Explaining the Design Process: Just what is Concept Design?

The definition of Concept Design varies a bit from designer to designer, to fit into their individual design process when designing an interior. In our design process, Concept Design happens in the early stages of a project, after I’ve taken a brief from you, and Initial information gathering and sketch plan stage is complete.

Concept design is just as important as the actual documentation of a project. During this stage, the design direction of your project is taken from the moodboard stage and the form, materials palette and major items such as custom cabinetry is conceived & statement pieces of furniture are selected. The overall look and feel is rapidly developing, and at this stage, your Project Manager can update the Investment estimate to reflect the evolution the design.

Our standard project timeline below illustrates where Concept Design fits into your overall project.

  • Information Gathering: Initial Site Investigation, taking the Brief & Sketch Planning & the Moodboard

  • Investment estimate (by Your Project Manager & Builder)

  • Concept Design, schematic illustrations & sketches, FF&E Preliminaries & Joinery Preliminaries

  • Update Investment estimate (by your Project Manager & Builder)

  • Detail Design & Documentation, drafting plans & elevations for permits, detail design of Joinery, scheduling of FF&E, coordinate with consultants

  • Permit Application (by your Project Manager

  • Construction Documentation, Tender stage RFI’s, revisions to documentation in preparation for construction

  • Tender (by your Project Manager)

  • Construction Stage Design Services, Site meeting & inspections, site instructions & responding to RFI’s, materials approvals, Shop drawing review, Defects Inspection & report, As Built documentation, Handover attendance.

  • As Builts

Related Case Study: Phillip Island Beach house

Why is the design process broken down into stages?

The design process is divided into stages intentionally to ensure we get from that first meeting & brief-taking step to your sign-off of full construction documentation while ensuring that the design evolves along the Design Process path to meet your expectations, whilst also taking your level of investment into consideration. It’s a strategic step-by-step formula that delves into what you want & need, and each stage along the path from Sketch Plan –> to Moodboard –> to interpreting it into a design.

Why does my project need a Concept Design stage?

During the 1st step (the Sketch Plan stage), your design is conceived as a floor plan only. The big picture elements and the details have not yet been resolved. The order and location of rooms, spaces, as well as circulation are what we concentrate on during the Sketch Plan. Things like kitchen cabinetry, reception counters etc are just blocks on the plan at Sketch Plan stage. Your designer may have some thought on what things may look like, but a lot of work still needs to be done.

Concept Design is where your design is fleshed out. We start to think of materiality & form of wall, ceiling and floor finishes, and how individual pieces of cabinetry will look. It’s all still a bit rough at this stage, as elements may move around or change size (or be deleted) depending upon final selects. At this stage you’ll have a great idea of what the overall look and feel will be.

Why does the Investment estimate increase during the Concept Design stage?

During this stage, the overall design will evolve. Any estimates that may have been done by your Project Manager & Builder during earlier stages would not have allowed for the final design. In our experience, they generally allow for entry-level (read low-budget here) fittings and fixtures at Sketch Plan stage. If you want quality finishes, furniture & fixtures, these need to be determined & communicated to the team.

The 2nd site visit is conducted to complete the full Site Survey

The timing of this during a project can vary depending on the individual needs of that project, and how much information is you are able to provide (like existing conditions Autocad files, etc), and how accurate it is. The full Site Survey is generally commenced during the Sketch Plan phase, with the 2nd site check done during the Concept Design phase to catch any missing bits of information.

Schematic Illustrations & sketches

The exact definition of Schematic Illustrations can vary, again tailored to suit your individual project. I don’t provide illustrations for every room; we identify those key areas which are most important to your project. Sketches are artist’s interpretations of the design intent, and may be in the form of black and white isometrics & perspectives, or hand-drawn with Procreate or Morpholio Trace. It all depends on what works best for your project.

The Concept sketch elevation below shows the preliminary design for a kitchen (left) and meals area (on right), illustrating selections for dark timber veneer cabinetry, stone for the island bench, splash back and rangehood, with feature wallpaper in the meals area. This allows me to explore ideas for key elements such as the pendant light above the bench, wine cabinet & Zuster buffet are starting to bring the Wow factor to this space, while maintaining the overall look and feel for the project.

Kitchen & meals interior design elevation
Kitchen design (the view behind the island bench)

FF&E Preliminaries

FF&E is ‘Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment’ in design-speak. The phrase also covers the whole gamut of elements that needs to be selected and specified by a designer (ie. finishes, materials, lighting, door hardware, etc…..).

The big ticket item finishes like flooring, feature wall treatments, stone, tile, feature lighting, rugs, major appliances, etc will be selected at this stage. These selections help inform your Project Manager & Builder so that they can refine your Investment estimate. The materials for this Beach House on Phillip Island are taking shape.

Beach house design ideas

Joinery Preliminaries

Joinery (ie Custom made cabinetry like kitchens, vanities, reception counters, etc), is conceived at this stage in a loose format. The final design will depend upon the type & size of materials selected, sizes of appliances or equipment to be built in, and services to be incorporated and concealed. This is the preliminary planning stage for these pieces, and as a designer there’s a lot to do, from seeing if the preferred appliances fit and how that affects the design, to analysing the amount of storage space you currently have and comparing it to what’s available, and much more. We begin to coordinate with the services engineers to make sure all the plumbing & ductwork that’s necessary behind-the-scenes will suit the design.

The sketch below for an alfresco design in Melbourne illustrates some of the factors that can push or pull a design in various directions. It’s all about massaging it into the desired form, and having an understanding of what is possible, restrictions imposed by regulations, appliance installation requirements & what the engineer will need to make it work. In this sketch we’re working out if the range hood can be concealed, or if this is a great opportunity to add some feature grey handmade look splash back tiles up to the ceiling to add texture to an otherwise black stone and white laminate joinery design. My client’s partner is quite petite, so I’m thinking of lowering the overhead shelving for easier reach. This sketch analyses how the appliances (glass door bar fridge, BBQ, dishwasher on right), sink (on right; not visible in this view) & storage fit along the length of the bench.

Outdoor alfresco design ideas

Lisa is a very dedicated professional with a keen eye for fine detail and accurate documentation. I have worked with Lisa on more than 10 airport lounges and I can highly recommend her work. Lisa is also good a reviewing and coordinating services drawings.

D. Johnson

(please pin the below graphic to your pinterest board for reference)

(please pin the below graphic to your pinterest board for reference)

So, why Hire an Interior Designer?

Unfortunately many people get confused or intimidated by the idea of hiring a professional Interior Designer for their project, and might be concerned about the process of working with a designer & the costs of doing so.

A lot of people I meet feel that they can hire a builder and do the design themselves, selecting materials and fixtures in dribs and drabs, often at the last minute (leading to less choice) with poor planning & lack of an overall vision. This will lead increased costs due to changes, additions and variations that the builder will not have allowed for.

You will save money & time. Your designer will plan functional and appealing spaces, provide drawings, visualisations & material / furnishing selections in a strategic manner so you can get competitive quotes, and you know what the design will look like & cost right from the start.

You require a Qualified Interior Designer & Registered Building Practitioner for any commercial project or residential project that requires a building permit; a proper interior designer is a highly trained & experienced registered professional, not just someone with ‘a good eye for colour’ and a knack for picking furniture.

Let’s make something beautiful together, book an appointment to explore your dream project.

Image: Omar Rodriguez @ormphotography