Love That Design

Cost Accountability in Design

Designer Indu Varanasi comments on the lack of budgets in the interiors world, and its subsequent negative effects on design processes and results.

Nothing comes for free. Everything has a price…

The old adage, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’, rings true in the world of design as well. If something appears to be free with no monetary value attached, more than likely, there will be hidden costs which will add up in the final tally.

Having a thoroughly planned budget is absolutely necessary for any project, big or small. The budget may change during the course of the project, but it still forms the baseline. The scale, however, can vary from a very small spend for an individual, to a large, city-scale one. (Think changing curtains in a home versus building the World Expo!)

Interior architecture is complex in that it brings together several activities and integrates them within time, budget and availability. Furthermore, several disciplines, both technical and psychological, come into play. The number of light fixtures used, for example, may be a technical calculation, but the effect of the light on the user is a psychological and behavioural aspect. It is not merely a question of putting together some furniture, fabric, or paint – interior architecture impacts the lives of many. Sometimes this creative process may appear chaotic, but the project execution is a systematic process with overlapping activities.

Indu Varanasi is an award winning architect and designer. Born and brought up in India, Indu discovered her ability to fuse aesthetic design with function at an early age. She graduated from the College of Fine Arts and Architecture in Hyderabad, followed by a Master’s Degree in Design and Architecture from New Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture, India. Since moving to Dubai in 1994, Indu has had the opportunity to work with International design practices which shaped her design philosophy and in 2004, i r design studio was formed.

i r design has since been involved with numerous interior architecture projects. Several of these have received recognition and won awards. The firm has also won design competitions for retail, corporate and public sector projects. Notable amongst these are the Time Square Mall and Amity University Dubai.

Indu has been invited to design projects in countries, such as India, Oman, Tanzania and Sudan, and has been listed among the Top 50 Most Influential Designers in the region.

Many clients seem reluctant to discuss the budget, almost as if it does not matter, and that there is no limit to their spend.

There’s no denying that interior architecture is an art, one that is magical to the user and it takes many a resource to create this magic. It is a fallacy that good design does not need to consider the budget as an important parameter. Budgeting involves being cognizant of present costs and any future upkeep.

The magnitude of a budget can range from a few hundred to millions, and this information is vital at the onset of a project. Nevertheless, during my 25 years of designing experience, very rarely have I come across a client who is willing to tell me their budget from the start. The level of funding can deeply influence a project, so we should always address this issue beforehand.

The client has a certain vision, one that is articulated using words and, at other times, using a strategy and measure of feasibility. And sometimes, it is realised through a process of discussions when all the scattered pieces of the puzzle fit together to make a sensible picture. In all the above scenarios, there will almost always be a fixed budget.

Always discuss the budget beforehand

When project cycles have no budgets allocated, the ‘interiors’ sector, which is one of the last stages of design, ends up with budget allocation issues. This leads to solutions that may not be appropriate for the purpose, resulting in a space that is not what the designer envisioned, nor what the client expected.

One of the reasons leading to this situation is that interior architects and designers are not informed of any budget constraints beforehand. Another reason could be that the designer hired for the project would not be made aware of the cost of the items used and implemented. And of course, there is always that element of surprise – some unexpected and unforeseen circumstance that is beyond anyone’s control. All such situations can have an impact on the schedule and pace of the project, as well as the remaining budget, leading to an unplanned end result.

Envisioning a new project and putting it together piece by piece can easily become a costly affair. Bringing architects and spatial designers together at the negotiation table puts the client at a distinct advantage – they then have all the technical knowledge and material specifications necessary to ensure that their vision is fulfilled well within the budget. Also, it saves valuable time and effort for both client and designer.

Leave it to the pros

My advice to clients would be to trust the architects and designers with their budget, and ask as many questions as possible. Most of the time, clients underestimate the cost of projects, be it retail, hospitality or residential. Doing some research on market prices and costs before venturing into the management and organisational processes of a project would be extremely beneficial for them.

Also, by trusting their designer with the budget, clients have a higher chance of meeting project goals, deadlines and expectations.

Advice for interior designers and architects

In any project, the element of chaos and lack of clarity would most likely be due to a lack of transparency. Most clients will tend to shop around and not know how to compare apples to apples.

While this most definitely is a problem, designers should become aware of current market trends, and be knowledgeable enough to provide cost information and budgetary estimates. This will help in providing an overall picture to the client. A systematic process of value engineering should be done by the designers, as they are equipped with the objective and creative knowledge that is required to reach a consensus between the vision of perfection and a limited budget. In this way, the client’s preferences are retained and the design philosophy is embodied.

The supplier’s contribution

Suppliers play an integral role in project execution, because it is their resources and materials that are being used to bring a vision to life. This is why it is necessary for suppliers to have complete and utter transparency with designers about their prices and services.

The entire process of design is borne of a threefold relationship. Without equal contribution from all sides, the end result will fall short of the original inspiration and vision.

In the end, what I am trying to emphasize is the importance of budgets – they don’t just fulfill the purpose of obtaining figures and numbers, but also improve the design process to make it efficient and streamlined.