, your facebook page, LinkedIn, your twitter account. Link it at the bottom of your email. Create short bites that potential customers and clients can watch in less than 5 minutes.

Let me know what works for you. Do you have other ideas about how freelancers can keep the spark alive? If so, let me hear them! I hope you’re off to a great 2016…design it your way.

Keep in touch,

program it again!


the beginning

Your project began a while ago. Remember? Your architectural team asked you a lot of questions, probably using some version of a questionnaire that was distributed to the many stakeholders involved in your project. There were interviews and meetings. You told them how you would be using the designed space, who would be using the space, when the space would be used and by how many, what time of day the space would be used, what you wanted the space to look, feel, sound like. And probably a whole lot more. This was called programming and it was a bit grueling and probably kind of boring. But your architectural team pushed for answers. You were glad when it was over and you began to see renderings and samples of what your newly designed space would look like and how it would solve the problem you needed solved. You felt the adrenaline rise anticipating the completion of your project.


Then there were delays. Maybe the project would cost more than you had budgeted. Or your local jurisdiction had some issues that took months, or even years, to resolve. Maybe there were stakeholders who weren’t happy with the current design which resulted in a redesign, and maybe another. Perhaps the stakeholders changed and new stakeholders had questions that hadn’t yet been resolved. There are more reasons for delays than there are for projects to begin and complete on time…expect delays.

for example

I might be the most unpopular parent in my local school district right now. Sometime around 2002 our district began planning for a new outdoor stadium at the high school. With a toddler and a 2nd grader, this was way off my radar. One delay apparently led to another, and construction has not yet begun on the stadium project. This year the bond measures needed to finance the project passed and the project is now picking up speed. Designs were created, then re-created and last week there was a meeting. Parents and local residents were invited. I now have a daughter in her third year at university and a high school junior. I attended the meeting.

One of the main goals of the project has always been to build a field that could be used year round. In 2002 artificial turf was deemed the best solution. In 2015, with many turf fields already installed, we are beginning to learn there are some very good reasons to question the use of turf. And in 2015 we have a whole new set of stakeholders, both student athletes and their parents, who have never been part of the turf vs. grass conversation. Some of them do not want a turf field, and some of them (me) spoke up at the meeting. The room got very quiet. Changing the project from a turf field to grass would require a complete re-design, and resulting additional delays, for the project. So who dropped the ball?

begin again

There are many reasons to re-visit the programming stage of a project. The two greatest reasons are the passage of time and a significant change in stakeholders. Both were at play in the example that made me the least liked parent in town. Your architectural team should drive review of programming data, but if they don’t, it is up to you.

passage of time

If your project is delayed for any reason, and the delay extends long enough that data already collected might significantly change, needs might change, or the use of the project might change, then programming should be revisited. Was your project programmed more than a year ago without forward movement in design and construction? Then someone on your project team should review the programming data and verify the data’s current accuracy. If there is the possibility that it has become out-of-date, then re-program the project. If, as in the case above, millions of dollars are at stake, it is worth a few weeks (or even months) to verify that the project is built to fulfill current needs.

change in stakeholders

Has the delay resulted in a significant change in stakeholders? In a high school situation, there is an entirely new generation of stakeholders every four years. And partial turnover every year. This is an important consideration when programming a project in this arena. Even in business, there is turnover of stakeholders over time. At the beginning of the project a list of stakeholders should be created (not necessarily by name, but certainly by position). If delays result in a significant change in these stakeholders, then conduct programming again with the new stakeholders.

do it right

Sometimes doing it right means programming more than once. Construction projects are expensive and to be successful must satisfy the needs of current stakeholders. This means getting that first step, programming, right. No matter how many times that step must be re-visited. A multi million dollar construction project (any project for that matter), that does not fulfill the needs of its stakeholders is a very costly mistake.

A construction project that does not fulfill the needs of its stakeholders is a very costly mistake. Click To Tweet

Keep in touch,

If you are interested in the research I’ve done into artificial turf, email me. I didn’t include that information here as it is outside the scope of this article. Just be warned, it probably won’t make you any more popular than it made me!

the market is hot, the house is staged, then you got your RBR


Permit pulling fun…

As a commercial interior designer I am responsible for documentation to pull permits. Lots of permits. While this part of my job may not be very creative on the one hand, it does require a certain finesse and definitely a great deal of calm. And the ability to create drawings that satisfy the building department. So when clients began coming to me to help them get through the permit process that was stalling the sale of their home, and they were wringing their hands and looking very very scared, of course I said yes. I’ve now helped several people pull these retroactive permits.

the market is hot, your house is staged...but you need a retro permit? #partinotes Click To Tweet

What the heck is an RBR?

