What makes a great design client?

The Design Council is carrying out research on what – in the opinion of designers – makes for a good design client.


The Design Council is working with the team developing the proposed High Speed 2 railway to find out what HS2 needs to do to be a good design client.

It has conducted initial research by gathering opinions from leading designers including Wayne Hemingway and Zaha Hadid Architects director Jim Heverin. The Design Council is also calling on the wider design industry to contribute to the discussion here.

The research is focused on HS2 as a client but the findings have wider applications for all design clients.

The initial findings in the research are that to be a good client, organisations need to:

Be crystal clear – but not prescriptive

Selina Mason, partner at LDA Design, says, ‘Crystal-clear briefs and coherent objectives are key to any successful relationship between a designer and their client.’ .Jim Heverin, director at Zaha Hadid Architects, says, ‘Do not create absolute rules for design, instead rely on the quality of your engagement and review process to mitigate risk while allowing room for unique designs to flourish.’

Trust the creative team

Zaha Hadid Architects’ Jim Heverin says, ‘Good design is more than quantifiable metrics, so you need time to engage in the design process and to trust the judgement of designers.’

Be transparent

John Prevc, partner at Make, recommends a ‘tough, collaborative and transparent’ consultation process for large projects. He says this can ‘start to break down the fear that secrecy can bring’.

Be ambitious

Those surveyed recommended that clients show ‘ambition to achieve an exceptional result’. According to respondents, clients ‘must stay true to their long-term vision… and aspire to create a positive legacy’.

Ensure a user-centred approach is crucial

Paul Raindle, programme management consultant, says, ‘Keep design at the heart of the programme. The need to maintain continuity and protect the customer experience is fundamental.’

Create a legacy

Wayne Hemingway says, ‘HS2 will be a good client if it realises that great design stems from assembling a multi-disciplinary team of expert designers and thinkers who care about being part of a legacy.’

Allow designers, engineers and others to collaborate

Professor Hanif Kara, from Harvard School of Design, says, ‘HS2’s success as a client will depend on devising mechanisms that ensure there is a genuine connection between what is designed and what is built.’

Treat environmental impact as key

Kay Richardson, landscape architect at Guildford Council, says, ‘Utilise it as a design and planning project with ecology roots. Create a wider green infrastructure project to reconcile the loss of existing ecosystems, and respect future biological conservation and landscape values.’


You can read the initial findings in full and join the discussion at www.designcouncil.org.uk.

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