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Choosing a designer

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What type of designer will you choose?

A home designed by an architect often has a perceived value-added factor. If it stands out as being individual, it will typically attract a higher resale price than others of the same size and age. However, it should be noted that many architectural designers are equally capable of producing distinctive and innovative design solutions.

Many architects and architectural designers prefer to carry out a substantial role in the management of the project, as they will have a keen interest in seeing their designs faithfully followed by the builder and subcontractors.

This ‘management’ role is known as contract administration. It involves monitoring the construction to ensure the building develops consistent with the design, handling builder and client queries during construction, discussing and approving variations to the contract, and assessing and approving progress payments and inspection upon completion. Some designers may not be able to offer comprehensive contract administration.

The choice of designer will probably come down to how much money you want to spend. But it can be a mistake to stint on the design phase. Opting for a less experienced or qualified person may cost you in the long run. If money is really tight, a skilled architect/designer should be able to explore ways to make your budget and ideas fit.

You need to be confident the person you choose understands the Building Code requirements and the need for good materials and construction methods to avoid problems like leaky buildings. A good designer will be able to advise you on the type of design and materials most suited for your new home and the site you have chosen. You may have to re-think or discuss the design to avoid high-risk weathertightness features in the design.

It is advisable to use a member of a design profession experienced in working on the design and detailings of buildings. They should be able to provide you with an appropriate design, a detailed contract and guide you through the consent process.

Finding the right person

Once you have chosen your preferred type of designer, it is time to find the person. Personal recommendations are a good way to find someone, or else ask these professional organisations for a list of their members:

Choosing a licensed practitioner provides you with an assurance that the practitioner has shown they have the skills, knowledge and experience to meet government-backed national standards.

Also browse the web – most architects and design firms showcase their designs online. Work out the design style that appeals to you.

Once you have a list, ask around to see if anyone you know has used them. Try to find out what they were like to work with. It is very important to find a person you can communicate your ideas to and feel that they are listening. Avoid designers who appear more interested in showcasing the latest design fad than designing to your needs.

Types of designer


An architect is a person who is registered with the New Zealand Registered Architects Board (NZRAB). Only a person who has met the registration requirements of the NZRAB can call themselves an architect, and they must hold a practising certificate issued by the NZRAB to be able to practice.

Most architects have studied architecture at university and gained an architectural degree. An architect is competent in the design and coordination of all building elements, services and site works, as well as the management of each stage of the building process, from concept to completion. An architect will be able to consider your ideas and come up with distinctive and innovative solutions for you that can be built within agreed cost and time parameters.

Many architects in New Zealand belong to the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA).

Architectural designer

An architectural designer is someone who specialises in building design and construction, from conception to final certification. They can provide a service that includes design, full working drawings, contract documentation and contract administration.

Although architectural designers are entitled to practice ‘architecture’, they cannot call themselves ‘architects’.

Architectural designers will probably have studied at a tertiary institution, and are specifically trained in the technical aspects of design and detailing. They should also be familiar with all the Building Code and local authority requirements (such as building and resource consents).

Many architectural designers are represented by Architectural Designers New Zealand (ADNZ).

Architectural draughtsperson

An architectural draughtsperson can draw up plans from your basic ideas. They will be cheaper than an architect or architectural designer but you may not get the same design flair.

This is a good low cost option in many situations. For example, if you want your laundry redone, a draftsperson can prepare the drawings and instructions for the builder, plumber and electrician.

They usually have technical institute training and some may be members of ADNZ, while others may be connected to the Design Association of New Zealand (DANZ)

The initial meeting

Most architects and designers offer a free first meeting - you need to know in advance:

  • The size of your budget.
  • What type of house you want, i.e. basic, middle or superior.
  • What size of house you want (number of rooms, etc).
  • Some of the design features you want to include, such as solar heating.

At the initial meeting ask:

  • About their qualifications.
  • Are they a member of one of the professional organisations?
  • Do they have professional indemnity insurance?
  • Does the person or firm have the capability and resources to do the job?
  • For examples of work they have already done.
  • What range of services they provide – seek clarity about who is to do what.
  • About fees. But don’t expect a fee proposal (which breaks down the percentage of the fees paid at each stage of the project) at this point – it will be too soon for an accurate proposal.
  • For references from other clients who might be willing to talk to you and share their experience of working with the architect or designer.
  • Are they licensed (it may be a requirement for some projects from 30 November 2009).


  • Show the architect/designer your notes and rough sketches and get their initial reaction (but be open to suggestions).
  • It’s possible that you might all jump in the car and go look at the section.
  • Talk budget and ask if they think you are being realistic.
  • Consider getting a preliminary design done first for a set fee and have it costed by a quantity surveyor, usually for a separate fee.

If the architect or designer is too busy to take on the job, they should say so at that first meeting. They may be able suggest someone else. However, people are often prepared to wait months for the right person.

At the end of the meeting ask the architect/designer to write down their understanding of what they think you want so you can confirm it or make alterations. They should outline the services they can offer and find out what services you require.

Note that some architects/designers might want to contract in specialist designers, for example, to do the kitchen or bathroom, or lighting.

They will most likely use the services of a number of other people, for example surveyors and structural engineers, who they would engage on your behalf. This should be sorted at the initial meeting.

Licensing of design practitioners

The licensed building practitioner (LBP) scheme is an initiative under the Building Act 2004 to encourage better building design and construction. It sets national standards for work carried out by anyone involved in the design and construction of building work.

Licensing promotes, recognises and supports professional skills and behaviour in the building industry. The LBP scheme covers building practitioners from designers, site supervisors and trades people (eg, carpenters, roofers, plasterers and bricklayers).

For more information about the LBP scheme, visit the website at

Professional indemnity insurance

Make sure the person you employ has professional indemnity (PI) insurance. A person offering professional services must take responsibility for the advice they give. If an architect or any other type of designer gives you bad advice, they are said to be ‘negligent’ in their duty to you.

PI insurance is for the immediate benefit of the architect/designer, not the client. But it is in your interests that the person you employ has it. If they don’t have PI insurance and something goes wrong, and they can't pay for the repairs, you are likely to be out of pocket yourself. It is not compulsory for an architect/designer to have PI insurance but it makes sense to use one who does have it.

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