The design process: 4 key steps

 In Design

by Raquel Mayorga


The design process enables architects, and all designers, to express a vision through tangible mediums such as drawings, physical modeling, or real scale mock-ups. Once the design is established, the vision is eventually translated into reality through construction or product fabrication.

We took a closer look at our design process as we created a mini chair for a recent competition. The D-chaise, was featured at the Chaircuterie event, a local exhibit which included 25 full size chairs, 50 miniature chairs and 25 two-dimensional chair representations for auction to benefit AIGA.

The process, though smaller in scale than an architectural project, required the same essential steps.


1. We identify real challenges to create real solutions. We strive to create designs that are not only aesthetically engaging but also functional and somehow respond to a need, answer questions or alleviate a problem — even pain. With the D-chaise we took on the challenge of designing a chair that could alleviate back pain for those who spend long hours sitting.

In an effort to give designers and architects the opportunity to enjoy multiple work settings by making subtle position changes, we came up with D-chaise, a chair that accommodates three different positions and different work settings.


2. We set boundaries. It might seem counter- intuitive to set limitations for ourselves within a creative process, but boundaries are important. Historically, humans get the most creative out of necessity, because that is what drives us. In our typical architectural design process, aspects like: client’s desires, programming, site qualities and budget are some of the constraints we work with.

One of the biggest challenges during our creative process for the D-chaise was that there were very few guidelines to conform to other than the size of the mini-chair and our budget to create a model of our vision. To help focus our vision, our team established that the piece must be:

  • Functional.
  • Built of modest materials such as birch plywood.
  • Flexible/modular to accommodate for different settings.
  • Easily transported.


3. We support aesthetics through function. Our team of architects and designers celebrate aesthetics that are functional and purposeful. Many of the qualities we incorporated in D-chaise are the same as those we use for our architectural projects:

  • Simplicity – in materiality, in design, in form and in process.
  • Flexibility and transformability – in spaces that can be continuously reinvented.
  • Innovation – in construction systems.
  • Contrast – in creating environments that are casual and warm but crisp and clean.


4. We sketch, sketch, sketch! Every project’s creative process involves us drawing on rolls of tracing paper. This step is essential to finding the best solution among all the possibilities. We usually don’t dismiss any idea, because the purpose of these sketching sessions is to express all sorts of design ideas graphically. Even the craziest ones are valuable and putting them on paper allows us to explore all the options rather than wonder “what if?”. Getting our thoughts on paper is the very first feasibility test. Only once it takes form on paper, can an idea generate feedback from colleagues and evolve.

Here’s a bit more about the D-Chaise and Chaircuterie.

 Gettliffe Architecture is a Boulder, Colorado architecture firm offering green design services from straw-bale homes to eco lodges around the globe. We believe that beautiful architectural design begins with careful consideration of earth, culture and community. Working with your ideas and vision, our team of green architects brings inspiring spaces to life that are kind to the planet and a pleasure to be in.

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