Assessing & Collaborating on a New Design Job

Filed under Clients, Organization

Assessing & Collaborating on a New Design Job

Starting a new design job is soooo exciting!

You have ideas and visions and energy and that “design high.”


After the buzz wears off a bit, you need to step back and start the “assessment” phase.

Yes, every design project goes through an assessment, so that the designer and the clients understand what the scope of work is.

So, what is the assessment phase?

Assessment Phase

The assessment is thoroughly understanding the scope of work at the onset of a job. This includes interviewing, listening and interpreting the client to completely understand their needs, the style and budget of the project.

Communication Principals

How do you know you have truly understood your client? I follow these four principals to communicate with my clients. The principals help you get a foundation for the entire job:

  1. Listen
  2. Interpret
  3. Establish a common language
  4. Reiterate what you decide


The first thing I do, is ask questions- both verbal and written. Designers might look at the space and know exactly what THEY would want to do, but until we listen to the client, we don’t know what the CLIENT wants it to look like! Questions help you interpret your client’s likes and dislikes.

Listening is the first part of the process. Then, you need to interpret their words!


The client may be saying words to describe their vision, but words don’t mean the same to everyone! The word “traditional” can be interpreted in so many ways!

To avoid the wrong definitions, the designer and the client should define words together. Below is a list of words to get you started. If your client says a word over and over, ask them to show you a photo to describe what they are saying.

This list is just a start, so feel free to add any words to your list. Remember, your clients were not trained in design-speak!

Words to Interpret Together

  • Traditional
  • Contemporary
  • Dark
  • Moody
  • Natural
  • Light and bright
  • Classic
  • Organic
  • Gray- or any other color!

Example Time

Here is a an example of a statement that could be defined incorrectly.

  • “I definitely want a traditional kitchen!”

How should you reply?

  • “What elements are included in a traditional kitchen?”

I have heard one client describe dark wood floors, white painted cabinets, wainscoting, moldings, and paned windows. I have heard another client describe, walnut colored floors, with lots of grain showing, wood cabinets and soft hues for the walls.

You see the problem? Both are “right!”

How do you go about interpreting?

The simple answer is to take the words that you use to describe your vision and apply a visual to it.

If someone wants more “texture” in their design, then have them show you an example of what kind texture they are talking about. It may be a course, distressed floor or it could be a nubby fabric. So, get some specific examples up front. It will save you a TON of time!

Visual Options

  1. Pinterest– share a design board
  2. Magazine images- an oldie but goodie
  3. Photos
  4. Design boards- virtual and physical

Establish a Common Language

Once you get your definitions straight, then you have your common language. Did I mention that this language is different for a husband and wife? Yep, it is individual so I like to have the all decision makers take my “quizzes” and do my “homework!”

Reiterate, Reiterate

Redundant? You bet! Once a decision is made, write it down and share your decisions via email or on paper.

The hardest thing about design is when the other party is let down due to a mistake or a misinterpretation.

Why does this happen? There are sooo many decisions to be made during the design process!

Sometimes, we make decisions by ourselves because we don’t want the other person to be overwhelmed. Sometimes, we think one decision maker will tell their partner. Other times, we rely on a vendor to communicate with another vendor. Sometimes, the incorrect item is delivered and installed. You can see where this is going and it never ends very well!

How to Reiterate?


  1. Take notes at your meetings
  2. Send out bullet pointed (read: clear and concise) notes to everyone.
  3. If you are selecting several paints for your project or want tile installed in a certain pattern, send spec sheets to your contractor, AND print out the specifications on a paper and tape it up in the room where the work will be done.
  4. All contractors and vendors work differently, so even if they have their own style, you have to be one step ahead.

Creative Solution Experts

Lastly, Designers must be creative solutions experts. That along with marriage counselor and interpreter:) Remind everyone that something on every project doesn’t go as planned or scheduled.

Yes, we try to minimize this with all of our due diligence, but it happens anyway. Anyhow, everyone must be flexible! If something goes wrong, there is another way to do it.

Guess what?

Instead of the HORRIBLE problem, you will probably have a better result because of the extra thought you put into discovering a solution. I know, at the time it doesn’t feel like it will be a better solution, but that is why I have a laughter policy.


Yes, I only work with people who can laugh- with and at me. I really believe that comic relief gets you through everything!!

Good luck with your next new design job!! Try to implement a few of these tips on your next home project! For a collaboration tip sheet, click HERE and bring it to your next meeting!

Click Here to Download my Guide to Assessing & Collaborating on a New Design Job


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