Ten Tips On Hiring the Right Designer

  1. First and foremost, the design firm must be experienced in designing for young children. Design professionals who are committed to the field learn from each and every project they work on. How many child care centers has this team designed? How many outdoor play areas have they designed? What is the quality of their projects? Do they truly meet the needs of children, staff and parents, or has too much emphasis and money been put on creating an architectural monument and not on designing a quality environment for young children? How many other types of children's buildings have they designed, such as children's museums or play places? Can they provide a list of these projects and photos? Does this design professional attend not only continuing education classes in design, but also early childhood conferences to better understand your field? How well can they apply the principles of child development to the design field?
  2. Ask for references and speak to individuals the team has worked with on past child care projects. Were they happy with their work? Did they meet their expectations? Did they keep the project on the right timeline? Did they stay on budget? Visit their projects to evaluate the quality of the design and finishes.
  3. Require the prospective professionals to submit qualifications prior to fee proposals. There is ample opportunity to negotiate the scope and fee after the candidates have been narrowed to the most qualified.
  4. Interview the design professionals at their office, even if this means you'll incur travel costs. You will want to find out about the entire team and how the office handles drawings. How are drawings prepared, and who, exactly, will be working on your project? Does this team have good listening skills? How will this team handle criticism and conflict?
  5. Centers often receive funds piecemeal, over many years. Do you need to master plan your project so construction can be carried out in phases? A master plan helps a center avoid wasting money on short-term fixes that will need to be changed in the future and can help the center get monies from funders. Does this design team have experience in master planning?
  6. Remember, you are the customer. You can mix and match design professionals, but you will want to make sure that the working styles and egos of all members of the team match your style and preferences. If you use a local architect, you might be able to use a national child care design consultant who will work with you on your project. You might also have to use a local architect for the interior work, but maybe you can choose an expert to create your outdoor play space.
  7. A good design professional will interview you -- not everyone is a good match. You will be "living together" for months or even years. The design professional is only as good as the client. The professional who takes the time to get to know you and understand your particular needs is one-up on others on the list.
  8. Cost for design and construction vary widely depending on the type of project and the location. When comparing fees from different firms, look closely at the services they will be offering. One firm might be designing just the architecture of the building, while another might be including interior furniture layouts and other additional services. The initial fee to include the classroom furniture layouts will be higher, but you will end up with a center that works better for children, staff and parents. Can the same firm that creates the indoor space also create the outdoor play spaces?
  9. Try not to take advantage of or misuse a design professional's time. This is true in the interview and work process, as well. Design professionals work on tight margins and budgets of hours. Excessive time spent in meetings often results in less effort in the design portion of the work. A design professional who underbids your project will not take the extra time needed to get the details right for young children.
  10. Learn as much as you can about the design process before you select the design professional. This will enable you to be a better client. You will enjoy the process much more and your resulting building project will better meet your expectations. Attend the Early Childhood Facilities Design Institute LINK below with your team. The 2005 dates are:
  • January 13-14, 2005, Kansas City, Missouri
  • July 14-15, 2005, Kansas City, Missouri

More information about this two-day training can be found at: