How to Get More Value from the Design Process

How to Get More Value from the Design Process

Design is a major step in urban multifamily real estate development. But it is often the least straightforward. You’ve likely had a wide range of experiences with design depending on the nature of your projects, the makeup of your design team, and your level of involvement in making design decisions. 

But even with a wide range of experiences, you’ve generally seen the same type of results. This might have you asking: How much value does the design process bring to urban multifamily development projects? How much does the design process matter to the success of your projects?

Trust the (Design) Process

It was 2013 and the Philadelphia 76ers had just hired Sam Hinkie as general manager to rebuild their struggling NBA franchise. Over the next half decade Hinkie would attempt to take the fringe playoff team and turn it into a championship contender. 

To accomplish his goal, Hinkie implemented a strategy bent on rebuilding the team through a string of top draft picks. He traded their best players for draft picks, making the team worse off short-term, but paving the way for a future where the Sixers would return to relevance.

Granted, the team could have made some better picks in retrospect, but Hinkie’s plan was successful by and large. The 76ers became a better team than they had ever been since the days of Allen Iverson.

During Hinkie’s time as general manager, the phrase “trust the process” became a mantra for fans and players patiently waiting for the team to rebuild. The ability to trade short-term mediocrity for long-term success is applicable beyond the basketball arena, especially when you are trying to build something bigger and better than the status quo.

With real estate development, the value you get from the design process is proportionate to your ability to make short-term sacrifices to realize long-term gains. Trust the design process by trading convenience for making big moves that will actually move the needle. Consider the following four strategic moves you should be making to get the most out of the design process.

1. Get Early Alignment on Vision and Goals

In order for Hinkie’s strategy to have a shot at winning, the 76ers organization needed to align on its vision and goals. Similarly, a winning design process needs to be aligned with your vision and goals for your development project.

If you are not having a conversation about values, vision, and success metrics, you can’t trust or expect the design team to deliver on them. The more designers understand what matters to you and your project, the more valuable their design process will be to you.

While it takes time to have these types of discussions, it ultimately saves time further down the line. Think of the time and cost associated with design revisions and the frustration you feel when designers don’t capture your vision without many, many different design presentations. 

2. Coordinate Design Deliverables and Timelines

Design-oriented consultants (i.e. architect, interior designer, and landscape architect) usually join a development project at different intervals. They each come with their own particular mindset and process, and rarely does the timing of deliverables match up with each other. 

This means while interiors are working on their SD package, landscape could be moving in a different direction. Or, for example, landscape and interiors are selecting materials and finishes before you’ve even signed off on the architectural exterior. With so many moving parts and consultants working in silos, it’s a wonder that anything ends up coordinated in the end.

Rather than let this chaos persist, developers should allow and encourage design deliverables to be produced on the same timeline. Design consultants should be meeting offline to discuss how the items in their scope works with the overall theme and vision (of course, you have to have a clear vision to start with). Then, design presentations should occur together with the architect, interior designer, and landscape architect presenting a coordinated design presentation that they have worked on together. This will present a unified direction to you so you can consider the design of your project holistically and provide more valuable feedback.

This means you’ll want to get the interior designer and landscape architect on board much sooner in the design process than it is usually done.

3. Don’t Skip Design Development

The most underrated and underappreciated phase of the design process is design development. Too often, schematic design and construction documentation get all of the attention. 

Neglecting design development can have some negative consequences. If you skip or rush through design development you may end up with a CD set that is way out of line with budget expectations. You’ll have incongruent material selections, confusion about the approved layout, and a lack of clarity on priority. These issues are amplified once you begin construction.

On the other hand, if you exercise the discipline to execute a thorough design development phase you will benefit from a much better follow through on your vision. Design development is the perfect opportunity to see the benefits that come from trusting the design process. Take the extra time to follow the process and you’ll avoid many unnecessary problems.

4. Utilize Designer Informed Budgeting

Designer informed budgeting occurs when cost estimating is provided early on in the design process by the design team.

During the early stages of design (when many major design decisions are made) too many developers rely solely on numbers provided by the general contractor. At this point, the design team has likely not seen these numbers and the design has not been shown to the general contractor. The estimate is a complete shot in the dark. 

Serious problems can arise when the developer is using estimates without design team input. The longer you delay the reconciliation of the design to the budget, the more costly it will become. 

Designer informed budgeting provides many advantages. It helps you proceed with confidence by allowing you to make informed decisions on the design. You are enabled to stay in control as the threat of budget overruns is neutralized. This means no more surprises coming late in the game when timing is important and changes are more costly. 

Design Process Recap

Use these tips to ensure a winning strategy on your next urban multifamily development project. To recap:

  1. Get early alignment on goals 
  2. Coordinate design consultant timelines 
  3. Don’t skip design development
  4. Use design informed budgeting 

Each of these practices has the potential to take a development company from having mediocre projects to standing out with the most competitive properties around.

Need some help implementing these strategies? Let’s talk.