Getting it in writing
An important part of the role of Lead Designer is managing contractual correspondence.
The Lead Designer – usually the Architect – on a project does more than create a good design. They are responsible for leading the design process, co-ordinating the design programme, and managing the necessary correspondence.
It’s tempting to delegate these to the Project Manager. Or put it writing off until later. Requests for additional fees, or clarification of the brief, aren’t the most glamorous part of the job. But they’re a key element of the leadership role.
Our top tips for contractual correspondence:
- Do it. Some people dislike ‘being contractual’. Using a contract to impede progress, or hide from a wider issue, doesn’t help anyone. Fortunately, NEC contracts are becoming more popular – they encourage consultants to communicate in writing. That shares what you want in a way that cannot be forgotten, helps avoid misinterpretation and tells your client that you are on top of the important issues. (The ‘wonky’ cinema case shows the costs of getting it wrong.)
- Keep it simple Avoid jargon, unnecessary acronyms, and keep sentences short. Everyone is short of time, and readers are more likely to take your message on board if your writing is clear and simple. (Readable is one of several free readability apps available. Take the results with a pinch of salt, but they can give you pointers.)Bear in mind that letters about fees or contractual issues may be passed on to someone not familiar with the project. Start with a short summary of why you are writing and what your message relates to.And make it clear what you want – don’t ramble. Help the other person to grasp the purpose of the correspondence quickly and easily.
- Stick to the facts Even if you are feeling angry, avoid emotions. Venting may give you short-term satisfaction, but your correspondence may be brought out months later as part of a final account. You don’t want to be defined by a momentary lack of control.
- Think about the reader. How will they respond? If you can, pre-empt any unfavourable reactions, and include mitigating information.
- Be positive overall. If you don’t agree with something that has happened on the project, or the position taken by the client team, it can be easy to come across as a moaner. State your case, disagree, and then give suggestions of what options are available, and which course you consider the best.
- Consider a phone call as well – but not instead At Plan A, we have found that combining a call and a letter or email works well, particularly when the project is in a different country. Either call for a discussion afterwards, or beforehand, to mitigate any adverse reactions. (We prefer beforehand – but be careful of being swayed into not sending it at all. However well the conversation has gone, you must follow up afterwards.)
- Check the text. When our Design Managers prepare correspondence on behalf of a practice, however experienced they are, someone else always checks it. Does it read the way you intended? Are there any formatting errors or typos? Remember to send it in pdf rather than editable Word format. Especially if you work on multiple projects, it can be tricky to remember what happened a week ago – let alone a year later.