This is one of the most exciting steps in the process.  In this step, your dream project goes from an idea to a realistic and buildable design in the form of drawings, models, materials, and images.

Your exact design process many vary based on who is helping you create the design for your home, addition, or remodel. If your designer, builder, or architect doesn’t explain their design process to you, ask them to explain it. Most design professionals break the process down into separate meetings or phases with each one getting a little more detail than the previous one.

If you plan to create the design yourself, use a stock plan, or have a builder provide pre-designed model options for you, your design process may be shorter and less involved than the one described below. But, to make sure we cover the most detailed of scenarios, we’re going to explain the typical design process as if you’re using an architect. In most cases, if you’re building a custom home, you’ll use an architect or experienced designer who takes you through a more thorough and structured design process so we wanted to make sure it was explained well here.

The typical design process gets broken down into phases like these:

  • Concept/Schematic Design
  • Design Development
  • Construction Drawings
  • Contract Documents

If you’re working with a builder with an in-house designer, you may only have one or two design phases/meetings. In these cases the design process is expedited with most decisions made by the designer and builder. That’s where the process differs from using an architect, who spends more time in each phase customizing all of your home’s features and finishes to fit you specifically.




Depending on the size and complexity of the project each design phases can last a week, a month, or many months. Your design team should be able to give you a good estimate for their anticipated design schedule. And, for smaller projects like renovations, phases may be grouped together if less input and decision-making is involved on your part.

The nice thing about having the design process broken into smaller phases is that it gives you various opportunities to approve the design as it gets developed. This ensures the design team is achieving the goals of your Project Brief and you’re happy with the progress thus far so that no time and money are wasted taking the project in the wrong direction. In addition to keeping track of progress, these opportunities also give you the chance to offer input, make suggestions and decisions, and help you understand the design as it gets more refined.



At the onset of the conceptual design phase, your design team may present a few conceptual options in the form of sketches and floor plans based on your Project Brief, your design preferences, and your site characteristics. These preliminary drawings are used to help you make initial decisions on things like the floor plan layout and size, overall design aesthetic, and building placement on the land, among other things.

Reviewing various options in a rough schematic form early on during this conceptual phase helps you and the design team learn what you like and dislike about each idea. It also lets the design team make wide-sweeping changes (if necessary) to the design without investing too much time making changes and moving the project in the direction you like.

Once you’ve chosen a design direction, your design team will develop the idea further into a schematic design which will include a few more drawings, noting some materials, sizes, and overall orientation of building elements. Using any form of drawings, precedent images, models, and renderings, the team will present you with a schematic design that is slightly more refined than the original concept drawings for your review and approval.



After you’ve approved the Schematic Design, the team will continue with Design Development by integrating materials, systems, building methods and assemblies, and general spatial development. At this point, drawings will show appropriately sizes spaces and relationships to other spaces. Considerations will also be made for mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and other building systems specific to your project. You will, again, be asked to review and approve the design during this time to confirm you are satisfied with the design progress.

The biggest thing people underestimate about the design process is the amount of time needed and the sheer amount of decisions that need to be made, especially when building custom. It’s usually during the design development phase when you start to see just how many decisions are necessary. If you plan to be very involved in the design process, this is the time where you’ll be asked to start making a bunch of decisions on finishes, products, materials, and details. So get ready!



And finally, after approval of the Design Development drawings, your design team will create Construction Documents. These are drawings that will be used by a contractor to build your project. They’ll include detailed floor plans, building sections, elevations, details, schedules, and specifications that describe your project. They’re very detailed documents that specifically tell the contract what to build, where to build it, and what it should look like. They also include information showing compliance with applicable building codes and zoning requirements.



Creating contract documents usually occurs concurrently with the end of the construction documents phase. If you’re bidding out the project to multiple contractors, your architect will assist in creating bidding documents, bidding requirements, drawings, specifications, addenda (drawing modifications made during the bidding process), and other information necessary to provide bids on the project. After a contractor is chosen, these documents are compiled together and form the basis for the construction contract that you and your chosen contractor will agree to and sign. We cover this process more in the Award the Construction Contract Section.

If you’re working with a builder’s design team to customize a home, you won’t have a bidding process. Your builder will work with you to finalize a contraction contract that meets your budget.




  • Ask your architect/designer to explain their design process and ask for a schedule for the design process.
  • Review conceptual design options and approve the conceptual design.
  • Make decisions on design options, building systems, products, materials, and any other information your architect/designer request from you in a timely manner.
  • Review, make comments, and approve design drawings throughout the process.

Need more help? Here are additional resources related to this section.




All downloadable resources can be found in our Resource Library. Sign up to gain exclusive access.

  • Guide to the Design Process
  • Space Layout Guide
  • Fixture & Finishes Selection Form
  • Materials & Product Selection Form



Over To You…

So, how does it feel? The months (and maybe years) of time spent dreaming about your prefect home are now coming to life. Your ideas have been interpreted and translated onto paper. You’ve made tons of design decisions about spaces, materials, and details that have led to this moment where you’re ready to start building this masterpiece.

But first, you have some procedural items to tend to. 1. You have to make sure everything is legal with your design and that it meets the approval of the local jurisdiction having authority, and 2. You have to get your financing nailed down. We’ll cover these processes in the next two sections.

Next Section: Approvals & Permitting >