6 Steps to Eliminate Design Ripple with AV Consultants

We are AV Consultants by trade. While the suggestions below are written from the perspective of an AV Consultant, the advice could apply to almost any type of complex construction. The reason? In many cases, we as an industry, already know what needs to be done. It’s just a matter of preventing the client from shooting themselves in their collective foot.

When these situations occur, sometimes it’s not enough just to know what needs to be done. You have to convince the client, while protecting egos and respecting organizational politics at the same time. With this in mind, we present both suggestions for what must be done to avoid re-work on projects, as well as how to convince a client that these things are in their best interest.

1. Get certain sub-consultants involved early
Most of the architects that I speak with understand the importance of involving audio video consultants and technology designers early in the process. Often, the struggle is with the owner not wanting to bring someone onboard either because they want to get past feasibility first (before allocating the funding), or because they think that they have the internal resources to carry the project to a certain milestone.

For those architects who have been through this dilemma before, the question isn’t whether you should involve a technology designer during programming and SD, but how you convince the owner. The trick here is obviously in conveying the need without bruising the ego of the client or their staff.

The best way to handle this is to ask them how they were planning to handle specific design issues. The important catch here is to make the assumption that they have already considered all of the complexities of the design. This is a compliment in itself, because it suggests that you thought they were aware of design issues that were not even present in their mind. Obviously, it helps if you have a tech designer, who is willing to feed you a few such suggestions.

This approach is much more likely to succeed than harping on the importance of a consultant, because the latter suggests their staff do not have the requisite capabilities, while the former assumes that they do. As soon as a suggestion is surfaced that they may not have the skills on-hand, egos become involved and ears become shut. Once a clients’ ears are shut, it doesn’t matter how savvy your advice, they are not hearing anything you say.

2. Make sure ALL stakeholders are represented for initial criteria
In my experience, this problem is the most challenging in a Worship Facility setting, but it exists anywhere that you have multiple departments that need to speak into design criteria. Too often, you will just get the client’s technical staff at the table.

This technical staff represents only one agenda. You don’t want to find out about the others after the entire facility has been designed. The other point to consider is that people often live with problems because the cost to fix them is too high. You would think that as soon as it is announced that a new building is to be created, there will be an internal dialogue about what people hate about the old building and want to avoid in the new building. Never assume that this conversation has occurred.

3. Try to get a realistic budget on the table as soon as possible
Clients have a natural tendency to avoid putting numbers on technology. They are scared for several reasons. One of the main reasons is that they feel they don’t understand it enough to know what they should be willing to pay.

The reality is that their budget will be based at least partially on either their current pain, their potential gain, or both. They will almost always have some figure in their head whether they want to admit it or not. I start with a series of questions that gradually releases them from the stress of not being “right”. After asking their budget, if they don’t have an answer, I respond “Well, what if you had to guess”. At this point, I usually delve into a few more questions, progressively reducing their perceived risk of giving me a “wrong” answer.

If this still doesn’t work, I give a ridiculous price range and ask if it’s closer to the high number or the low number. In other words, “Do you think your budget is closer to $100k or $1M”. This usually gets a laugh as though it’s a ridiculous question. Then I keep narrowing the range. The funny thing is that for a person that a second ago had “absolutely no” budget, they now have an opinion on the subject.

The reason that budget is important goes beyond the obvious. Just as estimators tire of endless cost exercises, design team members sometimes put less coordination into continued revisions. This is especially the case, when there is not a clearly defined timeline and the owner exhibits great difficulty making up their mind. Revisions start to be seen as “Well, let’s throw this one out and see how they respond.” Though not planned or discussed outright, this is often seen as a lesser evil to charging the client multiple revisions, with each revisions incorporating full coordination.

In projects with a poorly defined timeline, the owner often comes upon a sudden financial or scheduling drop-dead date. When this happens, the most recent design iteration is the one that goes into place. The problem is that there is often coordination across drawing sets and disciples that has not occurred. This is due to the amount of pain that incurred by the design team for multiple revisions that never came to fruition. Getting a target on technology budget in early design goes a long way to combat this trend.

4. If the client wants to use their internal team for design…
One of the number one complaints I have from architects about technology projects (particularly with higher education clients) is that their clients think that their internal staff can serve their needs. What they too often confuse is the differential between operator requirements and design requirements. An extremely experienced operator may be able to fully define performance criteria (though not necessarily). On the other hand, they are likely not familiar with NEC Code, Building Code, or any requirements specific to designing an installation intended to serve for a decade or more.

Again, this comes down to the way you ask the questions, so that you are not letting the person’s ego get involved in the equation. Bring up thoughtful questions (get an AV and tech designer to advise you if possible), then ask how they were planning to deal with them. Make sure you do this in passing, so that it’s clear you assumed they had a plan.

Your other potential avenue is to ask what facilities their internal staff have designed (for benchmarking, of course) ,then call the architect for that facility and ask about problems that they encountered. If you can turn to the owner and provide rough costs or even qualitative disadvantages from a historical perspective, they are more willing to allow you to get a little bit of “assistance” on the team.

5. During page-turn, give special attention to any “islands”
Audio and video installations, in particular, tend to have operator locations that are “out in the middle” of the venue. Obviously, these are the most expensive places to get infrastructure in place after a slab has already been poured.

Additionally, the delegation of scope can often lead raceways at these locations to be missed. Often the AV or LV designer will specify the locations and wirefill, but leave it up to the EE to notate the actual raceways on their drawing set. This could either be to keep everything on the same set of drawings for EC bid, or because the AV/LV drawings will not be stamped, so this information needs to go on the EE drawings for permitting.

This situation only gets more complex with BIM. Who is actually tasked with representing particular technology objects and pathways in the model? We certainly want to spend more time looking at where our mistakes will be most costly. This is any area where those AV and LV locations do not exist adjacent to a stud wall.

6. Embrace Sketchup for sightline studies during the early phases of design
No one expects you to actually construct from Sketchup, but with a very minimal amount of practice, it is possible to model in Sketchup much more quickly than other applications. This allows for exploration of various design scenarios before things get too firmly locked in place. Sketchup also allows for more quickly and easily examining the facility from different vantage points, as opposed to software like RevIt.

As an added bonus, many audio analysis software packages allow for direct import from a Sketchup model. In this way, you can not only verify sightlines, but be assured that the sonic properties related to a given loudspeaker position will not cause problems.

In your 3D sightline mode, be sure to include not only speaker clusters, seating positions, performer positions, and video screen positions, but also camera locations (if you are utilizing broadcast). Ideally, a camera should be no more than 5 degrees from eye level of the onstage talent (so that they “connect”). This camera typically needs to rest on a platform to “see” above the heads of audience members, making it a sightline obstacle for those behind it.

The obvious solution would be to just move the camera behind the audience, right? The problem is that after 30-40’ or so, a good quality broadcast lens can cost you as much as $1,000 for every foot that you push it back in the room! It’s much better to realize these problems early in design. Best case, work these types of issues out in a Sketchup Model while things are still very “fluid”.

CONCLUSION:

Following these few helpful tips can greatly reduce your pain in the creation of spaces for audio, video, and technology. In these types of spaces, both audience/visitor experience, and operator logistics are critical. Addressing them before the venue begins to get locked down, can save an enormous amount of time and money.

If you’re having problems convincing clients to implement professional audio and video design early (or at all), try downloading our free Whitepaper “10 Ways AV Consulting Saves Time and Money”. This is a great resource to present to clients and can save you some headache in the process.

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