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Project Preparation Guide: Five Common Questions to Address Before You Hire a Design Firm

Embarking on a design project is exciting! Like many, you may have this question: where do I begin?   
The answer is to hire a design professional to help.  

It's not uncommon for people to choose a design firm based primarily on their portfolio.  But it takes more research to find one that is truly a fit. The key is finding a team who will serve your best interests:   

  • Value your time 
  • Ease the process 
  • Respect your business needs  
  • Communicate pro-actively 
  • Provide depth of resources to fulfill your varied project requirements

Easier said than done, you say? Read on. What follows are five common questions people have – but  often don’t ask – along with answers to help you find the right fit.

Q1: Will I have to hire multiple companies to handle everything we need? My project is complicated… 

You only need to hire one company if you seek out a “full-service” interior design firm.

“Full Service” means a firm can address all the various facets of a project:  

  • Space planning  
  • Developing a design theme 
  • Selecting materials and lighting  
  • Preparing costing plans for project budgeting 
  • Coordinating construction documents 
  • Observing the job site during construction  
  • Selecting, purchasing and installing furnishings, artwork and accessories.

One important aspect of a project that few people think to ask about is as-built drawings. This refers to the floorplans and other drawings used as starting point for the design. Especially when a project involves a remodel, it’s critical that these drawings reflect accurate site conditions. Otherwise, you are at risk for unforeseen change orders during construction and furnishings installation, which usually result in additional costs and schedule delays. To ensure that prospective design firms are truly full-service, find out how they intend to obtain as-built drawings for your project.

Q2: How can I prevent my time from being dominated by this project? I’m so busy already, I don’t have time to oversee the process. 

Expect your design team to include a dedicated Project Manager to navigate the design process.

Transforming your design from an idea to reality takes more than creativity. It requires the leadership skills of a Project Manager. This is your main point of contact throughout the project and the person in charge of all project logistics: Organizing appropriate team resources, mapping out schedules, tracking deadlines and communicating pro-actively with you. A seasoned Project Manager will respect your time and therefore limit your participation to necessary activities only, such as review meetings and decision making.     

The Project Manager role may be fulfilled by a person with a different title, depending on the firm. A Design Principal or Senior Designer may have this responsibility, so be sure to ask if it’s not obvious. For simplicity’s sake, we will refer to the Project Manager role as “Design Partner.”

Q3: If I don’t really know where to begin, how is a designer going to know how to help me? 

A prospective Design Partner should interview you and follow up with a plan called the Project Scope. 

It’s the Design Partner’s job to ask questions (in plain English) that provide the answers needed to understand your goals and priorities.  Following the conversation, expect a written Scope of Work that reflects everything you’ve discussed in a detailed, organized fashion.  This is the road map that defines project activities, process, work product and associated fees.  So, ask clarifying questions and make any adjustments needed to feel comfortable that the Scope of Work addresses your needs before you decide to move forward. 

Q4: How can I be sure they really “hear” me so the outcome truly meets our expectations? 

Expect your Design Partner to lead an initial Programming meeting during which you do most of the talking.

Your Design Partner should begin the project with a meeting that establishes the basis for design, commonly called a Programming Meeting.  

During this meeting, the design team should seek to understand the components that will make the project successful by your standards. Expect to address topics such as functional needs (number and type of rooms, sizes, adjacencies, etc.), aesthetic vision, company culture, budget parameters, and so forth. This is your opportunity to communicate, as thoroughly and in as much detail as possible, your vision for the project outcomes.

To aid in clarifying design direction, expect your Design Partner to bring concept photos to the meeting. Images that represent a variety of styles, themes, colors and details will enable you to identify specific elements that demonstrate your preferences. This will provide both you and the design team with tangible, visual direction for the development of the project.  

Some of the concept photos should include current trends. It is a design professional’s responsibility to be knowledgeable in this area so he or she may offer clients a full spectrum of potential solutions. If you find yourself tending towards styles that are considered “trendy,” be sure to ask about potential longevity and life-cycle costs to ensure your choices truly serve your best interests.

Q5: We don’t have a budget yet, but I know we’ll need to maximize our spending. How can we ensure we’re getting the best value? 

There are two keys to ensuring you receive the best value for your investment.  

First, a design firm should have extensive resources available to them for materials and furnishings. This enables them to fulfill your project requirements without limitations. With a multitude of resources, a design team can present you with options that satisfy your project needs, allowing you to prioritize and optimize your spending. 

Second, pay separately for design services and products.  Paying a design firm a fee for their expertise helps ensure that design solutions are approached with objectivity and transparency. The development of a comprehensive design that supports your project goals can be – and should be – completed independently of the specific products you ultimately purchase.  

It is not uncommon for some firms to absorb the cost of the design team’s time in the furnishings mark-up instead of charging a separate fee. This can result in inconsistent and artificially high furnishings prices, which makes it impossible for you to evaluate product choices objectively.

CDG is committed to professionally delivering creative solutions to ensure your project is a success! Give us a call at 916-781-6543 or email us at
to start a conversation about your project!