Case Study: Virtual Design Charette

July 21, 2020

These past few months have been critical for all builders and developers as they decide how to proceed. Many have continued to push forward, preparing now so they will be ready when the next wave of buyers comes knocking. With travel and in-person gatherings at an all-time low due to the coronavirus, BSB Design’s exclusive design charette process has shifted to rely solely on technology. 

Builders know that today’s design exercise creates tomorrow’s new home sales, and they are positioning themselves to outpace the competition. And since circumstances limit the opportunity for hands-on, in-person meetings, we’re conducting virtual charettes on a weekly basis, finding ways to build trust and consensus even when we can’t be in the same room.

Calling an Audible: Woodside Homes Transitions Mid-Stream

Senior Partner Brad Sonnenburg has conducted virtual charettes for years but noted that, “Pre-pandemic virtual charettes were a matter of client preference.” Today, conducting a charette virtually is often the only way to proceed within state and local mandates and guidelines for social distancing. Sonnenburg said, “With Woodside Homes, this led us to take a new home collection that was in pre-design stages before the pandemic and shift it to a virtual design process mid-stream – without missing a beat.” 

Woodside Homes (#28 on the 2020 Builder Top 100) was developing a new product line to be located in Tulare and Hanford, California. With project development only in the preliminary stages before coronavirus got rolling, Woodside could have suspended activity and put the project on hold. However, they knew that new product would win the day in the wake of the pandemic, and all the statistics pointed toward strong demand for new homes through 2020. So, they pressed forward by shifting to a virtual design charette.

nullBSB Design has been conducting virtual design charettes since the late 90s, but the current situation heightened the need for flawless execution, particularly from a technology standpoint. Since the design team was spread across a handful of BSB offices with work being directed and completed in Sacramento, our IT team connected with each BSB team member multiple times to test audio, video, file transfer, network speed, and to trouble-shoot a variety of other potential technology issues.

“Once we had everything in place, we sent Woodside Homes a detailed schedule, including their required participation in two 90 minute meetings per day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Sonnenburg. Although the Woodside team would be asked to review and comment on design development at other times during the week, their in-person commitment to the charette totaled 9 hours. In comparison, without the intense focus of a charette, the same output from a schematic design assignment might take several months.


Sonnenburg noted that the general process was the same as it would have been in person: “We began by delivering a pre-design presentation and got initial feedback from Woodside. They decided to remove one of the 10 plans and tweak a few others. Tuesday morning, we presented the newly updated plans and our teams collaborated to refine the floor plan designs. Later that day, the new plans were presented once again, and the process was repeated until we were left with 10 floor plans and three elevations for each plan.” Between client meetings, the BSB team utilized an internal portal through Microsoft Teams so they could work “in the same room” together.

For presentations, the team developed imagery differently than they would have in person, where all plans can be taped to the wall and seen in whole. Since this wasn’t possible in a virtual environment, the team presented plans sequentially by square footage, showing each individual plan and how it built on the last and led to the next. Doing so enabled a wholistic view of the collection even without our trusty drafting dots stuck to the conference room wall.  


Overall, the Woodside Homes virtual design charette was a huge success. The team experienced no technology issues thanks to preparation and a great IT team. A meticulously planned schedule ensured all key players from Woodside and BSB were present and on time, and both sides reduced travel and other reimbursable expenses. From a design standpoint, the product development timing was critical, and the team was able to address the influence of COVID-19 in real time as they considered how future buyers will want to live and what they are looking for in a house.

Check out this clip featuring Burke Bair, Principal in BSB Design’s Sacramento office, discussing potential COVID-19 related floor plan changes.

Woodside Homes commented that they could still get a great read on the room despite being virtual. Collaboration was different, but not hindered. The team adapted quickly to the virtual environment and found communication easier than they might have presumed.

COVID-19 has completely changed the way many people have to work and will likely have lasting effects. For us at BSB Design, we drew on past experience with virtual charettes to further enhance our processes. Our experience with Woodside Homes proves once again that we don’t all need to be in the same room to develop successful plans and forge trusting relationships.

If you want more information about BSB Design's virtual charette process, please contact Brad Sonnenburg