Standards vs Guidelines: The Benefits of Establishing Process

Guidelines and standards can be critical for creating consistency across workplace, retail, and hospitality portfolios. Confidential retail prototype, Natick, MA. Photography © John Horner.

Designers are responsible to clients in multiple ways. Maintaining a brand’s high aesthetic standards is key among them, but additional more pragmatic responsibilities such as budget and establishing client tools for successful future projects can be equally important. This is where the benefits of guidelines and standards enters the designer-client conversation.

Defining Standards

Standards are explicit documents outlining specific products that may be used in a commercial space going forward. The standards define a kit of parts and prescribe a set or package of specifications, and are most often requested by larger organizations/retailers for procurement purposes and brand consistency. Standards allow a client to negotiate quantities and prices with suppliers using a streamlined process.

The Most Critical Benefit of Standards

The unsung hero of standards may be the impact they can have on speed to market and price of product and project. We asked IA’s Kristi Farley, a Project Director at IA’s Atlanta studio, to elaborate on this. “Historically, a project gets priced when the construction documents (CDs) are issued,” she explains. “If you include the architects, contractors, and others in the schematic phase and negotiate items upfront, you have a broader opportunity to pick and choose the finishes and selections your client wants. With upfront, negotiated pricing there are fewer changes to the project and CDs, as well as a higher probability of maintaining the scope, schedule, and budget within parameters.”

Farley goes on to describe the consequences of pricing these items after CDs have been issued. “At this point, it’s too late, and you're out of time. But if an organization has standards, you’re not selecting things at this stage—you’re dropping them in.”

The use of standards can positively impact the quality of a project’s outcome. “If a general contractor is pricing the design team’s products and finishes at the back end of the design process, beginning with CDs, the project suffers because there isn’t enough time to work through the variety of possible options and cost-saving measures. If the client does not have standards, you’re now reselecting products and finishes during the CD phase and sometimes that is too late." Elaborating on why this time is so critical, she explains “At this point, you usually don’t have time to select something of equal quality because you just lost the time you needed upfront in the schematic design and design development phases to explore your options.”

Cost Savings

When a confidential finance client decided to flip their national portfolio of flagship offices in under four years, IA teamed with them to create what Farley describes as a “true standards package, resulting in a detailed specifications manual.” In implementing this alongside a workplace strategy plan, they were able to reduce their total square footage by 40% and found similar cost savings with procurement. “By using those standards and their national purchasing power, they had the same pricing, warranties, and maintenance, as well as reliable product availability, delivery times, and signage vendors —they had pre-negotiated pricing and agreements for everything.”

Guidelines can be especially critical to retail institutions, ensuring that there is a consistent customer experience across a brand's real estate portfolio. REI, North Conway NH. Photography © Chris Eden.

Who Benefits

While standards can help teams reduce costs, improve speed to market, and reduce the back-and-forth associated with questions surrounding aesthetic preference, all of these things happen at scale. Teams in the retail sector find standards indispensable to ensure clientele in multiple regions have comparable store experiences. “For efficiency, brands with large and diverse portfolios require program standards for experience consistency," notes Ron Singler, Design Director with IA's Retail studio. "Guidelines can help identify flexibility points and associated solutions that allow for unusual or unforeseen circumstances to be effectively managed and integrated into the branded environment.”

What are Guidelines

Guidelines define how users are expected to engage with a space along with the rules for aesthetics, without identifying specific materials. While standards serve to help with sourcing materials from predetermined vendors, guidelines are primarily used for establishing a uniform aesthetic and user experience between multiple spaces to a degree determined by the client. Guidelines can also create cohesion between a space and an organization’s marketing efforts or brand guidelines or serve as a useful recordkeeping tool for strategic decision-making. This often helps to streamline conversations surrounding who gets what type of or how much space.

The Benefit of Guidelines

Guidelines benefit clients with speed to market because they provide established answers to specific, strategic questions that can quickly be communicated to project teams. The true benefit is the impact they can have when it comes to revisions. “Guidelines are the end result of some really important questions that cover things like brand, how a team operates, size of workstations or offices, wayfinding, etc.,” says Kristi Farley. “If those conversations don’t happen and guidelines aren’t determined, the rest of the project suffers because someone is going to have an opinion that’s generally different than what was first decided.” Guidelines serve as the single source of truth for such questions and address concerns or issues at the beginning of a project rather than later, when their impact on the number of revisions can be tremendous.

Successful Implementation

IA recently completed work with a nationwide coffee retailer, and the use of both guidelines and standards has so far been a boon to project success. “Working with their existing documentation, we were able to hit the ground running in a new relationship,” says Jodi Borges-Bradley, Managing Director of IA’s Atlanta studio. “It helped us go in a new direction with their office space,” she continues, “while still incorporating the retail component we all know and love, connecting the space to the local community.”

The top floor of Papa Johns' new Atlanta offices

Papa Johns was able to maintain the project timeline of their new Atlanta office thanks to well-defined standards and guidelines. Photography © Garrett Rowland.

In the case of Papa Johns’ latest office location in Atlanta, establishing brand guidelines helped all teams involved quickly sidestep variables that could have negatively impacted the project timeline. "There were several times where the project schedule would pause due to shifts in workplace strategy or a rebranding focus," recalls Borges-Bradley. "But creating guidelines helped to establish a program quickly, which enabled the team to preserve their timeline and manage costs while keeping all parties on the same page."

Final Thought

For enterprises that support or project multiple locations, creating standards or guidelines for a more streamlined, cost-effective process is well worth thoughtful consideration.