The Design Process

 You’ve decided to build a new home. But where to start? You know what you want and have looked at the new Display Homes. You’ve selected and purchased your block  of land.

  Many people say they cannot afford to employ a skilled designer. …….If you think good design is expensive, wait till you see the cost of bad design”  The fees for the design and preparing plans are a small proportion of the actual cost of the home but arguably the most important part.

Money in YOUR pocket!!!

There are three big advantages in having your home custom designed that can potentially save you $$$$ Thousands!!  

1. flexibility to have multiple builders tender for your project. If a builder supplies your design then your unable to get comparative prices. They own copyright.

2. No need for a salesperson. A project builder employs sales people who are often paid by commission.

3. A highly skilled design professional can deliver the same space in a smaller footprint.

The design process is just that.  A PROCESS. Too many times we see people trying to “save money” by cutting corners in the process. This inevitably costs money in the end.

Below is a typical process that should be followed for every successful design project.


Warning:  Always ensure you are dealing with a qualified and accredited Design Professional who carries Professional Indemnity and Public Liability Insurance and Tertiary Level training.  He/or she will be licensed under the various state Building Authorities or be a Registered Architect. It is illegal for anyone who is not licensed to deal with the public.  

Site Inspection

This first look at the site is where we look at the conditions and orientation. Morning sun, Afternoon sun, Views,Prevailing winds and breezes. This gives an idea of where to position the home. Where bedrooms should be located and living areas need to be positioned.  Which way water will run off etc ….Your home is not designed at this stage. It’s just to gather information and assess the parameters and constraints that will influence the design.

Understanding  YOUR lifestyle and  how you want to live is very important. “What are you wanting to achieve?”

The Design Brief

Once you’ve agreed on the scope of works, fees and paid an initial deposit the real work can then begin.

DESIGN IS EVERYTHING…….Do you have your car serviced by someone who has never done it before?

The Design Brief is like an interview. It’s a vital document that needs to be produced before a line is drawn. Your designer needs to be an excellent communicator and listener to interpret what you’re wanting to achieve. It’s a rather in-depth process and the more information he/she can gather then the better the outcome.

Note:  At this stage many clients try to draw the home. Some even buy a computer program (CAD) and attempt to “design their own home”. Architects and Designers have years of training and experience. A drawing can introduce pre-conceived ideas to the design process. One of the most common comments we get is “I would never have thought of that”.  Write down everything you LIKE and want in your home then let your designer take care of it.

Sketch Design    

The first draft of your new home will be in sketch form. Simple pencil on paper!  And maybe some colour too.  A good design comes from skill and experience not a computer program.  This first sketch will probably not be  right yet. But it is a starting point at which to build from.  At this stage we are only looking at the  layout and how areas relate to one another. The sketch design will also give an indication of the size of the home that is within the budget.

Often your designer has placed areas or rooms for a reason. A lot goes on in the background during the process and a lot of scrap paper is used!! Wasted space is money down the drain so careful consideration is taken to reduce hallways, traffic paths etc. Sometimes a second sketch may need to be done to nut out some of the issues. It’s much easier to make major changes during this stage.

 Preliminary Design

After the initial concept has been discussed and feedback given we can then proceed with more detailed drawings. This is where the use of  CAD or Computer Aided Design is a modern-day benefit. These programs are extremely technical and considerable more expensive that the free “house designer” programs available.  

The home is now taking shape and we can now look at precise measurements, door and window selections and materials. At this stage a 3D model and artists’ impression or rendered image can be produced. The roof line takes shape as well as the structural elements. Cost effectiveness and  buildability  is important as well. Reduction of roof and floor spans, positioning of structural elements etc. During this stage a draftsperson may be working on your project. 

Occasionally during this stage your designer or draftsperson may suggest some minor changes that may reduce the cost of the overall home.


It is very important that you work WITH your design team. They are guided by your input and feedback. A certain amount of time has been allowed / allocated for each stage. The further down the process we proceed the more difficult it is to make changes.

To keep fees as low as possible a certain number of design changes are allowed for. Generally two opportunities to review the overall design. Changes to the design because of a “change of mind” will require additional fees.

At this stage a Preliminary Drawings Stage payment will usually be required before proceeding to Working Drawings.


Working Drawings

The Working Drawings are probably the most important documents of all. These detailed construction drawings will form the basis of the building contact. They are also assessed and approved by a Building Certifier who issues the Building Permit.  The importance of detailed, accurate and complete Working Drawings cannot be underestimated!! This is often where clients try to cut corners by getting  “basic plans” drawn. A good set of documents should include at least: 

Site Plan, FloorPlan(s), Elevations, Typical Sections, Detail Sections, Set Out Plan, Slab Plan, Timber Framing Layout, Floor Framing Layout, Roof Plan, Drainage Plan, Internal Elevations of all wet areas, Floor Finishes Plan, Electrical Plan, Door and Window Schedules and 3D Views of critical areas.

These drawings must comply with Federal, State, and Local Building regulations.

On delivery the Architectural Plans will generally be paid for in full at this stage as there is little more to do from the designer’s part. Some variations may be required or some minor things overlooked. 



In conjunction with the Architectural Plans a Structural Engineer needs to be engaged to design and certify the major structural elements of the home. He designs and details the Footings, Slab, Structural Beams and major connection points.  A well documented set of Architectural Plans makes the Engineer’s job easier, quicker and less expensive.  

Most Builders will only prepare a quote on a “full set” of drawings 

Specification of Fittings

In the past it was typical for the Architect to work with the client in specifying all the items in the home. Today this is not very common and the floor coverings, materials, and PC items are generally selected with the successful builder. In his quote to build he has generally “allowed” for certain items and these are picked from a selection of preferred suppliers.

There are so many items on the market today and suppliers all battling for market share. Most builders have negotiated specific terms for their loyalty to certain suppliers and can purchase items such as Tiles, Carpet, Doors and Plumbing  Fixtures much cheaper than you or I.

From start to finish if the Process  is followed the design of your new home should be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.  Your design professional should not be seen as a “cost” rather a valuable investment into the biggest asset of your life. 

If your shopping around for the cheapest fees then I would suggest  that a Custom Designed Home is not for you and it is better that you speak with one of the Major Project Builders. 

For those who want a unique product, a home instead of a house and are prepared to work with their design professional the results can be satisfying, stunning and above all the best investment you’ll ever make.





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