For the sake of simplicity this article refers generically to all architectural design professionals as architects. This is by no means intended to discredit either Registered Architects or Building Designers, and their similarities or unique differences as practicing professionals. 


When attending your first meeting with a new client, there is a lot of information that needs to be communicated so that you are able to proceed with designing. The summary of information collected during these initial meetings is known as the Design Brief (or 'return client brief'). It is important that you send the design brief to your new clients after the meeting, along with a contract (Client and Architect Agreement CAA), so to confirm the information or highlight any misunderstanding.

Even though a design brief might be established, confirmed and agreed upon at the commencement of the project, this is a living document, open to adjustment, and will often be subject to change through the duration of the project (subject to approval).

To create a comprehensive design brief, the following information will need to be recorded and discussed between the architect and client:

Client Contact Information

It is important to gather all of your client’s contact information, including company details (if applicable) so that you have various modes of communication - postal address, emails, phone numbers, fax and professional social media – such as LinkedIn (optional).

For good practice, maintain a clear record of communication between yourself and the client. Save all correspondence in a client file, physical and digital. If anything is communicated verbally, you should then follow up the conversation with an email or letter to create a paper trail, which records the time and date of the conversation, in case you need to refer back to it.  

Client Objectives

Understanding your client’s overall objectives for the project may help to determine how to approach the new design.

Some examples, of a client objective may be:

  • Downsize - Moving, subdividing, or building a secondary dwelling, as the scale of their current situation is too large or no longer practical or necessary.
  • Investment – Building to rent or sell is a time-tested investment strategy. Therefore value for money may be most important priority.
  • Increase - Enlarging the size or amount of living spaces or bedrooms. This could be anywhere from a small addition to a grand new build.
  • Adjust - Include a granny flat for their elderly parents, reconfigure as space for adult children, or including a home office or gym.

Whatever their over-arching objectives, these must inform the primary design resolution. Each design aspect must be weighed as to whether the objective is being achieved.


Managing a client’s budget can be challenging. While any people do not like discussing money, it is important that this topic is explored early and thoroughly.  Transparency and clarity is key. In many cases, I find clients unwilling to discuss their financial position or budgetary commitment early in the design process. 

The true costs of design, approval, and construction processes will be foreign to many people. Furthermore, costs in the construction industry fluctuate greatly. It is therefore often the responsibility of an architect to advise or direct uninformed clients to reliable information regarding these processes and costs. This will confirm their willingness to spend the required money necessary to meet their design expectations.

While an architect may feel it entirely their responsibility to ensure the client of the cost of construction (per square metre), this should only be seen as a rough guide. Obtaining expertise pricing advise from a quantity surveyor is preferred in order to give the client a realistic idea of the full costs of construction. Alternatively, a suitable qualified builder (contractor) may choose to be involved in the design phase, and help to guide the scope of the design in order to ensure compatibility with budgetary limitations.

A client may also wish for the architect to design their desired outcome, their full wish-list with all the trimmings, irrespective of the final cost before determining the achievability of the masterplan. This approach can work well, allowing for staged design, approval, or construction, allowing work to be undertaken as funding becomes available.

Some questions for you to ask/discuss may be:

  • How much money are they willing to spend to achieve their desired design outcome?
  • Is that a maximum amount, inclusive of design, approval fees, and construction costs?
  • Do they have a contingency allowance to finance the project if it goes over budget?


Not all new project enquiries have the same time frame. Therefore, some questions for you to ask/discuss may be:

  • Does the client have a specific time frame for the work to be undertaken in?
  • Are there any steps to be taken before they are ready? (e.g. land purchase/settlement, financing approval)
  • Are they ready to commence the design process now, or are they just enquiring about services?

Scope of works

Outlining a scope of works provides clarity about the project’s inclusions, whether this may be a new build, alterations and additions, or internal fit-out. It is important to list all of the spatial and room requirements that the client desires as well as discussion anything else that my have been missed or overlooked in the original brief.


Ask clients to create a list of what materials that are ‘desirable’ and any that are ‘non-negotiable’. Style and price usually impact the type of materiality appropriate, but if the client has particular requirements (for example, hardwood timber floors) then these should be included in the design, forcing another aspect to give way. Communicating necessary concessions to meet the budget should be discussed early during the process.


