Seeking a designer?

Client desperately seeking designer…

Think of your search for a designer as being on par with your search for a life partner.  After all, at the close of your  relationship your design partner won’t just leave behind their old CDs and a few unwanted socks – they will leave you with the blueprint for your future home. For your own future happiness and financial well-being, it’s important to find ‘the one’.

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Last year we wrote about the value of scrapbooking a great home design catalogue in order to identify what you want from your future project. These images and concepts can then be used to help you prioritise the functions you want in your home.

The key to finding a good designer is to find someone who is able to take those concepts and extrapolate them into a design that works both for your site and your budget.

Qualities to look out for in your relationship with a design partner

First, know yourself

Be clear on what you want before you get involved.  Come armed with your home design scrapbook and design objectives and do your research to get a general idea of what’s feasible within your budget. If you haven’t done this yet, have a look at our post about it: Great home design starts with small steps

How you choose a designer will flow on from your chosen approach to the procurement process, for example:

  1. Custom design: Are you creating a bespoke design solution? Taking this approach you will need to commission an architect or architectural designer to create a house design that captures your specific requirements.
  2. Design and Build: Will you engage a builder to lead the design process. In this scenario a builder will select an architect to design a house for your site. This approach typically involves a fixed price for the design and construction of the house.
  3. Housing Developers: Is this house ‘off the plans’? The design of the home is already established when you come on board. Taking this approach you will have limited design input: for example, you may be able to specify the colour of the walls and some of the fixtures.

The role of your designer, and the skills you will need to look for, depend on those decisions. If you’re not clear on your procurement options, see this helpful page in the ADM: Key Activities: Understanding procurement options

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Your relationship with your designer will take up many hours over many months. A good designer has great listening, observational and problem solving skills: they’ll need them to get the design right for your needs.

Getting this fit right is crucial. During the selection process, make sure you get face-to-face time with your designer to get a sense of how your future meetings and communication might play out.

What’s their relationship history like?

Carry out some detective work into the designer’s project history and try to get a sense of their track record. You are looking for houses that were delivered to their brief, on time and on budget.

Check with the people they’ve worked for – architects, contractors, and of course customers. Ask for references. Ring them. Ask those references for other people they may know of and check in with them too. People only put their best references on a CV and you might uncover a more realistic picture of the designer with a bit of digging.

They should anticipate your needs

A good designer won’t simply create spaces to meet minimum dimensional requirements, they will look at how you want to use a space and design accordingly. So instead of a ‘3m x 3m living room’, you get ‘a space to entertain’ – with a size and design that suits you.

A good designer will think about the users (that’s you) now and in the future. You want someone who will consider what you need and want from your living environment: including privacy, temperature, access and visual aspects, to name just a few.

The design should also allow for the unexpected – if you spend a month on crutches because you had a wild weekend on Ruapehu, you still need to be able get through the front door.

A shared future

You and your designer should share a vision for your future home: you need to love living there and they need to love designing it. Remember that your designer has an incentive too – a successful design helps to grow their professional reputation.

The design of your house should incorporate your future. Your designer should understand your future plans and help to provide for them:

  • If you see children in your future, you could plan a second play space
  • If you plan to subdivide your property, make sure you choose a floor plate for your current build that will enable that in the future
  • If you anticipate having a live-in-carer, you could plan for an ensuite for the second bedroom
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Do you see children in your future?

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Do you anticipate having a live-in-carer?


Someone who doesn’t take advantage

Also important when considering the future are the long term cost implications of your design decisions. A good designer will recognise your budget and work to it, and won’t pressure you into extras that you can’t afford. You want a house that will work for you, both in terms of liveability and mortgage repayments.

A pre-nup

Engage legal advice to help you outline and review contracts; this will ensure clarity and the inclusion of all the necessary information.

Include measurable deliverables in a detailed design brief. These will be critical in tracking the progress of your project.

How do I work out how much to pay for a designer?

There are no hard and fast rules but an architect could cost something like 10% of the total build cost and a designer could cost 5%.

It’s worth noting that putting in the work (and the money) upfront to get the design right may well save your project from unravelling out of control further down the track.

Remember it’s not just about the numbers; the right designer could add a lot more to the value of your home than any small differences in fees between practitioners.

Look out for

  • Contracts that are unclear and you don’t understand. Take them to a legal expert.
  • Not including enough detail in the brief. You need to be able to refer back to key deliverables.
  • Designing only for a permitted activity. While this avoids having to apply for resource consent, it may not provide the best outcome for your home.

Want more information?

Check out: ADM Guidance for developing new homes

Did you know that the council offers free 15 minute pre-application advice?

What’s the difference between an Architect and a Designer?

The term ‘designer’ is used here to refer to a range of job titles: including architects, architectural designers, and designers. However, some of these professions do require specific qualifications and registration.
Architects: Only registered architects can practice as such.To register with the NZ Registered Architects Board (NZRAB), architects must hold a Bachelor of Architecture Degree, have three years’ practical experience in a mentored environment and pass registration assessment. Architects re-register every five years and demonstrate ongoing professional development. Most architects are members of the NZ Institute of Architects (NZIA) which supports continuing professional development.
For more info visit or 
Designers: There are no restrictions on trading as a designer in NZ, however registered members of Architectural Designers NZ Inc. (ADNZ) must hold a recognised certificate or diploma, undertake professional development and are bound by ADNZ’s code of ethics.
For more info visit:

Article by Toby Shephard

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