Choosing a Design Professional
by Don Leighton-Burwell, AIA/Tenth Times July 1996

In the last couple of articles, I have concentrated on issues to be considered in pre-planning your new office. As I had mentioned, it is often advisable to retain a design professional to help with these preliminary planning considerations to avoid costly mistakes in choosing a site or space for your facility. In this article, I want to begin to focus on other topics and courses of action to take in choosing a design professional to work with you on your project.

There are a variety of design providers available to you with widely varying skills and expertise. It is important that you find the best match for your needs and the goals of your project . Typical choices might be: Registered Architect, Registered Interior Designer, Dental Equipment Dealer, Design/Build Contractor, and Non-registered Designers or Decorators.

One important distinction to make between design service providers is the difference between “agent” and “vendor”. By definition, the “agent” is someone who acts in the owner’s interest, providing professional services for compensation. A “vendor” by contrast, is someone who acts in their own interest, supplying a specified product or service for a price. According to the AIA Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice: “Typically, agents have a special expertise and are expected to adhere to a professional standard of performance -- that is to exercise reasonable care in their work. In selecting an agent, the owner normally considers, as foremost, qualifications, experience and integrity.” In defining a “vendor” the handbook states: “If specifications are met, the contract is satisfied whether or not the vendor’s product serves the owner’s needs. When selecting a vendor, the owner normally considers, as foremost, the cost of the product being supplied, its delivery and warranty and, where possible, the reputation of the vendor.” Architects, like most dentists, are customarily considered “agents” and have ethical requirements to notify the owner/client if they have any financial equity in a project. In contrast, Contractors, Equipment Dealers and some Interior Designers fill the role of “vendor” because of their monetary interest in the final product.

In choosing a design professional there are several other issues that you will want to consider:

1) What is your construction and design budget?
2) What design quality and aspirations do you have for your project?
3) How much information do you need to make decisions? Do you need a lot of detail?
4) How much experience do you have in design and construction of past projects?
5) Are you ready to translate your project activities into specific spaces and square footages?
6) How much time are you willing to dedicate to guiding the design process if using a designer inexperienced in dental design?
Each of these questions will help to determine the right mix for you regarding the scope of services required and the type of design professional who can best meet your needs.

All of the design providers mentioned at the beginning of this article generally have specific strengths to bring to the effort of creating your new office. The Dental Equipment Dealer will have the precise information regarding the requirements of the equipment he/she sells; the Design/Build Contractor can provide integrated design and construction services; Registered Interior Designers are licensed and well-trained in choosing finishes/furniture and defining spaces; Architects are professionals with the education, training, experience and creative vision to guide you through the entire design and construction process. Above all, you will want to align yourself with someone who has a comprehensive background in dental design. This can save you considerable money and headaches in building your dream.