An RBR is a Report of Residential Building Record. When you put your house on the market, an RBR must be filed with your local jurisdiction. Your realtor will probably initiate this process. An inspector will come out and look at your house and compare the state of the house with the permits that have been pulled on the house. The report will contain a list of issued permits, information about the type of property and accessory structures, a checklist of items that are in violation and may or may not require correction, a list of items that require correction and re-inspection, and a list of items that require submission of plans for a complete permit review. This last item is what causes hand wringing.

Remember that little kitchen remodel?

You were just going to replace the fridge and it turned into all new appliances, light fixtures, flooring, and a sink in the island. Or maybe you decided to replace those old aluminum windows with something that didn’t scream 1952. And that hot tub in the back yard….no one told you a permit was required! Yup….a permit was required. But what’s done is done. And now you’ve got buyers chomping at the bit and you need to draw the un-permitted work and get it approved. You need a retro permit. You’ve got this. First, take a breath.

Make friends with your building official

Call your local building department. Ask them to direct you to their submission requirements….they probably have a web page. If you have the ability to draw to scale and follow the rest of their instructions, then get out your straight edge and start drawing. Do some research into codes that are applicable to your situation (building, fire, electrical and plumbing) and include this information on your drawings. Hopefully the work was done to code…let’s just presume it was. Once you have all of the information on the drawings, create as many sets as the building department requires and check their website to find out when they have ‘counter hours’. Every building department has certain hours, ‘counter hours’, during which they will approve plans on the spot. Reserve a few hours to go down and talk with your building official. With luck your plans will be approved. Often, however, there will be questions. Especially if you are new at this. If there are questions you will need to go back to the drawing board.

Take another deep breath

This is where calm and finesse come in. And a great deal of patience. You will need to gather information and revise your drawings to reflect the additional information. In addition to your revised drawings, create a narrative to respond to each item. Then try to set a meeting with your building official to review your revised drawings. Go through each question or comment, respond to it on your drawing as well as in a narrative, and very nicely respond to whatever questions remain. Hopefully this will be the end of this part of the process and your permit will be issued. At this point you will make a final payment for your permit and schedule a final inspection. If the planets are aligned, the inspector will sign your permit and this will be the end of the process. If the planets aren’t quite lining up there may be additional work you need to do on your home to satisfy the inspector. Do this work, call for yet another inspection and then get your permit signed by the inspector.

If this all sounds like just too much…

Contact me. I’ve pulled permits….lots of permits. And I can help you. The building department doesn’t scare me. They have a job to do and I’ve worked with them. You have packing to do.

I have skills to get you a retro permit. Let me help. #partinotes Click To Tweet

stop focusing on the pain

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don’t assume

My client said something remarkable to me yesterday. We were standing at the counter of her building department waiting our turn to speak with the head of building to determine if he would grant her a retro permit. (Retro permits have become a regular part of my business lately, but that’s another story.) She looked at me and said that she was happy to be where she was, doing what she was doing. Who says those words when they are standing where we were standing? Most people would rather be anywhere else!

This lovely woman is at the back end of a difficult divorce, she’s selling the home she raised her son in, she’s dealing with some serious health issues, and she was out in the world taking care of business. Just like regular folk. She felt normal rather than sad or sick or hopeless. Pulling permits was outside of her wheel house, so she had hired me to do the drawings and lead the charge through a process that is unfamiliar to her. So, in her mind, she was able to get out and ‘be normal’ because of me. For her this was a great success.

it’s not about eliminating the pain

If you read most marketing rags, you will come across ‘pain points’ over and over. You will be told to look for pain points in your clients, or potential clients. Figure out your clients’ pain points, offer them a solution to alleviate the pain, and you will gain yourself a client for life. Looking for pain to serve your bottom line seems awfully opportunistic at the least, and draconian at its worst. And a bit off the mark if you ask me.

Rilke said ‘let everything happen to you: beauty and terror’.

You need more than a pain point to serve your clients well. To serve your clients you need a deeper understanding of their needs, an empathic view of the resolution they are looking for. Don’t assume clients necessarily want us to eliminate the pain, or solve the pain, or make it disappear. Sometimes they need us to teach them to deal with the pain, guide them through the pain, or accompany them on their journey.

To serve your clients you need empathic view of the resolution they are looking for. #partinotes Click To Tweet

see the need

As we go about the business of making a living, we are also in business to provide something to our community, our world, that is useful. Something that makes lives more easeful perhaps, rather than painless. It wasn’t pain that my client hired me to resolve for her. She hired me to guide her, to help her to achieve success over a hurdle that she didn’t know how to conquer on her own. And in so doing, she felt empowered. Her empowerment has gained me a devoted client, not my ability to pull a permit.

fill the need

In addressing any client, we need to look beyond the pain and understand where they want to be on the other side. Then we can step in and be of service. That is where our story needs to begin.

...we need to look beyond the pain and understand where they want to be on the other side. #partinotes Click To Tweet

Keep in touch,