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Listen First Then Design ( #1 of 10 Principles)

Listen First, Then Design

What determines the design course heading for a particular project?  Is it a memory of a favorite place, a collection of images, written goals, or the bottom line result of a proforma?  We notice clients using different methods to communicate their goals for the project.  Our job is to understand the reasons behind the root goals – listening first, then designing.  To listen first, then design allows process alchemy to unveil ideas and solutions that can produce architecture beyond expectations.

We believe our first step in the design process to transform goals to buildings is to listen and, more importantly, describe the project in words.

Three benefits from writing it down:

  1. Before the project beings, write down all dialog between client and design team. This way, goals can evolve efficiently before being weighted down with design opportunities.

  2. The client and design team are on an equal playing field at this stage. Writing design goals together allows the design team to have verbal aids when translating drawings for non-visual thinkers.

  3. Describing the project in words gives everyone on the project team a chance to understand why we are designing the environment.

Examples from our work:

Documenting owner’s needs and requests throughout the design process led to a user-friendly and family appropriate home in Lake Martin, Alabama – In a residential design exercise, getting to know the clients is a critical part of the process. This happens over time and is a highly collaborative exercise. In the case of a new home for clients in Lake Martin, Alabama, designers took initial notes, then shared them with the clients. The clients then noted on top of the originals. As the design shaped further, design and client continued to add notes. This led the finished project to appear as a reflection of the conversation between the family and the designers.

Central, open-concept Kitchen connected to Living Room with Fireplace and ample outdoor views

Permanently accessible outdoor porch

A more structured process is required to apply the same technique to a corporate client, such as Families First. To assist the Families First organization, the design team undertook an involved programming exercise. The exercise emphasizes listening first, then designing. Various groups of employees were interviewed, and customers were surveyed during this exercise. Spreadsheets, sketches, and drawing formats documenting the input from investigations.

From this documentation, the designer narrowed down six primary goals:

  1. Create a “Beacon of Hope” in the community

  2. Provide a warm and welcoming lobby, comfortable for both parents and children

  3. Consider spaces for collaboration and open communication amongst staff

  4. Think about spaces for varying levels of collaboration and privacy

  5. Allow for community use of the building

  6. Celebrate the Families First corporate tree logo, reinforcing the branding and meaning

New Beacon of Hope Entrance

Spacious and Comfortable Lobby with Stair that Doubles as Seating and Playarea for Children

Private, Sound-controlled Meeting Rooms within Collaborative Open Office Space

Private Meeting Room with Reservation System and Obscuring Panel with Leaf Motif for Visual Privacy

Children’s Area with Tree Motif

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