Our Process: Engagement for a New Age of Design

07.08.22 | Kevin Bergeron, Erik Tellander, + Alicia Drumm | Process

Our process is rooted in the belief of listening first. By listening to our clients and building consensus together around key project goals, we not only make the design process smoother, but we also make informed decisions earlier to create more successful end projects.


In our practice we engage with a broad variety of design tools including virtual and 3D digital modeling softwares that are at our disposal. Over the last few years more clients have become comfortable interacting with our work in the digital realm. We have found that this comfort with digital tools has increased access to stakeholders, enriched participation, and expanded community outreach.

However, simultaneously we see the benefit of a physical model to illustrate key points and directly engage clients in an easily understandable medium. With a physical model an evolving idea can be immediately evaluated for its ability to meet the vision. Models explain to people what the ideas under consideration really would be like, and we can listen to the immediate reactions and have much greater certainty that everyone is on the same page.

This mix of physical models and digital tools is integral to our process for clearly illustrating and engaging stakeholders around the most important issues for a project. Uniquely, our design process continues to be centered around physical models because we believe they are accessible to everyone who is part of the design process: from seasoned planning staff to neighborhood residents who may not feel comfortable with architectural drawings. Rather than presentation models, our models are ones you can pick up or rearrange, allowing users and clients alike to ‘share the pen’ with us, so to speak. We believe this makes design more approachable and inclusive.


William Rawn Associates has, over many decades, honed a process that enables us to work closely with our clients at select intervals early in the design process. Rather than relying on sporadic checkpoints, we work to identify a select rhythm of sessions where our busy clients can focus their attention on the project.

These sessions revolve around us bringing our drawings, our physical models, and ourselves to the client in order to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, often over the course of many days. Open studio sessions around physical models ensure that all members of your community can share feedback and become deeply involved in the design process. This mobilization of design tools quickly maximizes our learning, communication, and decision making amongst a broad spectrum of future users.

Our interactive sessions are ideally suited to focus attention among leadership at discrete moments, thus enabling clear language of consensus between the design team and client around project imperatives. We conduct these sessions not only to become familiar with the spirit, ambiance, and ethos of your community, but to understand key issues and identify common themes. This ensures that we understand as clearly as possible the needs and desires of our clients.

The goals of this intensive design process are fourfold.

It moves the early design process forward with considerable speed, in effect being an intensive “jump-start” to the entire process.

It provides an intensity and continual attention such that the architects and clients can work together, grow together, develop a joint understanding of the issues involved, and thereby come to a consensus.

It ensures that the architect is moving in the right direction desired by the Building Committee and assures all parties that the architect is not moving in the wrong direction (back in the office).

It provides immediate feedback to all parties. Immediate creation of sketches, plans, and models makes that communication all the better.

We have had tremendous success with this process over the last three decades. It is not new, or experimental, but tried and true in our practice. This process is not a cookie cutter solution either. Each process is tailored to a particular client, project, or engagement need.

Two recent examples illustrate our different approaches. Brookline High School’s campus expansion project involved over 300 public meetings to coordinate the needs of the school administration, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and the full extent of Brookline community members. Conversely, our project for the Cleveland Clinic included targeted intensive workshops with physicians and clinicians to understand how we could design for a new model of cancer care. Our process, therefore, is constantly expanding to encompass lessons learned and client specific needs in order to enrich our future designs and engagement strategies.

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