A keen eye for detail is an invaluable tool for a designer. With sharp observation, you’ll be able to discern a great deal about your client and the proposed design before you’ve even started conversations. There are, however, some important questions you may need to ask to ensure you don’t miss the mark. Before we share examples of some key briefing questions, it’s worthwhile revisiting the simple concept of open/closed questioning.
Open questions generally gather more useful answers during a client brief. They usually begin with what, why or how (or lead to that kind of questioning). You’re trying to garner your client’s opinion or feelings, so starters like ‘tell me’ or ‘describe’ are helpful.
A closed question, on the other hand, usually receives a single word or very short, factual answer. Closed questions are good for:
- Confirming a point of view: ‘So, am I right in understanding that you’re not keen on a traditional style?’
- Concluding a discussion or making a decision: ‘Now we know you hate green, can we agree to take this tile out of the selection?’
- Frame setting: ‘Are you happy with the way this space works for you now?’
Be warned: a misplaced closed question can bring your conversation to an awkward halt, so use them only when you’re wrapping up or summarising a discussion.
The following are examples of some important briefing questions (both open and closed) that you’re likely to use in a kitchen design briefing.
Architectural Style and Influence
It’s essential to observe and note the architectural and aesthetic influences of the existing building style. After assessing the era or style of the house (along with neighbouring properties), you should probably ask:
In a renovation
How do you feel about the existing architectural style of this house? Do you love it or hate it? Should your new kitchen reflect the style or be in contrast to it?
In a new build
What are the building elements that you really love about your new home? (External cladding? Roofline? Ceiling details – raked, vaulted or square set?)? Would you like to duplicate these in your kitchen?
Family Makeup & Lifestyle
Who’ll be living in the home – immediately? In five years? In ten years?
How often do you entertain? Do you typically host big groups or have small gatherings?
How do you feel about cooking? Is it a chore or a pleasure?
Cooking Styles & Dietary Requirements
Do you prefer to bake, fry or steam?
Are there any dietary intolerances or allergies in the home?
Do you have preferences for regional cooking styles? (Italian, French, Spanish, Asian etc.)
Do your cultural or religious beliefs influence your cooking and eating habits? How so?
Do you purchase meat and cold goods weekly or fortnightly?
Are you particular about wine storage?
Are you a daily/weekly shopper? Do you purchase goods in bulk?
Do you own (or wish to own):
- an electric kettle or a cooktop kettle
- a manual or automatic coffee machine
- a coffee or spice grinder
- a juicer or smoothie maker
- one or more slow cookers/pressure cookers/multi-cookers
- one or more food processors/food mixers
- one or more deep fryers/air fryers
- one or more electric woks/pans
- one or more paella pans
- one or more rice cookers
- one or more sandwich press machines/jaffle makers/toasters
- one or more dehydrators
- kitchen scales
- large platters or serving trays
Discussing aesthetic preferences can be precarious: it’s important not to impress your own ideas upon the client before they’ve had the opportunity to put forward their own ‘loves and loathes’. Starting with the existing home is sometimes helpful – what does your client like or hate about their current kitchen? If this doesn’t help or isn’t applicable, have a digital or physical gallery of images to share, and encourage your client to determine what they like, love or hate about the interiors you’re showing them. You’ll soon see if they’re inclined to favour:
- warm or cool? (They will tend to lean one way or the other.)
- blue or green? (This can help with selecting undertones.)
- glossy or matt?
- timber or two-pac?
- bright or dark?
- showy or homely?
Budget Parameters and Project Timing
More often than not, the budget is the ‘elephant in the room’. Presenting budgetary options as a range will sometimes help the clients be more forthcoming. For example, you may ask if they’re planning to spend:
- up to $30,000
- between $30k and $60k
- between $60k and $100k
- whatever it takes
Setting out the process of a kitchen design is helpful, too. When you outline the various stages (highlighting the relevant tradespeople involved), you’ll potentially get your client in a more realistic space. And as you explain the process from A to Z, you can begin to ascertain if the timing will be an issue. If your clients have been watching (so-called) reality renovation tv, they may have a skewed perception of turnarounds. Part of your role will be to formulate a realistic time frame that won’t put yourself, your clients or any suppliers or trades under pressure.
Including questions like those set out above – in both open and closed formats – in your briefing checklist will help you get all the information you need. If you have some staple Qs on your list, we’d love to hear them. Drop them in the comments below.