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Design & Specification

Interior design: the Design Brief stage

In this exclusive extract from The BIID Interior Design Job Book by Diana and Stephen Yakeley, we take a look at what a Design Brief is and the steps involved in preparing an initial brief.

The Design Brief is necessary when the client is not clear what the brief should be. This is not as extraordinary as it sounds; often clients are aware that new space needs to be provided or existing space rearranged but the problem may be so complex, and the number of people that need to be consulted so large, that the client is not in a position to analyse this.

This is an area where the designer can provide a service in space planning (sometimes called 'interior architecture') which clients are often unaware exists. This helps the client to determine his/her needs in detail and to set the parameters for the whole project that may follow.

This can be a relatively simple exercise, e.g. examining how an existing building can be adapted to a new use, or a complex process, consulting exhaustively with the client's key staff, utilising adjacency theory to provide a detailed analysis of the client's requirements, developing this into planning diagrams from which floor plans can be developed.

The RIBA Outline Plan of Work 2007 describes the key tasks for this stage as, 'Development of initial statement of requirements into the Design Brief by or on behalf of the client confirming key requirements and constraints. Identification of procurement method, procedures, organisational structure and range of consultants and others to be engaged for the project.'

When acting as the interior designer in a design team or when acting as lead consultant, the designer will carry out all of the following tasks (deliverables in bold):

  • Receive from the client a detailed description of the functions that the project is to accommodate and prepare a room schedule
  • Collect information concerning the precise requirements of each room, interviewing key staff as necessary, and prepare a room requirements schedule for each space
  • When space relationships are complex, prepare an adjacency relationships matrix
  • From the adjacency relationships matrix, develop planning diagrams
  • As appropriate, collaborate with other consultants in the preparation of a design brief
  • Present the design brief (incorporating the above deliverables) to, and review options with, the client.
Initial brief

A crucial statement (which ideally should be prepared before the designer is appointed to design the Concept stage) is the initial brief. This should set out, in as much detail as the client is able, his/her requirements for the project and should be attached to the appointment letter. If the client has not formulated a detailed brief at the beginning, this should be noted in the appointment letter, perhaps together with a general statement of the client's intent.

Brief preparation

For large, complex projects, clients often have not carried out a detailed analysis of their requirements. In such situations, the designer can perform a useful service by carrying out such an analysis. This usually involves interviewing key staff, determining what spaces are required, ascertaining the requirements of each space and how it should relate to other spaces, analysing these 'adjacency' relationships and preparing diagrams that show the ideal relationships of the spaces to each other. From the latter, floor plan(s) can then be developed in the next stage.

Budget, timetable

The client should be encouraged to state at the beginning what the desired budget and timetable are and, if they are unable to do so, then this should be noted in the appointment letter. The client should be reminded that under ID/10 clause 3.4, he/she should advise the designer of the relative priorities of the brief, budget and timetable.

Preparing an initial brief

When projects are small, clients often have a clear idea of what they require. It is important in these cases that the designer either obtains a written statement of the brief from the client or formulates it him/herself from the client's instructions. If available before the designer is employed, the brief should be attached to the form of appointment.

An initial brief can often be imprecise when the client is unsure of his/her requirements in the early stages of a project.

For many projects (including particularly domestic schemes), it is often convenient to set out the brief on a room-by-room basis. If no work is to be carried out in certain areas this should be noted. Alternatively, say in an office project, the brief can be organised by function and/or the types of personnel a project is required to accommodate.

The client should be encouraged to state at the beginning what the desired budget and timetable are and if they are unable to do so, then this should be noted in the appointment letter. The client should be reminded that:

  • Under ID/10 clause 3.4, he/she should advise the designer of the relative priorities of the brief, budget and timetable
  • Under clause 2.4, the designer does not warrant that the services will be completed in accordance with the timetable or the budget cost.

© 2010 Diana and Stephen Yakeley

Find out more

The BIID Interior Design Job Book is the first book to set out the professional standard for running an interior design project. Suitable for all interior designers – whether working alone or as part of a design team, and on projects of all sizes – it provides guidance for every stage of a job, from appraisal of the client’s requirements through to practical completion and payment, and is available to buy from RIBA Bookshops.

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