by Beth Arokoyo | IIDA, NCIDQ | Project Manager & Senior Designer
When planning a renovation project for a senior living community, most owners and design team members know the importance of resident involvement to ensure the success of the renovation. If a space that is currently occupied by residents is getting a refresh or complete re-design, you can count on resident feedback once the project is under way. Naturally they want to have some input on what is happening – this is their home, and they pay to live in this home.
However, successful design by committee requires a few basic steps.
Step 1 – Build the Committee
Ideally, committee members should have differing viewpoints and include influential residents in the community. It is not effective to have a large group of residents that always agree with one another. Keeping the group small while still representing the voices of women, men, those that are open to change and those that are more resistant, is ideal. This mixture will provide the best results in the end!
The creatives at Nuera Marketing point out that “The downside of adding more viewpoints, is when members attempt to demonstrate their value by throwing up unqualified challenges to thoughtful work.” This can undo hours of creative effort by design professionals. It can also have a negative impact on project budget and schedule. The thoughtful team at Justinmind encourage that “the people involved in a design project should be pushing towards a common goal, not competing to get their agenda implemented.”
Carefully selecting the committee to include members that understand and value the “big picture” will help keep the project on track. The “big picture” in this case includes not just current resident opinions, but also budget, timeline, and marketability to future residents and their families.
Step 2 – Introductions to the Design Team
When owners introduce a resident committee to the project design team, the best opportunity for success lies in good communication. The residents need to have access to the qualifications of the designers so they can begin to build trust and respect for the design professionals before seeing a presentation. We have even been interviewed by a resident committee prior to being hired for a renovation project!
Explaining what roles each design team member plays is helpful too – clarifying what the architect does versus interior designers will help guide questions to the right people.
Step 3 – Establish the Ground Rules
Rules for review should be agreed upon to confirm everyone understands their role. Resident input is critical, they have a unique perspective to share. However, it needs to be said that while their input is valued, it will be equal with other team members’ input.
The design team must find a way to balance feedback from all the players at the table – residents, owner, developer, management team, staff, other professionals (architect/engineers). However, the owner holds some responsibility to set boundaries for residents that make it clear input is desired, but final decisions will not land on them alone. There are many pieces to the puzzle!
For the design team to make sure all viewpoints are considered, they need the ability to take all feedback and creatively balance the needs of operations, maintenance, safety, cost, and aesthetics that appeal to current residents, future residents, and visiting family members. Aesthetic decisions based on opinions of those with no design experience does not produce a functional and beautiful design. Letting the designers design is going to give you the best results in the end!
Once the committee has been built, design team introduced, and rules established, you are ready for a presentation. Here are a few practical tips that will help presentations be successful:
Tip #1 – Connection
If the design team has the opportunity to get to know the members of a committee it will lead to more empathy on both sides and improve the flow of ideas back and forth. If the group is isolated or too large, there will be hurdles to finding connection between all the members of the group and slow down the open communication. Consider including time for some one-on-one conversations to build rapport.
Tip #2 – Meeting Conditions
The environment for meetings really matters, especially for residents. Interior designers consider finish selections based on aging eyes and acoustics. Those same elements matter for the environment in which you present the design. If the room is too dark, if the screen is too small, or the room is too large you won’t have the right conditions for success. The meeting will get derailed by the audience not being able to see or hear everything being presented to them.
Tip #3 – Focus on Agenda
During an interior design presentation, inevitably questions will come up that are “off topic” – like floor plan questions for the architect, lighting questions for the engineer, operations questions for the owner. If you can have a “parking lot” for those off-topic questions to be written down, it will ensure follow up really happens but keeps the meeting focused on the agenda and the decisions that need to be made during the meeting. The “parking lot” can become an agenda for the next meeting with the right team members in the room.
Everyone has the goal of a beautiful, functional design that is marketable and on budget. Following a few steps to establish the right resident committee, relationships, and rules will lead to a renovation design review process that leaves all members feeling heard. The right interior design team can be a big part of achieving that goal!