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6 Questions to Ask BEFORE You Hire an A/V Consultant

If you are planning a project with audio or video involved, someone has to design these technology systems. This decision will impact the facility for years. Maybe decades. Should you use someone from your staff? An electrical engineer? A low voltage systems integrator? An independent design consultant? Regardless of the type of person you select, what questions can you ask to tell if the person or company is a good fit for your needs? The answers depend on the type of project, timeline and budget.

The design of audio, video and technology for facilities is unique because there is a lack of standards in the marketplace. This means that it’s not just important but absolutely essential to find someone with significant experience. More importantly, they have to have the right kind of experience. This can be tough to even know where to begin. First, let’s cover the six questions that you should ask any technology consultant before getting them involved in your project.

What experience do they have in your particular context?

Overall experience is great, but you want to make sure that you are not the first classroom, casino or church on your consultant’s resume. Overall experience can carry over greatly into the inner workings of a system, but this is not a substitute for the deep understanding of user needs that is gained in the course of a project. Try not to be the guinea pig. If there is someone you really want to work with, who doesn’t have experience in your exact type of facility, maybe there is someone they can bring on-board to clarify operational requirements. At the very least, be certain that you have someone on the owner’s staff that can accurately communicate the exact workflow needs.

What experience do they have with the scope?

Audio designers don’t necessarily make good video designers. Video designers don’t necessarily make good lighting designers. Lighting designers probably shouldn’t be tackling acoustics. Might seem pretty obvious, but make sure your design team isn’t biting off more than they can chew

What experience do they have as part of a design team?

This is often a challenge for smaller AV design/build firms. If you are accustomed to contracting to an owner or general contractor, rather than working as part of a design team under an architect, you may not understand the workflow. This can be a bigger problem that you might suspect.

Many integration firms cut their teeth either by working on bid projects designed by someone else and doing gradually larger turnkey projects. In these cases, there are several requirements that have either been handled by a consultant, or are not a requirement due to the smaller size of the project. Just make sure that the person that you are considering for design services has experience with designs of similar scale, not just experience in implementing designs that were created by someone else.

Do they have real world experience?

There is no substitute for experience. Obviously, you don’t want to needlessly reduce your available pool of candidates, but everything else being equal, it is always helpful to have someone who has at least some form of AV operator experience. This helps “put the designer in the user’s shoes,” to consider concepts like operator booth ergonomics and workflow. We cover this in much greater detail in our Consultant Interview Checklist.

After all, a good system design centers around its user base as a core consideration. A good designer starts by asking how many people will be available to operate a system. Running a broadcast studio with 10 people is a much different experience than trying to accomplish the same functions with half the staff. This always must be a consideration.

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Brad Gallagher leads the Base4 Technology team. Brad is an evangelist for creating architecture and technology in harmony, based on specific project goals. He is a strong advocate for eliminating marketing hype and explaining technology in a way that people can clearly understand. For more insight, you should follow me on twitter.