How to start an architecture or design company

How to start an architecture or design company

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Class Description


Develop the skills and knowledge to address the broad range of business and legal needs of the architect or interior design professional. Class curriculum covers business development, financial management and strategic planning. You study practical aspects of the design business, including project management, contracts, record keeping, licensing, ways to limit your liability, and the legal and ethical aspects of the profession.


This course explores the "nuts and bolts" of the design business, including business formats, organizational structures, project management, creating business and marketing plans, fee estimating, proposal writing, fee structures, contracts, record keeping, and licensing.


The key to having a viable business is the ability to sell and market yourself and your services. One third of the class is marketing and public relations.


The course will be divided into three parts


1. The business of design
2. Outward Facing Office Business Practice
3. In-house business practices


Upon the completion of the course, students will see that there are essential business practices that are not part of any traditional design training, but rather, how to run an actual design business. They will be able to:


• Learn key components to marketing, sales and presentations
• Identify the designer’s role and the structuring of a design office
• Write a list of conditions and services that might be included in a contract
• Knowledge of different types of business relationships
• Understand what is a business plan
• How does a marketing plan work and have an understanding of strategic planning
• Understand the importance of communications, conflict resolution, and use of business applications and processes
• Understand what a is a proposal/letter of agreement
• Learn about fee distribution
• Understand project management and each of the design team members and their roles
• Calculate a fee and have an understanding of compensation
• Know how to prepare a budget and schedule
• Understand business formats, employment issues, fee structures, how to limit liability
• Understand what “professionalism” is.


Class Requirements


This is an extensive and detailed training in how to build a small practice as an architect or interior designer. The course is not meant for amateurs, but for those who already have substantial training in the field. A degree in architecture or design is strongly suggested.


The purpose of this class is to prepare young practitioners for starting their own office, and giving you the tools to protect yourself, understand critical issues in building a firm, and how to actually get started.


Class Supplies


Recommended readings will be suggested, but not required.



Do I have to already be graduated from an architecture or design school to take this class?

Not necessarily.


However, a substantial knowledge of the design process is required in order to benefit from the instruction fully. This is not a good place to explore whether to become an architect or designer.


Rather, if you are already well on your way, and are thinking of starting your own firm, this is a solid basis for a good way to start.

What is the instructor's experience in this area?

Joel Karr was the owner of three separate architecture and development firms over a 20 year period. The firms were all sold or merged into other larger firms. He taught this course at U.C. Berkeley’s professional extension division as a required course. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience along with lots of funny stories to illustrate what to do and what not to do!

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