By Design

Good design requires skilled communication

by Patricia Cove
Posted 8/24/23

When designers and architects sit down for the first time with a new client, it is natural to talk about experience, past projects, and especially satisfied customers. 

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By Design

Good design requires skilled communication


I completed my undergraduate degree at a small college in upstate Pennsylvania in the mid-’70s. I was a Communications major, which in 1975 meant that a girl could pray for a job at a local radio station, or become a high school English teacher. 

I became the latter, and successfully “communicated” with rambunctious sixteen-year-olds for the next eleven years. Since teachers are required to continue to take graduate classes, I continued my coursework in the related field of  Educational Psychology and even branched out to Architectural History, never realizing that this odd coalescence of fields might just be the perfect combination for a new career.

When designers and architects sit down for the first time with a new client, it is natural to talk about experience, past projects, and especially satisfied customers.  Naturally, we talk about the architectural style of their home and discuss the direction of the renovation or restoration they are about to undertake. Is their home in its original state, or have there been other prior renovations? Is the structure sound? Have important architectural details been preserved or have they been removed in an effort to create a more modern aesthetic?

Having a degree in architectural history makes it so much easier to explain the difference between a renovation and a restoration, and to identify the important details that would need to be included or excluded in each.

A professional designer or architect may not immediately recognize the benefits of having a degree in educational psychology. But I soon learned that clients may be able to say they love a space while actually standing in it, or looking at a picture in a magazine, but find it impossible to describe the actual reasons why. It is that psychological training that allows a designer to interpret the positive and negative responses while also identifying the specific features that are so attractive or less so, to the people undertaking the project. 

And I can’t even begin to explain how beneficial psychology becomes when a professional is working with partners who have wildly diverse ideas about how a project should proceed, or even if there should be a project at all!

The most important quality a designer can have is excellent communication. From the moment a professional enters a building to be renovated or restored, communication methods, both verbal and non-verbal, take center stage and often determine the success or failure of the project. 

Design is one of the most subjective of practices, and no two people view the same space in the same way. From the way a designer charges to the changing hue of paint color, it is their responsibility to convey as clearly as possible what the design outcome will be.

Computer-assisted design, known as CAD, makes drawings and elevations trouble-free for the designer. But relaying that same understanding to a client is nearly impossible, often without specific communication methods. 

In the early stages of a design, it is critical to understand a client’s preferences – and repeat those preferences back. 

As the contracting portion of the project gets underway, it is also important to be a liaison between the client and contractors, keeping everyone abreast of schedules and any necessary changes to the original design. 

Presenting actual finish samples, colors, and materials is a crucial part of a client’s understanding of the project. Understanding that one small sample may not be enough to truly exemplify how a finished design will look, a designer will have to be prepared to employ a variety of methods to convey the precise result. The last thing a project needs is the realization that the  Carrera marble chosen for a countertop has a huge black vein in a most inconvenient location.

As much as I enjoy the practice of design – the layouts, elevations, furnishings, fabrics and colors – any successful project has to have knowledge of architectural history, an understanding of psychology, and the ability to communicate the relationship between your professional approach and the desires of the client. Only then can a project be truly successful.

Patricia Cove is the Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill and can be reached through her website: