How to Research the Best Products for Building Design

Rose Morrison

Oct 12, 2020

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Written by Ethan Adams

The building design process is an infinitely complex one. So many factors come into play throughout design cycles that can stretch several years and involve hundreds of people. This is especially true at the architecture firm level, but comes into play even for residential renovation and design. 

Chief among the complexities is selecting the proper building products to include in your building design. This isn’t just about choosing paint colors – standard product selection for a new build expands the process to astronomical proportions.

Here are some essential considerations for performing proper building product research when designing or renovating building projects. Such elements can include how to choose the right products for building design.

1. Identify Your Building Project’s Needs

research process

To begin a proper product research process, it’s important to identify what factors play into your project’s needs.

To begin with, every project will have standard factors that come into play – code compliance, climate, site orientation, drainage, and material availability. But each project also has unique factors – owner expectations, local ordinances, price limitations, and more.

Many design, technical, and legal nuances can come into play with just one product decision. However, things get intimidating when one product turns into many, many more. That’s because on any small-to-medium-sized construction project, the building plans could take hundreds, if not thousands, of individual products. 

During the initial research phase, begin with a list of qualifying criteria your project’s products must meet. That way, when you actually get to researching products with online tools, you’ll have specific criteria to narrow your search.

The following list displays a few questions to answer to identify the needs of your specific project.

  • Material Origin – Are products available in the geographic region of the project?
  • Price – Do the owners/financiers have financial limitations that need to be considered? Should products focus on luxury, performance, or economy?
  • Sustainability – Do you, the owners/financiers, or the local government have expectations or requirements for product sustainability and resulting ecological footprint?
  • Compliance – Are there local or regional ordinances related to design, code compliance, or other interests that may impact product decisions?
  • Performance – Are there expectations or requirements for exceptional product durability or performance (due to climate, foot traffic, or otherwise)
  • Customization – Are there aspects of the project design that will require building products to be customized or fabricated to specifications different than a manufacturer’s standard lineup?

2. Utilize Time-Saving Tools for Your Research

Considering a product’s availability, performance, durability, price, certifications, and more makes the research phase a full-time job on its own. That’s why it’s important to have the right tools at your disposal.

That said, there are a few temptations to avoid when beginning your research.

1. Do not begin by searching Google.

Google is great, but is built to serve up recommendations from brands who have cracked the search engine code. There are hundreds of wonderful products out there that may not display on the first page of Google’s search results.

2. Do not begin by just visiting brands or manufacturers with whom you already are familiar.

Brand recognition is part of any purchase, but don’t choose a brand or product simply because you’ve heard the name. Don’t be afraid to venture into the territory of different brands, as they may not be new to the next person and may very well have other value to offer.

3. Do not begin with price in mind.

Price is, of course, highly important in product selection and should certainly come into play later on in the process. However, not only is price subject to change, but it often clouds one’s judgement and can result in choosing the cheap product instead of the right product. You’ll deal with price later – for the start, focus on the product itself.

Several time-saving tools can help you gain key product knowledge as you research. Tools and platforms intended for use by architects and the design community are the most helpful in terms of the technical specifications that you’ll need. 

For example, sites like Houzz are incredibly expansive, but target more of the residential/DIY market, while sites like Archiproducts are interested more in the architectural/commercial building products. Then you have platforms like BIMsmith, which helps the professional architectural audience download free Revit families and other 3D design files for products at the same time as performing product research. Depending on your scenario, you also may need to order material samples from a sample fulfilment source like Swatchbox.

sample fulfillment source

Finding the right platform for your needs – whether you’re a homeowner, architect, or other pro – will pay major dividends in the long run, for your current project and those in the future.

3. Prioritize Fit Before Price

As mentioned previously, it’s incredibly tempting to want to immediately compare prices between similar products. However, it’s important to consider a few things before you let price occupy your entire attention.

First, it’s important to remember the investment that any building project represents. Of course, if you’re funding the project, it’s hard to forget price! But try to separate the thought of more expensive products pushing you over your budget with the thought of choosing the right product that will make your investment more sound and trustworthy for years to come.

Second, one can never underestimate the importance of product installation. Fast and easy installation of a pricier product can more than make up for the cost difference between it and a cheaper product. Sometimes poor design, sloppy manufacturing habits, or confusion caused by international sourcing can cause substantial installation delays or even change orders. By the time the dust has cleared from a bad installation, price can often double or triple what it would have cost to choose the better, slightly more expensive alternative.

Finally, remember that price is not always congruent with value. Basic consumer economics enable us to forecast whether a more expensive product is likely to result in the same, less, or more value for the final project than its inexpensive counterpart. In many cases, a more expensive product will hold its own because of the value it adds to the project. But there is also a decent chance that it won’t. Leverage your past experience, as well as the experience of others via online reviews, to best judge whether a higher price is justifiable.

If you find yourself unable to escape the grasp of price-consciousness (perhaps you have an overbearing owner looking over your shoulder at all times), the best thing is to always incorporate multiple options for each product need. You may want to choose an ideal product to recommend, but include a lower-priced alternative at the same time in case the issue is insurmountable.

Product Research is a Process

When it comes to researching the best products for building design, keep in mind that every minute spent researching is an investment in the quality and value of the final build. 

It will take time, and it will take effort. You will learn lessons along the way, some by making mistakes. But it’s all part of the process. Embrace your inspiration to work on the project in the first place and let it fuel you to dive headfirst into the nitty-gritty details of product research!

Ethan Adams

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Ethan Adams is a writer and marketer for Anguleris Technologies, a company that helps architects and other building professionals work more seamlessly with building product manufacturers through Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Revit content creation, samples, and specifications. 

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