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Last edited 27 Jul 2021
Design is the realisation of an idea, or the resolution of requirements, through means of communication such as drawings, plans, specifications and models. These can then be used to enable items to be created or issues resolved.
Design can be seen as an iterative process where, at each iteration, there are inputs, there is a design process and then there are outputs. At the end of each iteration, the outputs are reviewed and then the process may have to begin again.
Whilst the objective of some design processes may include an aesthetic outcome – as say in painting, architecture and photography – this is not always the case. For example, the design of a manufacturing component may require a completely functional response that is driven by speed, performance and cost.
In order to create a harmonious solution, the building design process must rationalise a series of different and sometimes contradictory requirements that include aesthetics, the brief, budget, structure, regulations, climate, weather, security, privacy and so on. This process can be supplemented by the adoption of specific design principles such as; balance, unity, movement, emphasis, contrast, space and alignment, or by the adoption or pre-existing stylistic solutions. For more information, see Design principles and Architectural styles.
When considering buildings, it is extremely difficult to describe what the design process actually is. While it can be relatively easy to explain from contractual and technical perspectives, as a series of stages through which the level of detail increases – and fairly straight forward to describe the output of design in terms of drawings, styles, typologies, or components, the creative process itself remains elusive. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the approach designers say they take to design is very often different to what they actually do.
Questions that may be asked about the design process include:
- How does the design itself emerge?
- What are the inspirations?
- What are the thought processes that move the design from a blank piece of paper or an empty computer screen to a completed design that a contractor can build?
- To what extent is the process creative?
Building projects are generally divided into a series of stages. This helps define payment milestones, information deliverables, decision points, the need for new appointments and so on. The RIBA Plan of work proposes the following stages:
- 0 - Strategic definition.
- 1 - Preparation and brief.
- 2 - Concept design.
- 3 - Developed design.
- 4 - Technical design.
- 5 - Construction.
- 6 - Handover and close out.
- 7 - In use.
Some stages are more creative than others. The concept design stage is generally considered to be the first, and most creative design stage, however this can be a relatively small part of the overall project. It is preceded by a host of non-design activities, such as business planning and justification, brief development and feasibility studies, and it is followed by design development, technical design, procurement and construction, which may again be largely non-creative.
 Creativity and multidisciplinary teams
- Architect - overall layout, aesthetics, project control and management.
- Chartered Architectural Technologist - technological design of a project and management.
- Structural engineer - Stability, efficiency and buildability.
- Services engineer - interior comfort and performance.
- Landscape architect - surroundings.
- Architectural technologist - detail drawings and specifications.
- Quantity surveyor - costs and budget control.
- Suppliers and manufacturers - products and materials.
- Specialist designers and others - lighting designers, acoustic consultants and so on. See Design Team for more information.
 Design processes
Not all design problems are the same:
- They may be well-defined problems or poorly defined.
- The design may be directed by the client or undirected.
- It may need to tackle a whole problem or a single component.
- It may require creativity, or it may not.
The method of assessment will also influence the approach. For example, a design competition may produce a different result from a traditional appointment for the same brief. A client that adopts a quantitative approach to assessing design proposals may elicit a different solution from one that adopts a qualitative approach. Similarly, the level of detail required and the method of presentation adopted may influence the strategy that is followed.
Not all designs will be approached in the same way:
- From the inside out or the outside in.
- Holistic or serialistic.
- Collaborative or independent.
- Lateral or logical.
- Rule/principle based.
- Theory based.
- Style based.
- Form based.
- Spatial/zone based.
- Pattern based.
- Function based.
In addition, the cognitive approach of the designer will affect the approach:
- Original thinker or conformist.
- Analytical or free thinking.
- Single minded or anarchic.
- Rational or intuitive.
- Visual or linguistic.
- Literal or abstract.
- Autocratic or consensus building.
- Paper or computer.
- 2D or 3D.
- Building information modelling.
- Physical modelling.
- Sketching or writing.
As a consequence, the design methodology will emerge not only from the design problem itself and the way it is expressed, but also from the personal choices, characteristics and experiences of the individuals involved. It will be complex, uncertain, and unique to each combination of circumstances.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Architectural design.
- Comparison of work stages
- Concept architectural design.
- Concept design.
- Design coordination.
- Design economics.
- Design management.
- Design methodology.
- Design principles.
- Design studies.
- Design team.
- Detailed design.
- Double diamond design process.
- Manual drafting techniques.
- Mood board.
- Truth to materials.
- What is design?
- What makes good design?
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