Stopping to keep moving: on the value of design review meetings

Designing a building is an intensive and significant process. One of the most important activities during such a process is the review of potential solutions for the underlying design problem. During so-called design review meetings, designers, building owners, end-users and other stakeholders come together to reflect on a design proposal, to solve design-related issues and to decide upon following steps. These review meetings can be very resource and time-intensive, and are sometimes considered as tedious or frustrating. There are nevertheless good reasons to conduct these design review meetings. Here, I summarize what I see as the most important ones:

  • Design reviews are a means to better understand the design problem at hand. The nature of design problems has been described as wicked or ill-structured. At the start of a design project, clients generally do not know what the “answer” to their design problem is. The project brief may therefore not be internally consistent and include conflicting requirements. Many constraints and criteria only emerge during the design process itself, as a result of evaluating design solutions. Exposing design proposals during review meetings therefore helps both clients and designers to better understand the design problem they are facing.
  • Design reviews are crucial for timely detecting errors and inconsistencies. Throughout the entire design process, various designers with different backgrounds, levels of expertise and perceptions of the problem are working on the design. Integrating and synthesizing their interdependent ideas inevitably leads to errors and inconsistencies. The idea of design reviews is to get these bugs out of the design before the construction stage commences, since changes are then extremely expensive. Ultimately, these review efforts thus lead to a better product quality and can save money.
  • Design reviews allow participants to accept and commit to decisions made as a group. A design process requires intensive interactions between designers and clients. Although clients may once took what was given, they are nowadays much more empowered to accept or reject design decisions along the way. Fostered by democratic ideals, review meetings can give those who are affected by the design a chance to influence that process. That enables individuals to align their expectations and agree upon decisions made as a group, even when the outcome is now what they preferred.

For the above reasons, designers and clients should schedule enough time during the design process to review proposed solutions. Designers need to freeze a design from time to time to be able to evaluate its quality together with the clients before unfreezing it again and generating additional solutions. To keep a design project moving forward, it is thus necessary to make a stop now and then.

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