Communicating with your architect. – Board & Vellum

Ask an Architect, Custom Residential, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture

Tips for Communicating with Your Architect, Interior Designer, or Landscape Architect

By Jeff Pelletier
March 5, 2018

This month’s ArchiTalks post is centered around “communication.” Each month, we are assigned a topic and left to figure out how to craft a blog post around the selected theme. This month’s theme is so broad that I bounced around a little trying to settle on an approach. I started out thinking about how all of our drawings and documents are forms of written communication (which, obviously, they are), and how crucial it is we communicate clearly there. (Maybe I’ll write a post about that in the future.)

In the end, though, I thought about our mission here at Board & Vellum to help educate anyone listening about how to work well with an architect, interior designer, or landscape architect — basically, how to communicate with a design team. You’re investing a bunch of money so your design team can create something awesome for you, so it makes sense you’d want to do everything you can to help communication run smoothly.

Here are some rules of thumb for successfully communicating with your design professional.

  1. Be clear with how you like to best communicate. We live in an era where there are numerous ways to communicate and everyone has their favorite. Be very clear with your team how you want to communicate. Hate email but love the phone? Say so! Have a short attention span and need quicker emails and meetings on a more frequent basis? Pass that on! The reality is that all of us are tailored to best communicate certain ways and we rely on you being honest with us. We will accommodate.
  2. Listen to how your designer communicates. On the flipside of the above point, you’ll want to know how your design team communicates. I hate unscheduled phone calls, for instance. I schedule my day very carefully and find that I can give my clients the best attention and product when I’m focused. Someone once told me that “a phone call is a request, not a demand” and I couldn’t agree more. I’m always happy to schedule a time to talk on the phone. That allows me to jump on the call prepared, focused, and ready to be efficient with both my time and yours. Learn how your professional likes to communicate and strike a common ground between each of your preferences.
  3. Leave a voicemail. This one’s simple. If you call and don’t leave a voicemail I assume that your problem has been solved. Leave a voicemail or…
  4. Send emails with clear questions. OK, this one is drifting into personal preference territory, but a lot of us design staff tend to work at weird hours. I can’t call you back at 11 PM but I often will work for a few hours after the kids go to bed and email is the best way to keep the ball rolling. If you send me an email that says, “Please call me, I have a quick question,” I can’t do anything with that at 11 PM. But if you say, “Here’s my quick question,” I can do something about that! I like to start the email with your question or comment and then include some backup.
  5. Change how you speak on video calls. We do a lot of video meetings with our clients who live elsewhere. The key to these is to leave mildly awkward pauses after each sentence to ensure you don’t talk over one another. I’ll even leave a little post-it note in the room when there is more than one of us in the meeting that reminds us to not talk over each other and to leave a pause.
  6. Don’t email when you’re mad. Writing a frustrated email feels good… but don’t do it. No one can accurately convey tone in an email and people are always more understanding in person or over the phone. Feel free to schedule a time to resolve an issue over email, but try to solve problems in person or over the phone.
  7. Recap decisions over email. Phone calls are great and can be super expedient, but they aren’t records you can search. I make a point of trying to recap every conversation over email so there’s a written record. It helps avoid confusion and keeps everyone on the same page.
  8. Ask for a weekly summary. One of the key things we aim to do here is to send all of our clients with active projects a weekly recap email that includes a summary of the work that we did, upcoming decisions and milestones to keep track of, and any a record of decisions made that week. You would be amazed at how helpful this is for everyone involved to stay on top of the project. It is quick, easy, and invaluable.
  9. Don’t be afraid to talk about money. People hate talking about money. HATE IT. But you’re about to pay someone thousands of dollars to design something that will cost many more times that amount. Now is not the time to be coy or quiet. Be clear and upfront about your goals and limits.
  10. Ask for clarification. There are a lot of decisions and questions that come up during the design process. Both sides need to know when to ask for clarification if they’re not 100% certain of something. Even when this is awkward (“Didn’t I already ask this?” you might say), it has to be done. Never assume, as we know it makes, as my Mom and probably everyone else’s says, an ass out of you and me.

So there you go, a good starting point for successfully communicating with your design professional. It is always a work in progress and be sure to constantly check-in about expectations and how things are going. More importantly, be sure to let everyone know when you’re having a fun time as this whole process can be an amazing and exciting roller coaster of design. Sometimes saying you’re excited makes you even more so!

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series originally spearheaded by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he has selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s posts. This year, the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme was selected by Brian Paletz of the The Emerging Architect blog and is: "Communication." To read how others interpreted the theme, please explore the links below.

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Communication and the Question of Relevance

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
what does it communicate?

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Types of communication in architecture

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Talk, Write, Draw -- A Com Hat Trick

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"communication...."

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #36: Project Amplify

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Communication - What, How, Why?

Samantha R. Markham - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Why Communication Skills are a Must for Aspiring Architects

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Communication in a Yada Yada World

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Communication

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