Style is an aspect of the design process that may be hard to define. As the line between architectural styles, movements, trends, and fashions often blur, you may require further clarification of the attributes of a style/s in order to achieve a harmonious design. An architect may be required to put their particular style preference aside in order to achieve customer satisfaction. Simultaneously, it should not be underestimated that an architect will often receive referrals based on past projects. Therefore, inspiration may be drawn from the architect's portfolio, and suitably adapted to the particular nuances of a site and client brief.

There is a high potential for misunderstandings and complications when trying to ascertain a client’s preferred style. This can arise from:

  • Clients are unaware of the formal architectural styles, their names, or how to describe it.
  • Differences in personal taste, ideas or opinions of clients, where there may be two or more people engaging the architect's services.
  • Eclectic appreciation of various styles or elements.
  • Choosing a style unsympathetic to contextual conditions.
  • Preconceptions of form, size, quality and value.

As style is best interpreted by visual representation, I will often advise my clients to use create a photographic collection of their preferred style, themes, and finishes. Pinterest is a great tool to create various boards of style images, highlighting aspects of styles that they like. This can be really helpful for clients that struggle to communicate design ideas, style preferences and material choices with architectural plans and the correct industry phrases alone.

Take a sketch pad or tracing paper with you to the meeting, ready to resolve and clarify any configuration issues on the spot. While the transparency (pun intended) and vulnerability of this process might be daunting at first, it can remove any frustration and delay caused by inadequacy in verbal communication and lengthy email discussions.


Ask if there are any elements to the project that they definitely ‘do not want’? After all, as customer satisfaction is vital, knowing what is not necessary, or undesired is critical to efficient space planning.

For example, if a client does not use or want a dedicated laundry room, then perhaps they would prefer the laundry machines, tub and storage to be integrated into a larger bathroom or hidden in a cupboard in the hallway or kitchen.

Future Occupants

A building’s design must be considerate of the users and functionality of the building once completed. For example, a building constructed for the purpose of investment (rental or sale) required the architect o consider the needs not only of the commissioning client, but also the end user. This can require a very different design approach to that of owner-occupied. Clients focused on long term investment must focus on future occupants when detailing. Careful not to create personalised design elements that will not be widely desired or practical. Similarly, durability and low-maintenance materials, services and features should be given preference.


What type of lifestyle does the clients wish to achieve through the design? Make suggestions of how the use of space, and the connection between spaces can assist in improving their lifestyle and everyday use.

For example: Perhaps being able to entertain or host large family gatherings is important to their lifestyle. Therefore, how does this impact the design? Would they prefer a large internal living spaces, kitchen and butler’s pantry, and/or a large outdoor entertaining space (covered or uncovered) with pool and outdoor kitchen area?  

It’s important to understand how they currently live, what they do most of, and how they would prefer to work, rest, play, and interact with their environment. Be sure to include everyday efficiencies (e.g. double-storey laundry chute, ample storage, highly insulated, well-sealed doors and windows) as these are hard if not impossible to add later.

Buy in

What ideas can your clients contribute to the design? They may already have conceptual sketches or ideas of how they may want the form to be configured. As an architect, I want my clients to be involved in the design process. Whilst buy-in is invaluable, if a client has already developed an inappropriately planned scheme, they are often closed to new ideas, and will struggle coming to terms with re-working or discarding a concept into workable design that seemingly disregards their time and investment. 

Consider whether the client has experience or qualifications in an allied design field or trade, where they can participate acutely to an area of design where they can exercise their expertise, e.g. plumber, carpenter, bricklayer, steel fabricator, engineer, landscape designer, interior designer. This may result in a better designed or built outcome, increase the owner's project appreciation, and improve your knowledge of that related field.

In conclusion, it is imperative that throughout the development and consolidation of the design brief that your client feels like they have ownership of the design process. That their ideas and how they perceive their dream has been heard and is able to be represented on paper. Therefore, the role of an architect is to be the vessel where the client’s ideas and dreams, mixed with the architect’s knowledge and creativity becomes form.

The Archi-Ed Residential Design Brief can be downloaded from here. (COMING SOON)

Take it to your next client meeting as a prompt to ask all the required information and to discuss important aspects of their expectations and personal expression of design that you will need to know to commence their project. Alternatively, you may wish to email this list to a potential client in advance, and have them complete the checklist themselves.


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The information contained in the article and website are general in nature and are the opinions of the author, through his professional experience and study. This should not be substituted for seeking professional or legal advice in this area. Click here for more details of our content.