Build In Common

Finding & engaging a design consultant


Design assistance and technical advice can be provided in many different ways by a range of consultants. It will depend on your experience, capacity and/or desire to manage the work yourself as well as your budget. The extent of the work, the complexity of the build, the level of detail you require in the documentation and the statement you want to make will ultimately lead to the type of designer you should seek to engage to do the work.

An architect is a qualified professional that can offer a full range of services – from design concept sketches through to final design documentation, undertake the tendering process and manage the contract and construction stages.

A building designer or architectural draftsperson is typically a design consultant that can provide some of these services, usually in a more limited capacity.

Once you have a good idea of what you want to achieve and how much you are prepared to spend – you should investigate the level of technical assistance you will need to ‘explain’ the work to a builder and engage the appropriate design professional to produce the drawings for pricing and then, for construction. Choosing the right person to work with you through this process is essential in getting the best outcome. It must be someone that you feel comfortable with and that you feel ‘gets you’.

Engaging an architect or design consultant should also result in a final product that is more than just ‘getting it drawn up’. Paying a professional for their design skills and services should mean you are provided with different options to think about and are inspired with new and creative ideas.

However, the right person will also manage your expectations (and tell you when something can’t be done or when your idea is not a good idea!). They should also help you stick to your budget. Finding the right designer to challenge and test your thinking should lead to a partnership that delivers something you can both be proud of once completed.


Before engaging an architect or design consultant, do your research. Start by asking friends and colleagues if they know someone who has a good reputation and also speak to the local chapter of Australian Institute of Architects to get a list of architects in your area that may be able to offer the type of services you are looking for. Narrow your list to 3-4 design professionals who you are satisfied could do the work. Then start interviewing!

The key to getting what you want (and are prepared to pay for) is to find someone that listens to your ideas and requirements, provides a framework for the service you want and then works with you to achieve a great design result.

The size of the project and your budget will help determine your choice of architect, building consultant or technical support. Be aware that there are many people in the design industry that refer to themselves as ‘architectural designers’ or ‘building designers’ who are not registered architects. Prior to engaging them, you should ask for their qualifications and be confident that their credentials will be suitable for your needs. The type of license they carry will influence the level of insurances they can have, as well as their ability to certify documentation for building permits and other legal requirements.

Architects are required to be covered by at least $1 million of professional indemnity insurance and undertake continuing professional development to ensure their knowledge, skills and competence are up to date.

Prior to interviewing, prepare a scope of works which outlines the scope – i.e. the key objectives and priorities for the project. Review the designer’s website and assess design whether you like the work they do. During the interview, ask the design consultant about similar work (to your scope) that they have recently completed, how long it took them to undertake the documentation and the order of costs (fees as well as construction value).

Also, ask them to explain the design stages, how often they will meet with you and what (and when) they expect to bill during the process. If required, also confirm whether they can tender the work to builders and oversee the construction for you.

It is also worth asking how many other projects they currently have on their books in order to determine whether they can fit your project into their schedule. A small firm or single operator who already has 3-4 projects on the go will have very limited time to work on your project as well! If they are busy, you will need to agree as to how long you are prepared to wait for them to start your project.

Finally, ask for two recent clients that would be happy to be referees so you can contact them for feedback on what it is like working with the design consultant (and their team). They should be able to provide advice on the general process and the final product. Select the design consultant that you feel best understands your ideas and objectives, has the capacity to do the work within your timeframe, has recent experience in delivering similar work AND you feel most comfortable with.

Once you have chosen your preferred architect, design consultant or technical draughtsperson, get an agreement in place before doing anything further. The agreement or contract should set out a number of essential items.

Make sure to click & print 5 must have’s when negotiating with a building designer or architect on page 8 of our August TILT edition.

Finally, and again, depending on the complexity of your project, ask for a list of other consultants the design consultant intends to work with during the project and ask about their qualifications. Architects and design consultants are NOT engineers – and shouldn’t prepare documentation that involves engineering such as structural, mechanical, electrical, hydraulic or civil designs. Structural elements usually require verification and certification by a registered structural engineer.

Architects are also NOT cost planners or quantity surveyors and should not offer you a budget estimate or an order of costs. Asking an architect for a ‘rough idea’ of how much your project is likely to cost is a risk (for them as well)! It is critical to find a design professional that will meet your needs.

I often come across people who have gone to an architect or design consultant just because a friend recommended them or because they have won an award only to find that they didn’t enjoy the experience or worst, ended up with a design outcome they don’t like! Finding a professional that will work with you and with whom you can establish a good relationship with will ultimately lead to a better and outcome that looks great and exceeds your expectations.

Reference Links &

Whether you are thinking about building or renovating, or have already started a conversation with builder, Build in Common Toolkits are designed as your go-to guides. They will provide you with the knowledge and confidence to ask the right questions, to the right person at the right time in the build cycle. Shop Build in Common Toolkits here.


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