Selecting a Trusted Design Partner

design partner

Given the size and scale of new build and/or significant renovation efforts for campus recreation buildings, selecting the right design partner is a critical step. Here are a few key steps and best practices campus rec professionals should be sure to focus on:

Value Pre-planning

Even before the design firm selection process is initiated and requests for quotations are made, the college or university team should take time outlining the entire process that lies ahead. This includes the project’s goals, scope, timelines, contractual expectations and desired outcomes. 

EXTRA CREDIT: Are you planning for a multi-use space? Here are six steps to take to ensure a unified culture.

A well-devised plan that can lead to a well-developed request for quote (RFQ) lays the groundwork for the selection process. As a result, it helps the design teams better understand if they are the proper fit for a project based upon the information provided. Incomplete or weak RFQs only lead to confusion and may not yield the best partner.

Deeply Study Portfolios

It’s important for the selection group to fully study a design firm’s project portfolio — both projects in the RFQ response and beyond. Visit a design firm’s website and look through all their projects, recent news, etc. in the world of campus recreation.

The ideal scenario is for the college or university to identify a design team with the portfolio and experience that complements their original goals. It’s also not uncommon to identify hybrid teams where multiple partners unite to offer an institution the best skillsets, experience and design for a project.

Get to Know the People

It’s very important for project teams to really know the design firms they are considering for their project. The reality is, major construction projects take time. You’ll be working with this group of individuals for years to come.

So, take the time to ask them all sorts of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself simply:

  • Does this design team seem engaging and fun to work with?
  • Do you believe they’ll be your advocate throughout the process ahead?

Understanding the design team is a critical piece. The best way to do that is to invest in getting to know them. Identify a group that shares your vision and passion for the project, has the necessary skills and experience, and seems like a great collaborative teammate.

There’s no single recipe for selecting the best design partner for a given campus recreation project. However, if you commit to strong pre-planning, analysis and truly get to know people you’re selecting to work with you, you’ll best position yourself for success.

Colleen McKenna is the director of CannonDesign’s Sports, Recreation and Wellness Practice. She helps colleges and universities across the country create campus recreation spaces where all students can flourish. For more information, visit

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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