ArchiTalks: How to start a design.

We’re all used to seeing the final photography of a project. You know what I’m talking about: the flashy pic with just the right lighting and the table staged perfectly with a full meal even though the kitchen in the background is spotless. It’s like magic, but how did it get there? Today, we’re going to pull back the curtain and talk about how to start a design.

Note: This is the thirty-fifth post in a group series called #ArchiTalks. This month’s topic is “How to Start a Design.”

I try to use the space on this blog, and on other social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to show my design process. While it’s nice to be occasionally praised for the end result, I’ve found that letting a client or the public see the process makes them value the work and effort that goes into what otherwise looks like “easy” magic of the final design.

I use the word magic jokingly, but I know that for some that’s what it seems like an architect does. And if you want to think I’m a magician? I’m cool with that. But I’d much rather be the person who you know cares about your design problem and can fix it.

You see, architecture, much like other professions, is a profession of skill. Each person studies or approaches the learning process slightly differently (or of different lengths) and we all end up, mixed in with our personality in a big bowl, made into our own version of an individual architect. We’re all different, but we all have skills. That means we all approach design and problem-solving differently. Today, we’re going to look behind the scenes at how to start a design – or at least how I start a design.

Start with a Need

A post shared by Lora Teagarden (@l2designllc) on

A post shared by Lora Teagarden (@l2designllc) on

Sometimes for an architect, the easiest path of how to start a design occurs when a client is in need. Many architects need at least a general direction or a box within which to operate, meaning options aren’t endless so we won’t spin our wheels continuously re-designing. The “need” defines the opportunity/problem to solve and can be self-prescribed or given to you by a client. In the instance of the images above, a client that I brought to RATIO had the need for a community engagement space that would allow visitors to quickly grasp their location among the larger area of impact that nonprofit serves. I had done the renovation of their space and knew this was a need and had therefore been mulling options in the back of my mind while renovation wrapped up.

We decided on a grayscale version of a map, showing the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, and then using a gradient of blues to show all of the homes and commercial spaces the nonprofit had helped renovate or infill into the community. With each year, new rectangles can be painted on to mark the progress – and be used as a planning tool in the meantime.

Start with an Idea

A post shared by Lora Teagarden (@l2designllc) on

A post shared by Lora Teagarden (@l2designllc) on

Another great approach in how to start a design is with an idea, material or otherwise. Many times, the idea becomes a visual sketch for an architect, whether the idea is originally our own or our clients. This is how we vet the process and ensure we’re communicating our thoughts and are on the same page as the client for a given space or project.

The above project was for a full bathroom renovation I brought into RATIO. The owner had the idea: clean, accessible, minimal plumbing changes if possible. She also had a material idea. She had seen an old Metropolis magazine cover with beautiful green tile in an expansive walk-in shower…and had saved it all these years for just this occasion. After taking a trip to the tile distributor, we crunched some numbers and realized it wasn’t economical to do the entire bathroom in green like she’d hoped, but that it was something she wanted. So, that was how I started the design. I took all of those ideas and boundaries and decided to use the tile to accentuate the wet space of the shower, carving a sliver of green down the wet wall and across the floor. I love how it turned out and – even better – the client does, too!

Start with Inspiration

A post shared by Lora Teagarden (@l2designllc) on

A post shared by Lora Teagarden (@l2designllc) on

My sister hates the way I use Pinterest. She loves to use it for travel and recipe ideas, but also for gift giving ideas for different holidays. I’ll admit, she has a good thought process there, but it’s just not how I use the site. Pinterest for me is a tool to gather ideas and inspiration for current and future projects, either personal or for clients. When I bought #L2HQ, I immediately set up different boards for the different spaces in the house that I knew I’d need to renovate – which was pretty much every room. This lead to a memorable moment where she jokingly yelled at me over FaceTime, “Why do you have to be so difficult, Lora? How am I supposed to buy you a stairway?!?”

We both laughed, but I’d also like to think that after almost four years at #L2HQ, while she saw boards populated with inspiration images and then rooms renovated, she began to understand the pinspiration method to the renovation madness.

The backyard inspiration image above and design (to be completed this summer) is no different. After scouring different architecture firm websites and design blogs for ideas, I moved forward with my plan for the design of the backyard – taking pieces of inspiration from various places. As an architect, I feel capable of making these decisions and mixing these ideas because – through the course of continued learning and experience – I understand the labor or (general) cost associated with certain things, but all it takes is a simple idea or image to get the design started.

Just start!

The thing about the mystical idea of “how to start a design” is…it’s not all that mystical. If you know of something that needs fixed, or something you want changed – contact your friend, the architect. We love design. I love design. And I love making spaces and places better.

In the meantime, snap a picture, save an image to Pinterest, buy that tiny square of tile because you loved it so much you know you want to use it in the future. It’ll be there when we decide to start that design, and then I can walk you through the design process one on one and you’ll be the magician when your friends see what you did with your new space.


To see the take on “How to start a design” from other Architects, follow the links to the others in the #ArchiTalks group who are posting today on the theme:

Related posts