The Value of Design
To start, by no definition do I attest and claim that I can accurately know the actual value of things as it relates to its monetary meaning. I am not an economist, and one man’s treasure can be another man’s trash. Or is it the other way around?
Nonetheless, I will be discussing the intangible; Individually, we see the value by its merit of how we perceive, receive and experience the benefit of what we purchase. Either in terms of service, a product, or both.
For this piece, I will discuss the two critical variables that affect the intangible value of good design service in producing Architecture. This view is profoundly influenced by my Architectural training which you can read all about that in a series of previous articles starting here. So if you have a different experience or perspective in mind, I would love to hear about it!
Regardless of the size, construction projects are composed of two cost categories: hard and soft cost. The hard cost is typically the list of items that relates the project's physical result, that is the building. That is to say the material cost (steel, timber, concrete, glass, etc.) and labour.
The soft cost relates to any service(s) that will facilitate the Client get to the project's physical result (i.e. the building). This includes professional consultant fees (which encompasses services from your Architect, Engineer, etc.) and any other fees related to getting the project permitted. This may include, but not limited to, town-planning and building permit application fees. If you are a developer, there may be contribution fees that you need to pay towards adding the additional infrastructure necessary for your development.
Both types of cost vary from one location to another. So it pays to consult with your local professionals, council and trades for your project.
My areas of expertise and experience lie on the side of the soft-cost of a building project. That is, the architectural design service, specifically for residential projects.
So what does it cost to design a house?
My answer to this sort of question always depends on two main things:
- What is the project brief?
- Who are you hiring?
The first item is fundamental and essential. The project brief helps the design professional to define the goal of the project. The clearer the project brief, the more predictable the cost would be for both parties. With this in mind, there are still a few more variables that need to be considered.
The ideal scenario is that a Client will engage a consultant for their full service across all project stages. From initial feasibility, which is seeing what can be built for how much. Up to the project's actual construction in the form of the design professional visiting the site and doing some quality checks if their drawings are actually being constructed to the agreed level of quality and specification.
In some circumstance, some design professionals are only contracted for certain aspects or stages of the project. Some designers and architects are known for their conceptual vision, while some are more known for their technical prowess and know-how. Each skillset, experience and interest have their place. It really depends on the Client’s budget and timeline.
As of late, I’m seeing a shift from a full-service offer to being contracted only for specific stages and task for a project. For myself, it has been more on the technical and consenting stages of the project. This benefits the consumer more than the professional in my view. But at the same time, I think it gives clarity on the professional's involvement in the project and gives them focus.
The second part of who are you hiring, which is akin, in my view, buying the same dish from two different restaurants. One is high-end fine dining we need to wear a dinner jacket type of establishment. The other is the take-away shop around the corner you usually reserve after finishing an all-night rager at the bars. One will change how you view about that specific dish. The other, well, we’ll see in the morning, because right now you need sustenance.
It would be the same with engaging a design professional.
The cost of hiring a design professional with a more comprehensive portfolio, accolades, and notoriety bump up that price. On the other hand, a design professional starting and building their portfolio may charge a significantly lower fee for the same brief.
Sometimes Clients want a basic house with walls and a roof, that does not leak and will not fall. Because doing otherwise would mean legal implications for both parties, not to mention any health and safety implications. Anything beyond that has some “flair” will and should cost something extra.
That flair is about the emotional connection of the proposed design. Does it speak of the narrative of the lifestyle of the user? The history of the land? A sustainable approach to the building? Is it a complex structure that has bespoke elements that cannot be found off the shelf? These things all add up in the end as part of the brief and the professional's capability to deliver.
Speaking on the design consultants' side, sometimes we bump up our pricing based on the Client. Are they going to be working with us closely or hands-off in terms of getting the work done? How often they want updates, the type of deliverables they wish to have, i.e. drawings, renders or physical models.
So really it is about clarity. Clarity of the brief, the quality of design service and what type of work or result you expect at the end.