Finding an AV Consultant – 6 Questions to Ask

If you are planning a project with audio or video involved, someone has to design these technology systems. This decision will impact the facility for years. Maybe decades. Should you use someone from your staff? An electrical engineer? A low voltage systems integrator? An independent design consultant? Regardless of the type of person you select, what questions can you ask to tell if the person or company is a good fit for your needs? The answers depend on the type of project, timeline, and budget. This article will offer a few guidelines to help you make the correct selection.

The design of audio, video, and technology for facilities is unique, because there is a lack of standards in the marketplace. This means that its not just important but absolutely essential to find someone with significant experience. More importantly, they have to have the right kind of experience. This can be tough to even know where to begin. First let’s cover the 6 questions that you should ask any technology consultant before getting them involved in your project.

What experience do they have in your particular market?

Overall experience is great, but you want to make sure that you are not the first classroom, casino, or church on your consultant’s resume. Overall experience can carry over greatly into the inner workings of a system, but this is not a substitute for the deep understanding of user needs that is gained in the course of a project. Try not to be the guinea pig. If there is someone you really want to work with, who doesn’t have experience in your exact type of facility, maybe there is someone they can bring on-board to clarify operational requirements. At the very least, be certain that you have someone on the owner’s staff that can accurately communicate the exact workflow needs.

What experience do they have with the scope?

Audio designers don’t necessarily make good video designers. Video designers don’t necessarily make good lighting designers. Lighting designers probably shouldn’t be tackling acoustics. Might seem pretty obvious, but make sure your design team isn’t biting off more than they can chew

What experience do they have as part of a design team?

This is often a challenge for smaller AV design / build firms. If you are accustomed to contracting to an owner or general contractor, rather than working as part of a design team under an architect, you may not understand the workflow. This can be a bigger problem that you might suspect.

Many integration firms cut their teeth either by working on bid projects designed by someone else and doing gradually larger turnkey projects. In these cases, there are several requirements, which have either been handled by a consultant, or are not a requirement, due to the smaller size of the project. Just make sure that the person that you are considering for design services has experience with designs of similar scale, not just experience in implementing designs that were created by someone else.

Do they have real world experience?

There is no substitute for experience. Obviously, you don’t want to needlessly reduce your available pool of candidates, but everything else being equal, it is always helpful to have someone who has at least some form of AV operator experience. This helps “put the designer in the user’s shoes”, to consider concepts like operator booth ergonomics and workflow. We cover this in much greater detail in our Consultant Interview Checklist.

After all, a good system design centers around it’s user base as a core consideration. A good designer starts by asking how many people will be available to operate a system. Running a broadcast studio with ten people is a much different experience than trying to accomplish the same functions with half the staff. This always must be a consideration.

What level of drafting expertise does the company have?

Increasing 3D and BIM are standard project requirements. While standard fare for architects and engineers, many AV professionals come into the field via a different route and only learn these skills along the way. As a result, drafting can increasingly be a workflow bottleneck for AV.

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the drafting capabilities of the firms you are considering. If the project is being done in BIM, make sure that you have an experienced designer and be sure that this scope is clearly laid out and understood by both parties. There are a multitude of ways that a BIM project can be delivered, particularly with regard to the AV Consultant.

You should also confirm the version of software that the firm has available. While AutoCAD allows files to easily be down-saved to an earlier version, many people don’t realize that RevIt does not work this way. In order to maintain a synchronized model, all design team members must be working in the same version of RevIt.

How well does the firm understand architecture and building systems to leverage maximum value?

There are many designers, both on the integrator side and the consultant side, who entered the industry from an operator perspective. These people will be very comfortable with the flow of signal through the equipment, but less comfortable with the integration of that technology into the building. Remember that the name on the door is not necessarily the name of the person you will be working with on the project. Ask how much construction experience that person has in their background. For more detail, see our Consultant Interview Checklist.

Conclusion

The timeline, budget, complexity, and scope will generally dictate the right solution for a project. For instance, on a very small project, you may be able to utilize the electrical engineer on the design team. This option is best for systems of low complexity, like distributed background music systems and the like.

The option to use your internal staff will vary widely from one organization to another. These people should be well versed in the type of system being installed. For many corporations this is probably a challenge. On the other hand, Universities and large Houses of Worship often have extremely knowledgeable staff. In these cases, it often still makes sense to bring in an outsider (though with a more limited scope).

While internal staff often have the best possible understanding of the organizational needs and operations, it’s usually not an everyday occurrence that they design these systems. The problem typically isn’t on the technology side, as much as the construction design side. In these cases, a partnership between staff and a designer can bring the best of both worlds… someone who understands the needs to the organization in great detail and someone who understands the architectural and construction design process in equal detail.

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