A solid design is an integral part of the system, even more so than the best components money can buy. Even top notch components can not compensate for a poor, or worse yet, no design. A system design has many purposes. It shows the client that you are a professional and also helps them understand what they are spending their hard-earned money on. It gives the architect and builder a clear understanding of what you are putting in their home. It gives the installers a definitive blueprint as to what they are installing and how to install it. It gives the other trades involved in the project, such as cabinet makers and interior designers, valuable information that they need to do their job. It gives the system programmer a roadmap as to how the system is connected and how it is to operate. It gives the service technician in the future a valuable resource for troubleshooting and upgrades. All parties involved benefit from a thorough design package.
What is in a design package? In its most basic form, there are at least five sections; Conceptual Drawings, Rough-In Plans, Elevation Drawings, Detail Drawings, and Schematic Diagrams. Let’s break each of these down with a brief definition and example.
Conceptual Drawings offer a visual representation of the overall system layout. It gives the client and all involved parties a clear idea of what is being installed and where it’s being placed.
Rough-In Plans are the blueprints that depict where each and every wire originates from and goes to. The plans allow the installer to quickly identify each of the wires and locations, which eases installation and future changes.
Elevation Drawings are scaled drawings that show the various elements of the design that need precise placement. These help the installer, builder, and cabinet maker all prepare for the final installation. This is an example of an equipment rack elevation.
Detail Drawings go into the intricate portion of the design. Here we show a theater sight-line study, speaker placement and can include any other scaled, graphical representation as needed.
Schematic Diagrams are the interconnectivity of the system or, as some call them, “flow diagrams”. These show how each individual piece of equipment is connected in order to provide a complete, functional system. These diagrams are of critical importance to the installer, programmer, and for future maintenance and upgrades.
It is these basic components that comprise a good design package and, depending on the scope of the project, many more additional pages are added. I have created designs with upward of 18 rough-in plan pages and 40 plus elevation and detail pages. It all revolves around the size and detail of each individual project. Now you may say “My projects are not that large or complicated, what do I need a design for?” Well, I’ll tell you in one wordâ€¦ professionalism. A builder wouldn’t build a 1,200 square foot house without blueprints just as he wouldn’t build a 32,000 square foot estate without them. Blueprints are a necessity just as a complete system design is necessary. By creating the design in advance, it lets you think of all of the little bits and pieces and how they are going to interact with one another. It allows you to plan ahead and recognize all of the intricate details that need to be addressed. It helps avoid a missed part here or there which either leads to reduced profits or a change order that will not make the client happy.
You are now thinking, “A system design takes time and manpower, which I am short of already”. Exactly. That is why, as a professional, you charge for your time. A design does not happen overnight, it takes time and interaction between the trades on the project. This leads to new revisions, which then lead to more drawings and more time etc. etc. Our time and expertise are valuable assets which need to be billed for. A client does not go to his or her architect and expect them to draw the complete blueprints for their home for free (or cheaply). They know that they are paying for the architect’s knowledge and expertise and are relying on them to deliver a well built, functional dream home. Well, our clients are relying on us to deliver their dream theater, distributed audio and video systems, control of their HVAC, pool and spa, lighting, shades, security and any number of systems that you can think of. And they expect it to work easily and flawlessly. A design is a necessary and crucial part of the system that must be done before one foot of wire is installed. We have years of experience and vast knowledge which are a valuable assetâ€¦ charge for it. If you do not have somebody on your team that can do the design, or you are simply understaffed, use a subcontractor for your design. It is not taboo to use an outside entity for your designs, it is done all of the time in commercial installations, just be sure to charge for it.
I know that in these economic times it has been hard to make a buck, but that is precisely why a design is more important now than ever. Big box stores are blowing out gear left and right, reducing our margins all over the place. We have something that the big box stores do not have; experience, knowledge, and most of all, passion for our industry and technology in general. Also, we hopefully belong to an industry affiliation such as CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) which provides training and resources not available to the general public. Let’s let our customers see that we are true professionals in our field and provide them with superior service and a design that will meet or exceed their wildest dreams.
David Jasak, CCPD
AV Design Associates, LLC