Opening up and closing down

Opening up and closing down

The value of not rushing ahead


Changes often become necessary because the important thinking and decision-making processes have not been rigorously applied at the early stages of the design process.

The concept of ‘opening up’ and ‘closing down’ a design enables all creative thinking and key decision-making to be completed in good time ahead of preparation of production information. This reduces the necessity for change and hence the opportunity for error.

Why is it important?

GIRI research has indicated that in many instances design changes – which can subsequently lead to errors – become necessary because thought processes and decision-making processes have not been rigorously applied at the appropriate stage.

The nature of design is that it evolves as a project progresses. It starts with an idea or concept, followed by an intense period of creative thought by a small design team working closely with the client. This process, which we describe as ‘opening up’, generates issues for the team to resolve.

The options are then examined and the design honed into a workable solution. Finally, the chosen solution is turned into production information – the ‘closing down’ process.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Identify and define the two stages

The difference between the opening up and closing down stages should be recognised and identified. Sufficient time, resources and priority should be attached to each, particularly to the stage of creative thought.

Opening up

At the start of the opening up process, the client typically assembles a group of experts to prepare a business plan for the proposed scheme. This plan establishes both qualitatively and quantitatively what the client wants to achieve, the aspirations, key risks/opportunities and any high-level assumptions about the proposed scheme.

It should contain sufficient detail to enable executive review, comment and sign-off; it should also demonstrate that it has been tested against the key visions of the project. The business plan will be used to inform the appointment of designers and project team, at which point it can be developed into a suitable design brief.

Ensure options are tested and challenged

It is important that the team has regular dialogue meetings as options are developed. These meetings should test and challenge the brief through positive exchanges and discussion, and the behaviours at dialogue meetings are therefore critical to the success of this process. Participants need to be positive, open minded, appreciative, free-flowing with ideas, questioning, challenging, innovative, explorative and encouraging – reflecting the appropriate team culture.

Closing down

As options are fine-tuned, it is appropriate to begin the process of closing down in order to prepare a robust, buildable and affordable design for submission to planning authorities and the preparation of production information.

Failure to properly carry out and complete these critical stages can, and frequently does, lead to design changes down the line. It can be caused by allocating too little time, money and importance to the early design stages, or not properly concluding and signing off each stage before moving to the next.

For example, during the ‘creative thought’ phase it is quite natural for unconventional ideas to be generated, most of which will be quickly rejected; but if a bad idea is signed off and its unsuitability is only discovered at detailed design stage, then the scale of change required can be massive.

Key goal

To acknowledge and define the opening up and closing down stages of a project, and ensure they are properly conducted.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Provide sufficient time, resources and priority for the ‘opening up’ stage.To ensure that a concept is sufficiently developed before detailed design begins.Investing in design
Test the developed design brief against the key visions.To confirm its suitability before ‘closing down’.
Foster a working culture that enables participants to be positive and open minded.To encourage concepts to be challenged and questions raised.Culture