The generation of an architectural design begins long before the first sketch is made, and involves many people other than the architect. These pre-design activities are critical for a successful design and should not be overlooked. They are captured in the design brief.
The design brief is a message between the clients or users and the designers. It is equally important for both parties. A brief written wholly from the viewpoint of either party may leave gaps or make false assumptions. Brief writing is a skill requiring an understanding of both users and designers.
A variety of techniques including interviews, user surveys and activity simulation can be used to build up the information for a brief.
There is no standard format for a design brief. In practice it can vary from a single, vague conversation to a document with hundreds of pages of detailed data – but neither extreme is likely to be successful. A successful approach is to organise the material into a manageable number of ‘modules’ dealing with distinct issues. Each module makes the connection between client/user requirements and design considerations, establishing a shared understanding about design objectives.
The modules vary from project to project, but typically include the following:
- Functional requirements
- Privacy and social interaction
- Projected growth
- Environmental targets
- Disabled access
- Car and cycle parking
- Planning, conservation and other site constraints
A good brief must be backed up by a good design team. With a good brief and a good design team, the design stage of a project sets off in a positive and constructive way from day one.
Design briefing provides exceptionally good value for money. The cost is a fraction of 1% of the construction budget, and is repaid many times over by an efficient design process and a building that matches the client’s and users’ needs and aspirations.