Listen first then design ( #1 of 10 Principles)

Listen first then design

What determines the design course heading for a particular project?  It is a memory of a favorite place, a collection of images, written goals or the bottom line result of a proforma?  We see clients using different methods to communicate what they want the results of the project to achieve.  Our job is to understand the reasons behind the root goals – listening first then design.  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.

3 benefits from writing it down

  1. Written dialog between client and design team before the project begins allows for goals to 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 sign off on the understanding of why we are designing the environment.

Examples from our work:

The documentation of owner 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, initial notes were taken then shared with the clients who noted on top of the originals. Further notes were added as the design was shaped, and the finished project became a reflection of the long, on-going 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 to listen first then design where various groups of employees were interviewed and customers where surveyed. The input from these investigations was documented in spreadsheet, sketch, and drawing format with the following goals listed as primary:

  • Create a “Beacon of Hope” in the community
  • Provide a warm and welcoming lobby, comfortable for both parents and children
  • Consider spaces for collaboration and open communication amongst staff
  • Think about spaces for varying levels of collaboration and privacy
  • Allow for community use of the building
  • 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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