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Managing the brief for better design

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By Alistair Blyth and John Worthington. E & F N Spon, 2001. 224pp

The authors have identified the commendable aims of this book as to:

'Provide (both) an inspiration to the client and a framework for design and construction practitioners.' The sheer readability of the text will play a large part in achieving these aims, together with the use of numerous diagrams and illustrations, writes Steve Naylor .

'Design is briefing, and briefing relies on design.' This provocative start to the introduction is a reminder to us all of the vital importance of the brief for a successful outcome to any project.

'Briefing is the evolutionary process of understanding an organization's needs and resources, and matching them to its objectives and its mission, ' write Blyth and Worthington. It is about managing and identifying change. The pace of change is increasing and requirements for buildings to be adaptable in order to meet their organization's demands must be incorporated into the design process. The importance of proper resourcing, in terms of time and budget, of the ongoing briefing process - throughout the lifespan of a project - often fails to be recognized.

This is partly attributable to the design team's poor communication of the importance of the continual process of productive liaison with the client. Any tool that provides us with a better understanding of this process is to be welcomed.

The book is split into three sections. Part one describes an overview of the briefing process. It introduces important concepts (the differing lifespans for various elements of a building for instance) that some clients may not have recognized and that practitioners may assume is self-evident. Part two (about 50 per cent of the text) contains numerous case studies covering a wide range of different scales, timespans and types of project. The case studies are described in a general narrative way rather than being presented with detailed references to processes and procedures. However, chapter nine follows the specific case studies with an analysis of five generic types of brief: urban, strategic, project, fit-out and furniture. Part three, 'the process in practice', is a slightly disappointing short section which lacks clarity of presentation. Its applicability in practice is also questionable.

Set against the author's stated dual aims of providing guidance to both clients and practitioners, the book succeeds. Certainly if a client could be persuaded to study the text, the job of the designer would be greatly simplified, as many concepts would already have been clearly presented. Whether clients will read this book is another matter. For practitioners the book provides a wide-ranging overview of the subject. Managing the brief for better design does not aim to be a prescriptive guide to the procedures of the briefing process in the same way as, for instance, British Standard 7000 guide to managing innovation and design in construction. It is none the weaker for this.

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