The Process of Design: Schematic Design


Each design project is unique, but the process of design here at Moss follows a well defined path.

Here’s what you can expect from each stage, from Program, and Field Measuring, through Schematic Design, Design Development, and Construction Documentation and on to Permits and Construction Administration.  Between design meetings, we are are doing work on your project at every phase.

This series of posts will explore our approach to the design process and give you an idea of how we might handle a future project of yours.

Schematic Design: The first phase of Design

During our schematic design process, we brainstorm the clients’ needs to solve problems they may not even have identified yet.  We research zoning or building requirements that may affect the design.  We scour the internet – Houzz, Pinterest, and favorite material and products websites –  for images that suggest ideas.  We also rely heavily on sketching – interior perspectives, outside facades and floor plans.

To illustrate the schematic design process, we’ll show content created for two recent projects – a house on Carmen Avenue and a new restaurant and specialty food market in Andersonville – which are slated for construction in the near future.  

Image Inspirations

Each project begins with a Pinterest board that is added to by us and by the client, capturing annotated ideas from other similar projects or totally different applications which we can include in our design as it moves forward.  Some images capture a material or a building element, others simply evoke an emotion.   These are the jumping off point for our design research into the Andersonville specialty food market.


Floor plans

The backbone of any design package is the floor plan.  Getting to the right one usually requires an iterative process and schematic design is one of the most collaborative periods for the moss team.  Even if only one or two members of our team will eventually oversee a project, we often have an all-hands charrette to work our the initial layout options.

A Charrette is a short intense design period with a time limit after which all the entries are gathered and judged.  The practice dates back to THE french school of design, the Ecole des Beaux Artes, where students would work on their designs until the last possible moments, following along after they had been collected for judging and carried away on a little cart – a charrette – to correct the last few details.

Working together we determine which are the best elements of each and pare the options back down to a handful (two to five) which we want to clean up to present to the client.

Below are several (of many more) floor plan options for the Carmen Avenue House.

va_plan scheme a va_plan scheme b

Concept Sketches

For some projects, particularly commercial/residential projects, it isn’t enough to simply decide what the project should “look like” and start firing away with interior aesthetics.  Instead we think about the overall theme of the space and brainstorm component elements, both novel and traditional that might contribute to the project.

For the Andersonville market we brainstormed all the various program elements visually before starting with sketches for individual elements of the design.

p_concept sketches

For residential design we often explore small areas, “moments” of design as we develop from concept to full design.  This idea, of a sunken living room at back yard level going up to the existing first floor level, was one of the defining concepts of the Carmen Avenue house.

/Volumes/projects/Vyas-Austin House/Drawings/Plans/Vyas-Austin-F

Interior Sketches

Once we know what concepts we are trying to capture we can consider the appearance of the project.  In Schematic Design this is best handled through sketching interior perspectives, both simply and in detail.  We may sketch at several scales to address the overall feel of an interior space and also the detailed construction of new built-in elements.

As with the floor plans, there will generally be several distinct design options at this phase.  Here are two visions of the food retail area for the restaurant/shop.

schematic design

p_design sketches-2

Design Miscellany

Each project requires its own suite of communication tools to find the best design solution.  We sometimes need to branch out into other media to properly convey a design, below is a flip book made to show how several different versions of an addition would encroach on the the back yard space in the Carmen Avenue house.  We’ve also used small models, three dimensional computer renderings.

va_flip book

Moving forward from Schematic Design

Once we know what our clients respond to best from the initial design phase, we can return to our modern drawing board – the computer – and begin to translate the project into AutoCAD.

Next step … Design Development.