Do You Need a Design Professional?

As a design professional I meet clients at varying stages of their journey. Some have already acquired their current project and need help revitalizing it, whereas others are looking for just the right space. Regardless of where you are in the process, there are many common, predictable things that happen throughout construction projects. In an effort to help educate anyone who may be working through the design and construction process, we have offered this ongoing series of tips. Part 1

Do you need a design professional for your project? There are times when I find myself explaining the nuances of making this determination in unexpected places. This time it came up during a happy hour with some friends at one of our favorite craft breweries.

During the course of typical banter and generally being glad the work day was over, it came up that one was considering an addition to their home. In typical fashion I offered to help them out as needed. Then my friend posed the following question: “How do I know if I need an architect?” I’ve worked on how I answer this question quite a bit. In the end the short answer is always, “It depends on several factors.” I proceed to explain through a series of questions, whose specifics we’ll tackle individually in a moment: “What does the jurisdiction require, what level of quality are you looking for, what is your budget, and what is your schedule?”


Find out what jurisdiction you are in that governs permits; for instance, the City of St. Louis, Mo. Most have decent websites with reasonably accurate information. The websites will typically list the required drawings and what work needs a professional seal. Often, on residential work, only structural and life-safety items need to be designed by an architect or engineer. After you have done your homework, the best thing to do is call the building official, describe your project and ask what is required.


Professionals dictate the quality of materials used to construct your project. If you do not hire a professional you will most likely receive the standard package offered by the builder with a limited list of options. Of the professionals, an architect will not only find a solution to meet your needs but will find a solution that is holistic now and into the future.


Bluntly put, at a certain point it’s foolish to spend good money without hiring a professional. How do you determine where that point is? It depends on your individual situation. What you need to ask yourself is, “Is this project important enough to plan it out in detail?” If the answer is yes, hire a professional.


If you have determined from the aforementioned that you need to hire a professional, an unreasonable schedule may still preclude you from being able to do so. The best advice is not to tie yourself to a hard schedule until after you have spoken to the professionals and builders in your area. Fluctuations in the economy have a direct effect on how busy the industry is. Economic upswings result in more construction, and more construction means fewer available professionals and builders.

So that’s it. As the night wore on we topically discussed a few more items and I eventually helped my friend to build a tasteful high-quality addition that pleased both him and his family.

It should also be noted that while this discussion is centered around a residential project, most commercial work other than finishes requires a design professional. I hope this helps anyone in need to make a sound decision, and I welcome any questions or comments.