Establish Design Goals for Occupants

Step 1: Analyze target occupants and establish resident-related design goals for the project

“We strongly believe in understanding the needs and preferences of our target occupants before we begin any development project.  To help with the process, we have developed a very successful ‘community input package’ to help guide our design and development efforts.”

  • Jeff Levine,

Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority,
Richmond, Virginia

Why is this step important?
Exactly who the anticipated occupants or "users" of a development are has many important implications for the success (or failure) of the design. For example, the needs of young families are very different from the needs of elderly single people.

Defining the needs of future occupants in very specific, physical terms at the earliest stages of the project helps ensure that the development, both inside and out, will effectively meet those needs. In addition, the very activity of establishing design goals based on the users' needs helps make sure all participants are making the same assumptions about the physical design of the project from its earliest stages. As an added benefit, a clear description of the development's target group helps the surrounding community understand and value the aims your project is trying to serve.

When should this step be done?
During the Concept phase of development.

Who should do this step?
The owner/developer with input from user group(s) and the community. Professional design assistance would be very helpful at this stage.

What should be done?

  • Drawing on your own experience and on information gathered from other sources such as those mentioned below, fill out the User Activity Checklist to analyze and understand the specific needs of your future residents and to understand how these needs will impact the project's physical design.
  • As background for this process, consult the Activity-Based Design Overview essay.
  • Based on the results of the Checklist, develop a short (no more than a few paragraphs) statement describing the main, user-related design goals for the project.
  • Research existing facilities in your area that serve the same target population.
  • Contact regional HUD office for a list of recent projects funded.
  • Contact local/regional Housing and Community Development office for a list of recent projects funded in your area.
  • Contact local/regional community design centers or affordable housing coalitions for lists of recent projects.
  • Visit relevant projects, if possible, or contact the owner or property manager to discuss how residents use the facilities and grounds.
  • Contact possible funding sources for your project/user type and determine if they have any guidelines on user needs or activity patterns.
  • Contact organizations who support the target user population and determine if they have any guidelines on user needs or activity patterns.
  • Add the completed User Activity Checklist and the Statement of Resident-related Design Goals to the Project Book.

How can doing this help move my project forward?

  • A clear understanding of resident-related design goals for the project will simplify and clarify critical go/no go decisions early in the development process.
  • In particular, the User Activity Checklist helps streamline the "programming" phase of the design process and clarifies what the owner/developer needs from the design team.
  • A user needs analysis also provides useful input to the feasibility study normally developed for project funding.

Additional Resources
An example of a community input package used in Richmond, VA to gauge potential occupants' design and amenity preferences.

For a thorough guide to current Federal requirements for universal access - together with information on other, voluntary accessibility design tools - please refer to the resources in HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at