December 20, 2017

Does Your Organization Need Design Guidelines? Here’s a Tool to Help

Guide to Design Guidelines - Enterprise Rose Fellowship

By Jess Blanch, Brita Carlson & Alexis Smith

The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship is cultivating a generation of architects committed to bringing the benefits of quality design to low-income communities. By partnering emerging designers with community developers, the fellowship provides socially-engaged designers with a career path in community development.

As part of the fellowship, Rose Fellows collaborate on projects that address national issues in community development and design. They identify topics of interest and engage in meaningful projects that share what they are learning on the ground through research, writing and creative projects.

Design guidelines are increasingly becoming a useful tool for many community development and affordable housing organizations. Guidelines can help standardize specification decisions and preserve institutional memory so that organizations don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each new development project. Conversely, they also can ensure that past mistakes are avoided in the future. 

As designers serving in affordable housing organizations through Enterprise’s Rose Fellowship, we were each tasked with developing design guidelines that could help improve our organizations. A Community of Friends, for example, asked Brita to establish a method to carry over best practices from project to project, in particular, those unique to their special needs tenants and services staff. Institutionalizing these best practices can help save an organization money and time and stress. 

These are great benefits for an organization, and as we’ve developed our guidelines, we’ve heard from other organizations who wanted to develop design guidelines of their own. But creating and implementing Design Guidelines can be an overwhelming task, especially for organizations without in-house design capacity.

To help organizations begin, we’ve developed a Guide to Design Guidelines. This guide includes several resources that can help spark ideas. It also includes key questions that will help you assess whether you even need design guidelines, and how you expect to use them. 

Advice for Creating Design Guidelines

1. Set clear intentions.

Begin by articulating why you want design guidelines and what you hope they will do for your organization. We’ve found that design guidelines are most useful when created through a well-thought-out process with consideration for overall need, audience, and content. It’s also essential to consider who should be involved with the creation of the guidelines. Involve key stakeholders early to ensure the guidelines are useful and to champion them once they’re complete.

2. Integrate your mission.

Design Guidelines are not just for systematizing and process efficiency—they can be a way to leverage your properties to advance your mission. For Jess, a fellow at Capitol Hill Housing, the mission is to improve resident and staff health. This means incorporating standards that avoid the use of toxic building materials in building design and operation. For Alexis, who is based at Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, this means using design elements to strengthen a healthy and supportive aging process.

3. Don't reinvent the wheel.

Finally, there is no need to reinvent the wheel! There are many other resources that you can use as a model, from design standards and recommendations, to design guidelines developed by other similar organizations. In this guide, we’ve collected many of these resources in one place so it’s easy to get started.

We hope that the Guide to Design Guidelines will offer affordable housing organizations a process for creating guidelines or other standards that will help them achieve their goals of greater efficiency and mission alignment in their construction and design process.

Get the Guide to Design Guidelines

Learn more about the Rose Fellowship or bringing a fellow to your community or organization.

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