Selecting a Design Service

In an earlier blog post I addressed the subject of outsourcing corporate real estate services. One of the key services that is central to the real estate process is the need for design services, typically interior design services. Maintaining a design team internally is expensive and unnecessary. For some organizations having a design professional as a member of the CRE staff is advisable for the purposes of supervising the  design contract firm and evaluating designs in various stages of development.

So what are the key steps in selecting a design firm? The first priority is to review current office design standards to insure adequacy relative to space efficiency, corporate culture, technology support, and cost. Are the standards supportive of office flexibility and work agility? Are the standards consistent with HR policies? Do the standards support safety and security concerns? Are they reasonably flexible to be applied in different markets and locales? Many CRE managers will engage a design firm to manage the standard update as a preliminary step in selecting a design services firm.

The scope of the design firm contract will vary by organization, but typically will include the following deliverables:

·      Test layouts in support of lease negotiations: Most commercial lease negotiations will require test layouts to insure that various space requirements will fit the floor plan of the subject leasehold.

·      Once the site is selected, the design firm will complete preliminary layouts including workstations, conference and training rooms, and specialty areas (such as mail rooms, server rooms, reception areas, and perhaps space for physical fitness, lunch rooms, etc.)

·      In many cases the design consultant will work closely with the broker or tenant rep during lease negotiations to insure adequacy relative to work letter, tenant improvement allowances, or other landlord offerings.

·      After preliminary designs are approved, the design consultant will complete final designs including color schemes, furniture layout, acoustical designs, lighting schemes, and communication cabling schematics. A key element in the design deliverable will be security provisions such as card key access, closed circuit TV monitoring, fire and perimeter protection, etc.

·      For many companies, the CRE team will require input from the design consultant on alternative workplace features such as drop-in offices, collaborative spaces, and other features in support of a mobile workforce.

·      For national companies, it will be important to select a design organization with sufficient capacity to support geographically distributed projects to minimize long distance travel. Most of the larger design organizations have geographically distributed offices in the major capital cities. For international firms it’s advisable to contract with design firms that are local to the designated project city. This will insure that the project design will conform with local codes, standards, and covenants. Many European countries have strict environmental and human resource laws that must be addressed in office designs. The local design consultant should address these factors as part of the design service.

·      One final consideration: The design firm should insure that final designs are delivered to the client in digital format so that layouts can be imported to the lease database. This will facilitate future planning and link design renderings with lease data.

Conclusion: Selecting a design firm is a key step in the facility management and leasing process. The CRE manager should invariably follow best practices in the sourcing process to include the development and issuance of an RFP (request for proposal), consulting with other CRE managers and real estate advisors on candidate firms, and then finally applying a disciplined interview and selection process. Over time the selected design firm will learn the priorities and culture of the client CRE organization and apply this knowledge to make the design process more efficient and collaborative.