The thought of a remodeling project often overwhelms clients, especially first-timers. So three years ago, Alpha Remodeling, a design/build company in Ann Arbor, Mich., broke its design process down into "bite-sized" pieces.

In the first phase, the company consults with the client on project goals and what components clients would like. Then Alpha creates anywhere from two to five conceptual drawings, including floor plans and elevations.

"We then sit down with the client, review the plans, and request written input," says Alpha president Allan Lutes. With written feedback, the company proceeds to a final conceptual design, written estimate, and specifications.

The third and final phase is design development, which produces detailed specifications for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems and involves trade contractor visits.

Lutes says getting written feedback through each phase "forces clients to go through a more detailed thought process," leading to more focused input. Client input tended to be vague when the company relied on verbal discussion. Written feedback also provides more complete documentation.

Breaking the design process down into pieces "lets clients know exactly what they have to do between now and the next meeting," Lutes says. "It lets them know we've thought this out, that it's manageable, because we're there to guide them to a truly custom project."