Keith Jones and Kelly Ashforth, Business Partners of CEDIA member, designflow (www.designflow.co), discuss the importance of well-designed documents for smart home projects.

Design and documentation are critical pieces of any successful smart building or home technology system, arguably even more so than the equipment itself.  Why is design so critical? Well, where do we start?

The Benefits of Design Documentation
The benefits of a well-designed and documented system are numerous. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, right? First of all, any system that has been thoroughly planned out and documented by a designer will result in an easier installation. Any difficult site issues and potential integration setbacks will be worked out before any wires are run, allowing all parties involved to have a better understanding of what is required.

A well-designed, properly documented system will also require less project management. By providing a complete set of design drawings to work with, not only will this mean greater efficiency, but will mean no time is wasted dealing with on-site issues and complications.  The installation phase is a crucial point in any smart building project, a time that can cost installers a great deal in trying to solve issues which could have been avoided with coherent design in the initial planning stages. 

As a sign of due diligence, system design plans can also be used as a physical tool by integration companies to highlight the concise development stages of a project, leading to a clear point of completion and greater client satisfaction with a professional handover. This, in turn, allows for ease of servicing in future, giving installers a clear impression in years to come through detailed drawings, without having to visit the site directly. 

Another important benefit of having detailed design documentation is the ability to enter into awards and raise the profile of your company. Businesses with awards and accreditations are more likely to win more jobs and more prestigious work, and without proper design documentation, awards are near impossible to win. Design documents are integral to the reputation and the success of not only singular home technology projects, but installation companies on the whole too.  

The Components of a Well-Designed and Documented System
Education is the key to good documentation systems. Design training is necessary to draw up these plans and certification is a great mark of quality, but experience in assembling systems and the relevant know-how is paramount. 

The basic documents will consist of several things. The first being a complete set of floor plans showing the locations all equipment used and some mechanism to indicate what cables are required at each point. A set of elevation drawings showing wall mounted equipment, detailing the equipment rack layouts and thermal design is also needed, as well as an IP addressing scheme and a full set of connectivity schematics showing how each part of the system is interconnected. In more detailed plans, documents may also include a functional specification, scope of works and a programming scope.

Charging for Design
Integration companies should not be wary of charging design fees and showing off their previous design work. In order to reassure your client that you know best for them, and so they know what to expect, you must be able to provide clear and coherent ideas from the get-go. A typical project process should comprise of meeting the client, gathering ideas, drawing up a quotation and  asking for a retainer or design fee (the minimum fee should be around 5% of the quotation) to carry out a detailed design for a suitable system. 

Design should be used by integration companies as a tool to reassure clients of your expertise, gain access to more prestigious projects over time, and showcase their industry expertise. It all starts with a plan.