Introduction to Design

By Randy Angell

What is it that a designer actually does? What a great question! I’m glad you asked. When distilled to its core, design is the “fix” to something in our world. Something may be lacking or missing, or maybe it’s not user-friendly, or perhaps simply not aesthetically pleasing.

In preparation for an upcoming trip, I imagine I spent much more time than the average person, selecting my seats on the flights. I have a whole system down, for selecting where I will be seated for that brief two or three hours we’ll be on board – and I must do this, in order to avoid anxiety during my trip. This exercise is design – the need, my peace of mind. I cannot leave my seat assignment to chance (sorry, Southwest). The solution, I must design my flight experience by selecting the proper seat. Do you take different routes to work or back home? You are designing your driving experience, based upon a need. Did you and your spouse discuss and plan when to have children? You designed what you wanted your family to look like, to fulfill your need of family. In this way, everyone designs, every single day!

Some of us, however, are paid to design. What a glorious world we live in… As exterior designers, we are called by a client, to fill that gap between their existing space, and their dream of what that space can become. It is the designers’ first duty, therefore, to define that gap. Early on in the initial consultation, I educate the client on the process. My goal in this first meeting is to listen and to observe. This is not the time for me to wave my hands around, and tell them what I would do with the space! I haven’t learned the need, nor have I earned the right to insert my “wisdom” yet. Sometimes it is difficult, I know… I start getting all excited about the visions that are popping into my head… I. MUST. SHARE. NOWWWWWW! Actually, no. You don’t. Sit back. Listen. Observe. Zone in on key words. Take note of what brings joy. Get to know your client, and their environment. By focusing on your client, in the initial consultation, you will build the bond of trust needed for any successful design project. You want them to know and believe that this is not an exercise in ego, your number one priority is them. Then, and only then, are you ready to begin your design process.

Some thoughts on conducting the initial consultation: It could be said that you design the consultation, in order to gain understanding of the gap that exists. (I know. MIND. BLOWN.)

Do your research (Some might call it “stalking”. I prefer to call it research) I just like to go into an initial meeting, with a little understanding of what to expect!

  • Satellite map images of the property
  • Real Estate websites with photos of the house
  • Other projects in the neighborhood, to get a sense of local aesthetic
  • Internet search of the client (hey, they researched you, didn’t they?!)

Ask leading questions

  • Rather than saying “what a beautiful family”, ask “tell me about your family…”
  • Rather than saying “I love your house”, ask “tell me about your house and the interior design. Does it represent where you envision taking the exteriors?”
  • If we create your dream space, how do you imagine you will entertain? (One of my favorite responses to this is when a client said, “We won’t”. To the shocked look on my face, she continued, “We really don’t like people. This is just for us.” Dead serious!)

You’re there to observe, so observe!

Is there anything unusual in the house or the yard? A piece of art, perhaps? A piece of furniture? A tree in an inconvenient spot? Don’t assume – ask! “What an interesting painting. Can you give me the story?” Quite often, people plant trees to commemorate an occasion, so I always ask – “are there any trees or anything else in the space that holds sentimental value? Is there anything you wish to highlight?”

Direct the conversation forward-looking

  • Don’t let your client get caught up in the minutiae of what they hate. You need to hear these things, but always lead the conversation forward – “How could this work better for you?”
  • Keep the clients focusing on how their space will work when completed, rather than how they currently use it.

Help set expectations

  • Educate the client a realistic expectation on the timeline of the design project
  • Educate the client on realistic budgets for their wish list
  • Educate the client on construction timelines

A quick glimpse at the satellite imagery gives you a nice preview of the space you’ll be working in, prior to your initial consultation.
Photo: Jimi Smith Photography

Our client had purchased the vacant lot next door and needed us to imagine the expansion of their property, into a private resort.

During our initial consultation, I made mental note of a chartreuse chair, in their living room. Their artwork and décor made it quite clear they were not afraid of color. We were able to carry the playful, colorful feel into the new pool area, making our client quite giddy!

A quick glimpse at the satellite imagery gives you a nice preview of the space you’ll be working in, prior to your initial consultation.
Photo: Jimi Smith Photography

I designed this pool originally, in about 1986. It was a typical ‘80’s pool, with red brick coping and seeded aggregate decking, wrapping the pool with nothing more than a 3’ wide walkway. The client wanted a clean, fresh look, inspired by the modern homes in their homeland on the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo: Graham Hobart

— Randy Angell of Randy Angell Designs