It is very difficult to hold a client accountable for their role in a project. We all want to make our clients deliriously happy and meet their expectations. Sometimes this desire can stifle our ability to hold client’s accountable to the responsibilities that they signed up for when they signed the contract. Of course, we all want to walk away from a project where the client sings our praises. This puts the client in a powerful position when negotiating issues that arise during a project. At least, when they are working with a firm that really cares about the relationship and outcomes.
Roles and responsibilities are different for every project. We attempt to define these clearly and definitely at the start of the project. We review them with the client at the start. Yet, given some recent hiccups, even this communication may need to be reiterated throughout the course of the project.
I just got back from AAM and was surprised how many of my counterparts also had stories where what they thought was clearly the client’s responsibilities caused problems in the project. One colleague I talked to about this probably has the most accurate view on this issue. He said, in reality clients expect you to take care of everything inside the box of the exhibit. If this is the case, how do we as planning, design and fabrication firms account for all the potential issues that can arise in a project? Do we set a big chunk of the budget aside as a contingency like the construction industry does? Can we ask the client to set aside a portion of the budget for their own use on things outside of normal exhibit design? How do we convince clients that something in the design will need to be deleted if after the design is completed the safety review calls for more sprinklers needed in the space? Who then pays for the redesign of the exhibits? You see it gets complicated.
We had a recent project where we thought we clearly expressed that permitting, inspection fees and such would be the client’s responsibility (see the contract language below). In the end the client disagreed and we had to go through months of negotiation to come to a solution to a problem that was a bit of a surprise after some HVAC and safety issues arose. The architectural fees to access the problems were going to cost $30,000 alone. Yet, in other projects with similar design elements this had not happened. Every location has different rules and it is hard to predict how local codes are going to affect the project.
Building Modifications & Renovations – All required building modifications and renovations will be designed and documented in the Design Documents. Building modifications and renovations will be the responsibility of both parties as follows:
a. Taylor Studios is responsible for new interior construction including: new partition wall framing, finishing, doors, electrical work, and trim; new exhibit specific lighting system(s); new HVAC supply ducts as needed, and new audiovisual control system
b. Client is responsible for: new HVAC air handling units if needed, permits, inspection fees, relocation of any existing fixtures such as water fountains, changes required to the fire protection system such as new sprinkler heads, fire alarms, emergency lighting, and emergency exit signage, and building shell changes such as reworking exterior doors.
In another project a client demanded that we use a certain vendor to create a water wall. When it came time for fabrication that vendor refused to provide the component. The client demanded a solution that included water against our recommendations. We did what the client asked and it did not work in the end. Then there was much negotiation on who was responsible for the new design and implementation. So, as you can see it can be very difficult to meet client expectations and hold them accountable for their role in the decisions.
Do you think it is fair for clients to have responsibilities in a project? How would you hold them accountable? Clients what do you think is fair? How would you improve the communication?