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What Is A Design Charrette?

What is a Design Charrette?

Definition: A design charrette is a short, collaborative meeting during which a member or client can share their work with members of their team. They can talk through, collaborate, and sketch designs to explore and share a broad diversity of design ideas.

The idea for design charrettes (from the French word charrette meaning “chariot” or “cart”) is believed to have derived from stories of architectural students in Paris in the 1800s. As the story goes, students’ exams were collected in a charrette, and some of these students continued to sketch together as their designs were being gathered after evaluation.

Design Charette Process

Benefits and Goals

There are several benefits to hosting a charrette at a design firm.

  • being inspired by design ideas from various people
  • establishing/reinforcing firm culture
  • kick-starting a design or solution
  • hearing the priorities or consensus from people
  • making each person feel listened to and considered equally

How do we use Design Charrettes at Iconica?

With clients

Bob Feller: When a client comes in to participate in a charette we prep them with what will happen and how to be part of the design exercise. It is a freeform organic meeting. Depending on the project, we might have some slides and work through some design options so that everyone understands what the client likes or dislikes. Each turn and slide turns the conversation back and forth. Another option might be finalizing a layout of a building. We could have three final options and through a design charette decide on a blend of the three. It’s the creative organic conversation together that helps us all get there together. There is a rule of no bad ideas. Don’t say “no,” instead say “yes, and.” The intent is not necessarily to walk out with the final answer. You might leave with three or four great ideas for the team to work through.

Some people have a hard time explaining what they mean in design terms, such as what the word “modern” means to them. It could mean something else to another person. When we go through pictures and illustrations together, this helps define what we are moving towards together. Having photos, product samples, and sketches help define that for the client, staff, and project.

Design Charette Board at Iconica
Design Charette process at Iconica

With each other

Steve Carbin: The charrette atmosphere has changed from what they used to be in early architecture days. Now it is more interactive due to technology. Discussion about projects is open to everyone, not just the teacher or head of the department. I find them helpful to get buy-in from the team or additional ideas before presenting to a client.

Mitch Geertsen: Design Charettes are all about gaining and expanding perspectives. Everyone carries with them their own personal “WHY,” their own experiences and taste. Design charettes offer the opportunity for our projects to be impacted by these differing perspectives and values of Iconicans, both as part of and separate from the project specific team. It ensures that our designers are approaching every challenge with support and input from as many different perspectives as possible.

Isaac Wallace: The design charrette is how Iconica reinforces a culture of design that is fun to be a part of and continuously pushes participants to expand the way they think about a project. Charrettes bring fresh perspective to a project team and are a great way to develop new ideas and foster collaboration throughout the company.Design Charette process at Iconica

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