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The Design Process

Nichols Design Group adheres to the American Institute of Architects six phases of architectural design. These six phases, outlined below, are industry standard and the foundational language of our contracts. Knowledge of the six design phases will provide clients with a good understanding of roles and expectations of each team member (including the client) through to project completion.

1. Pre Design

In short, this phase is about getting to know the client and the property. Our understanding of the client's goals, dreams, tastes and values will inform every choice the design team makes. 

  • Document existing conditions

  • Understand municipal zoning requirements

  • Explore project feasibility

  • Define programming requirements

  • Establish preliminary budget goals

  • Determine proposed scope

2. Schematic Design

  • Develop 2-3 schematic floor plans with approximate elevations as needed

  • With client feedback, vet pros and cons for each scheme

  • Prepare preliminary budgets for each scheme

  • Refine the plans down to a single agreed-upon plan

  • Present 1-2 rounds of refinement for client approval

3. Design Development

Phase Four:  Construction Documents

Phase Five:  Construction Administration


Our clients come to us with a vision of the lifestyle they desire, their dreams.  Most have never worked with an architect before and don’t know what to expect from our process.  The most important skill we possess is our ability to carefully listen and understand their aspirations. 

Communication and collaboration are the keys to a successful project.  During our initial meetings we explore the extents of your dreams.  We ask pertinent questions.  You share your ideas for your lifestyle including favorite examples of architecture, interior design and art.  We get to know you.



Using pertinent information we have developed during our fact finding phase, we interpret your vision, creating a conceptual design.  We review it with you , soliciting your input and feedback.  We refine our design until you are satisfied.  Once the team is comfortable that your expectations have been exceeded, we continue the architectural process, developing the design, and creating the legal construction documents, drawings and specifications.  We then bid the project to General Contractors, typically five, and follow through with observation of the construction process with the GC of your choice, acting as your trusted adviser, though the very last detail of construction.

There are 5 design phases to architectural services. They are (in order) Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding, and Construction Administration. These phases are the breakdown of how architects define their design services and the architects role in design.

In this article we will be discussing the phases of design as defined by The American Institute Of Architects. The five phases of design are simply a way for Architects to break up the work they do into categories that should be easy for everyone to understand. Understanding design phases can help explain what architects do and how the project is structured.

Pre-Design is a a general term for what we do before we start designing a building. This will include preliminary research on the clients part and possibly the architect. Clients do not always hire an architect for this portion. At our firm we do get involved in pre-design architectural services quite often. This can include helping clients decide if they should purchase a property. We often do a zoning analysis in pre-design. The client gets a property survey by a licensed land surveyor. The client may want to establish a project budget in the Pre-Design Architecture phase. To learn more about pre design check out another post we wrote on Pre Design Architecture. Essentially pre-design will be determining the information we need to begin design. Here are a few factors to consider:

Site Analysis
Survey, Geo technical, financial, etc…
If we are dealing with an existing building: asbestos testing, lead testing, or other hazardous materials investigation.
Zoning Analysis / Code analysis
What is allowed to be built as for use and size.
Specific Code Issues that may affect the project.
Project Scope
Client must identify to the best of their ability the project scope of work.
Project Budgeting
Project Schedule
Sometimes this may be too preliminary to establish.
Selection Of Project team




Schematic Design establishes the intent, size, relationships and overall conceptual design of your project. The goal is to formulate a clearly defined concept to present for discussion, revision, and approval. During the Schematic Design phase, drawings typically consist of sketches, diagrammatic floor plans and 3D computer renderings illustrating the exterior of your project.

Design Development expands upon the schematic design, refining and cultivating creative solutions to project specific goals and delves into greater architectural detail, materials, and building systems. The goal is to refine the project size, aesthetics, principal components and details. During the Design Development phase, drawings typically consist of floor plans, exterior elevations, building sections, key details, window and door schedules and revised computer renderings.

Construction Documents are used to price, bid and build your project. They establish in detail the quality of materials and building systems required for completing the project to obtain the project cost and contract. Construction Documents encompass concise drawings, descriptions, dimension and annotations for the entire project. During the Construction Documents phase, drawings typically consist of floor plans, foundation plans, roof plans, framing plans, exterior and interior elevations, building sections, wall sections, exterior construction details, window/door schedules, electrical and lighting plans and outline or short form specifications.


Construction Contract Administration involves the review of the contractor’s requests for information, requests for payment and change orders, regular field visits and providing supplemental information. The goal is to ensure quality within design intent, budget, schedule, and craftsmanship throughout the process. Our team is your representation, advocate, and point of contact throughout construction.


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