Lacy Mangum, CHID, LVN, and Monte Hunter, AIA, presented “What Clients Want” at PSC University 2018. Their presentation discussed perceptions of client priorities, making educated decisions about determining client priorities, influencing priorities, and measuring the success of projects and fulfillment of priorities. Examples were given based on Lacy’s experience in healthcare design and Monte’s experience in K-12 design. Similar questions and tools were used in each field and have been proven to provide beneficial feedback in many situations including the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, Covenant Health System in Lubbock, and new elementary schools at Ector County ISD in Odessa.

Lacy and Monte discussed utilizing surveys to measure client needs and satisfaction. They began the class by asking their audience to place stickers on six different boards with design priorities, a surveying technique like what they have used to with clients. These included:

  • ease of maintenance
  • esthetics – design awards
  • impact on learning/patient
  • flexibility
  • keeping up with peers
  • staying in budget & completing the project on time
  • minimizing change orders
  • minimizing initial cost
  • minimizing longterm cost
  • stakeholder-based
  • sustainability
  • other potential client priorities

The top 6 priorities as a result of surveys for healthcare and k-12 respondents demonstrated some similarities. Facility impact and being on budget and completing the project on time were top priorities found as result of each survey. However, flexibility was of higher priority in healthcare, and ease of maintenance was of higher priority in K-12.

“The interesting thing here to me in looking at this is the way designers think versus our clients,” said Monte.

Three books were listed that helped Monte and Lacy prepare for their presentation –  Nail It Then Scale It by Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom, What Clients Want by Melissa Feldman and What Clients Really Want (And the S**t That Drives Them Crazy by Chantell Glenville. A common theme from the books that Monte talked about was “people buy to feel good or solve a problem” and satisfaction of clients who fall under pleasure seekers, pain avoiders or have characteristics of both. There are several ways to reach a conclusion on priorities, and sometimes additional steps have to be taken to reach those final decisions.

“Priming the Pump” helps distinguish clients’ wants versus real priorities. Rather than asking clients “What do you want?” craft conversations including discussing ways the facilities support an overall mission, comparing thoughts of peers and stimulating discussion by possibly taking a tour, engineering detailed questions and asking upfront what clients hate to eliminate disliked possibilities from the beginning.

Discussion and visualization have strong roles in the decision-making processes. Stakeholder discussions are a strategy to give all stakeholders involved a chance to speak and push for their wants. Then taking those discussions and visualizing them with charts helps to define true and agreed upon priorities as well as put into perspective what peers think.

“This does a lot of things. Those people who tend to be quiet and sit in the back of the room and not say much, it draws them out,” Monte said. “But I think more importantly the vocal ones – and every group has them that tend to dominate a meeting and steamroll some people – it helps diffuse some of the politics. It levels the playing field for input.”

Weighted decision tools are a more private way to determine priorities. A point system is assigned to agreed-upon criteria of importance from the clients, and a task force ranking helps bring a light of ultimate importance between multiple decisions. One example given was a school board decided on a bond. This bond would either remodel the middle school’s old auditorium or build a new facility at the high school. Based on criteria and point results from the clients, it was determined that a new high school facility would be the best use of the bond.

Data coming from the clients themselves is a powerful tool in influencing clients’ decisions. Case studies and mockups provide evidence and perspective in situations that will determine priorities. Lacy mentioned a case study that Monte had done with Plains ISD for new extracurricular facilities. Grade point average was higher among students who were involved in extracurriculars. Teachers, who originally resisted this project, saw the rationale in the new extracurricular facilities after the case study.

Mockups and facility tours help clients visualize a space in a more hands-on way than plans on paper. Bringing equipment into a space and letting those who will be utilizing it lay everything out will give designers ideas in their final plans and confidence to the clients that a design will be beneficial in how they accomplish their daily tasks. Touring a finished project and taking aspects from existing spaces can also be effective in influencing decisions.

“We see a drawing, and we kind of know what that space is going to look like,” Lacy said. “We know the ceiling height. We know the features. For a client, this may be the first time they’ve ever looked at plans. But they’re trying to make decisions for their hospital district, or their nurses’ station, or their new ICU and  they’re changing their whole process.”

Documentation of surveys, scope, listing what is beyond the approved scope as alternatives, opinion of probable cost, approval from owners, such as the school board, meeting notes and other significant decisions is greatly important. As situations come up in the duration of a project, having that documentation helps to keep the project in focus and puts possible scrutinies on the owner rather than the designers. By taking everything designers learn from clients through steps such as surveying, interviews and efficient documentation, designers can plan projects to meet clients priorities, help them to meet their mission, improve the future of facilities and build relationships to learn what works or what needs to change in future projects.

“How powerful it is to go to that client and say, ‘Hey, what’s working? What’s not working? We always want to be improving the next part of our design.”

Monte closed the presentation by asking, “How do you measure success?” Student, faculty and staff surveys at Ector County ISD was a prime example he gave. The students, teachers and other faculty and staff were given paddles and stickers to vote what they have enjoyed about the new facilities.

“Talk about a powerful tool to measure how well a building serves kids. Ask the kids,” Monte said.

Setting goals before the project starts allows for progress and final successes to be measured from those starting points. Benchmarks as the project progresses and is completed is evidence of success or where there needs to be improvements. Monte said the goal is to check everything off a client’ list of priorities or figure out how to adjust in order to check off things that have not been met.

“To bring that perspective back to where you started and leave a good positive taste in their mouth – this is a really powerful way to do it.”