If I ran my agency like a Grand Design project



I think most of us are familiar with the Channel 4’s hit property programme, ‘Grand Designs’ hosted by Kevin McCloud. It’s quite a compelling watch but when you think about it, the format is pretty static. But it’s this repetitive, winning format that delivers familiarity, and it’s this familiarity that makes it unmissable.


Firstly, the couples that are gutsy enough to share their grand design dream with the nation always seem determined to push boundaries. They have a huge passion and desire to stand out from the crowd. We’ve seen homes that have been built from an old lighthouse perched on a rugged clifftop, restored from a neo-gothic cemetery lodge into a luxury dwelling, created to be a zen-like oasis next to a busy mainline railway, and we’ve seen the construction of an architectural marvel on a floodplain to overcome the power of nature.

And then there are the couples who simply want to do create a dream home that shifts from the norm – just because they can. These designs serve no purpose other than to provide the owners with a sense of achievement. The home that was created purely to look like a huge piece of artwork springs to mind.

Secondly, viewers watch to count the numerous coats and jackets that Kevin shoehorns into every show. If you’ve not noticed, you will now. Every shot showcases the host wrapped up snugly in a different brand. Clearly, there’s some product placement going on - I digress slightly. But again, the show does offer these snippets of familiar entertainment that the top fans will revel in.


However, the most anticipated part of the format, and the part that every viewer sits on the edge of their seat waiting for is the ‘we’ve gone wildly over budget’ and ‘it’s taking months longer than planned’ moments. It’s this element that we come to expect, in fact I think we crave for this scenario. Should a couple meet their budget, or dare I say it go under budget, meet their timescales, or have the sheer cheek to get it done earlier than planned, somehow the viewer feels cheated.


That’s not how a real Grand Design project works!


The design team

There’s also a part of the show where emotions seem to override judgement, and where the couples seem to forget that they have no experience of designing and building a home.


“We actually decided to do the project management bit ourselves.”


Yep, that’s quite a common sentence aired on the show. The couples are also known to ‘have a go’ at being architects too.


This overly enthusiastic approach, combined with zero forward-thinking abilities, has a lot to do with going over budget and being a year late. The result? A family falling out while living in a cramped caravan at the bottom of a building site.


Maybe paying attention to the experts is actually worth it after all?

Great expectations


Can you imagine if a marketing or design agency came in over budget by 30% and took three months extra to get the work done. Would you shrug your shoulders and laugh it off as par for the course? After all, it’s to be expected.


I doubt it. There’d be consequences.


Putting yourself in a position where you refuse to listen to the advice of others, and don’t have the skills to react when a change of direction is needed in quick time, is not an option today when competition is fierce.


Here’s what happens in the real world, well, my world anyway.

  • A great plan is created through collaboration.

  • We make sure we understand the purpose of the project.

  • We establish who will benefit from the project, and how.

  • We identify what will resonate with customers.

  • We discover what will excite customers.

  • We explore how to exceed expectations.

  • We look at ways to stand out from the crowd in a meaningful way.

  • A budget will be agreed.

  • A timescale will be agreed.

  • The brief, the aspirations of the client, the budget, and the timescale will be completely respected.

  • We give the project our full attention.

  • We won’t steal the limelight away from our clients.

  • Communications will flow.

  • The plan will be followed, and the outcome will be impactful.

It’s a grand design project, but with less drama! And a lot less wardrobe changes.


Don’t get me wrong I love the Grand Designs show. There are bits that echo what a design agency does, but sometimes there’s a lack of real meaning, there’s a determination to stand out even if the outcome appears completely out of place – usually driven by ego, and obviously there’s a scarcity when it comes to realising the importance placed on money and time.


I’m all for standing out. I’m also committed to not just stand out because something is different, but because it’s something new.

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