Are You Skipping the Design Development Phase?

Are You Skipping the Design Development Phase?

Each step of the development process is vital, but oftentimes developers and designers place more emphasis on the construction documentation phase than anything else. As a result, development teams often make the common mistake of glossing over the design development phase of a project — or skipping it altogether. This leads to a number of issues that could have easily been avoided by giving design development its proper place in the design process.

Don’t Skip Design Development for Your Real Estate Project

The typical architectural design process begins with schematic design. This stage is focused on the exploration of creative ideas and design concepts. Things should remain at a high-level, without too much attention to minute details. 

Then comes design development. As the name suggests, this is the stage where you further nail down the specifics of your design. It’s when big ideas meet real life constraints; where the rubber meets the road. For your project to have any traction as it heads into construction documentation, certain key decisions need to be made. In the design development phase, you’ll answer questions like:

  • What is the budget?
  • What are the material selections? 
  • What is the approved layout? 
  • What is the highest priority? 

Design development is for answering these questions.

Loft Six Four’s Design Development Checklist

Here’s everything you need to pin down on a rooftop amenity project before moving to construction documentation.

If you skip or rush through design development, you run the risk of moving forward without alignment between the development team and the design team. Without clear direction and buy-in, designers can spend time developing ideas that aren’t in line with the vision. Or developers can end up with expectations that aren’t in line with reality. It’s a recipe for failure, disappointment, and wasted time and money.

Set Appropriate Expectations for Design Development

The biggest challenge to a solid design development phase is not having enough time. Developers get preoccupied with city review deadlines and push for the expedited production of plan drawings before there is a clear direction on design. 

In our experience, there are two common developer habits that threaten design development and the success of projects. 

Relying on “Dummy” Plans for Your Project

Many real estate developers want to avoid overcommitting to the city early on in the approval process, so they ask designers to create “dummy” plans that, rather than reflect their true intentions for the project, merely meet the minimum city requirements. 

This creates at least two problems for the design development phase: 1. Confusion about what is actually being proposed due to two separate versions of the plans (the dummy plan and the actual plan), and 2. Time wasted drawing up plans that have no relevance to the developer’s actual vision for the project.

Rushing Documentation Timelines

Second, construction documentation timelines get set before the schematic design phase. That means they don’t account for design exploration and multiple design iterations. And in turn, developers and designers spend extra time during schematic design to explore various design options. Rather than adjust the construction documentation timeline, developers choose to make up the lost time by skipping the design development phase. 

While this may keep the project on schedule, it makes it more likely that the construction documents will not end up in line with the vision. Without the design development phase to nail down key design decisions, the documentation is more likely to fall out of line with the vision. Key design decisions are delayed to the point that they are no longer available or have costly consequences.

Don’t Wait to Make Design Decisions

Design and development teams sometimes rush through construction documentation to meet certain milestones, like submitting for a permit. But, as anyone who has ever done this knows, time saved during a rushed documentation phase means more time spent responding to city comments, bid RFI’s, and value engineering recommendations. 

Essentially, you can either spend the appropriate amount of time on the plan drawings or you’ll have to spend extra time in construction administration. Because late changes are both more expensive and more limited in possibilities, rushing through the process to meet milestones may not be worth the risk.

The same is true of design development. You can either allocate an appropriate amount of time and attention to it, or risk setting yourself up for an extra drawn-out documentation phase, with constant questions about design direction, materials, and priorities. It’s never the best idea to delay decision making later on in the process. But it’s especially common to do just that with design development. Smart developers who understand this principle will benefit from a smoother design process that saves them time and money.

Being a Team Player

As a designer, it can be tough to balance a desire to meet the expectations of developer clients and a commitment to a design process that works and brings the results developers ultimately want. 

We see being a team player as being flexible and agreeable while staying dedicated to producing a final result that makes everyone proud. That’s why we’ve tailored our design process to be hyper-focused on helping urban multifamily real estate developers stand out with their rooftop amenities. Learn how the stages of our proven process, The Immersive Experience Method, can bring you the results you want.