How Well Do You Know Your Client

Probably one of the most important parts of the project process is knowing and understanding your client and their brief, without fully grasping this part of the design process there will inherently be issues down the track that will become complex to resolve. It is always important to ensure the brief is taken in a detailed manner when discussing the projects needs and the clients requirements. When taking a brief I generally break it into 4 areas of importance.

  1. The needs of the client (including budget).
  2. The site requirements & conditions. 
  3. The council requirements as well as any title covenants issues there may be. 
  4. What the clients "want". 


Of these the first three items on the list are generally fairly easy to ascertain when taking a brief and will often fall into place as the brief is taken from the client. The more complex part of the brief comes in the form of separating the apparent "Wants" of a client from the list of what we are informed by them are "Needs". So what are "wants"? Well "Wants" are items in the brief that if a client could have they would like to have included but may not be an integral part of the design & if budget constraints come into play can be swept to the side an order to achieve the initial target set-out. They are generally the items in a design a client will consider initially as a need before being convinced that they are in fact "wants". For you see when a client discusses a brief they will often push the limits of what one might consider relative to budget constraints and consider those items as parts of a design they cannot do without. It is our job as the designer to discuss the design brief and decipher what is actually a need and what needs to be considered a want. If we as designers are unsuccessful at doing this then budgets will quickly be blown and clients will quickly become disillusioned with design services.

So being able to decipher what is a need for a client and what is a want and can be cast aside in the initial conceptual stages is quite the task. It is something that takes a lot of practice and a lot of time spent taking briefs, over time being able to work out what the clients will and won't need does get easier although at times as a designer you can get swept away in the magic of a project and lose yourself to the lust of architecture. Don't be disheartened if at first you find it difficult to distinguish what a client wants and what they need because given time you will grow to understand what the differences are or might be. Generally speaking when I discuss the design brief with a client they will often give subtle hints in the initial contact that can lead you to decipher what those wants and needs are. More often than not they will repeat the needs and ensure there is clarification on those particular items as well as enforcing the important requirements upfront in the initial stages of the conversation. I find it is always handy to have a notepad on hand from the moment an enquiry comes through so that even when those initial site discussions are taking place you can note down any items that may seem to be of importance as you never know when a client may unwittingly offer up those nuggets of information to do with the project that fit the need category even without them realising. So when taking a brief it is always important to ensure you take notes in a diligent manner and remember that even the smallest piece of information at those early stages can quickly become the more important portions of the final design and missing them can lead to cost issues or construction issues down the track or at worst an inability to resolve upcoming design issues with the client at those important early stages.