Once we have gathered all the necessary information for a project from our project feasibility meeting and our measure meeting, a clear understanding of the design and construction budget, as well as any questionnaires or other information gathering techniques, we move on to the schematic design phase. The transition between programming and schematics can often seem to blend together and move silently from one to the next. This is often because we may generate ideas while at the site and mention these ideas. However, it is usually not a good idea to move forward with a plan without drawing it out and fully considering the potential problems with that approach. Often times, seeing it in plan or diagrams is what is needed to uncover the problems.
It is for this reason that I hesitated on doing one-time consultations for a long time. I get nervous about giving ideas on the spot that may not work. After all, when someone is hiring a professional, they are expecting a professional solution, right? It took quite a bit of convincing to finally accept that presenting ideas in a one-time meeting can be valuable to Owners, even if they aren't complete plans. I digress...
Schematics may sound like "instructions" or "details", but this phase couldn't be anything further from this point. This is our starting point, where the design is simply an idea put on paper. At this early point, drawings are used for estimating purposes, to illustrate to the contractor the idea and the types of finishes and fixtures we are aiming for. These are not finished selections and the drawings may still change. Remember that schematic means "symbolic" or "diagrammatic". This is absolutely where we are during this phase... looking at a visual representation of partially formed ideas.
The goal of the schematic design phase is to define the general scope of the project in a format where a contractor can read these documents and put together a preliminary estimate. The documents we generate provide sufficient detail to convey an image of our solution. Once everything looks good for that preliminary estimate, we may submit the drawings, either via email or in person for review and to sign off on the phase. Approval at this point is not considered approval of final documentation, but of the conceptual direction, the design is going in.
Our clients may expect to see a few emails with imagery, some half-drawn plans (software glitches and all!), and get several questions in their inbox, voicemail or via phone call to confirm ideas and stylistic preferences. There will be a lot of "what do you think of x?" and once we feel confident that we understand, we present the whole idea of the space.
This phase looks different with varied project types. Larger projects may see a floor plan with finishes noted, a roof plan, conceptual building sections and elevations, and conceptual details. Depending on whether we will need consultants on the project, those drawings will be conceptual in nature as well. Small renovations may see finishes and fixtures right away. Furniture and decor projects may start with simple concept boards discussing abstract concepts and spatial relationships.
Regardless of what the actual deliverable may be for the project (and deliverables are defined in our agreement), it will be an idea that is still under formation.
A note on timelines:
We typically allow a few days for decisions and feedback from our clients and 10 days for contractors to provide estimates between each phase, which gives us a loose idea of what the design schedule will look like. But, quick decision makers can move the project along much more quickly and contractors may pull out an estimate right away if they are feeling confident that they fully understand the project scope.