What to expect: the process
Every architecture firm operates a little differently but below are the main phases that most of them will go through during the design process.
01 / schematic design
During this phase the main focus is space planning, i.e. how much space do you want prescribed for each function. If you project in a house that would include how many bedrooms, what size kitchen, how much living/entertaining space etc. The product of this phase will be this simplest of "floor plans" more like blocks of space laid out next to each other, with little to no detail.
02 / design development
This is the fun part of the process, you get to design your dream space. In this phase you will get to select the finishes, fixtures, and appliances for your project. You will usually go through a couple rounds of narrowing down the floor plan which will include plenty of images to show you what it would look like. Once you have agreed on the floor plan you will pick colors and finishes, this phase usually includes some 3-D images so you have get a true feel for the space. At the end of this phase you should know the end product should look like unless your contractors come in over budget and you have to value engineer.
03 / contractor bidding/negotiation
Once you are happy with the design of your space your architect should complete a pricing set of documents. These will have all the information the contractors need to give you the most accurate bid for your project. This is not the set of construction documents that will be turned into the city for permitting but it shouldn't be far off. Once the contractors have had adequate time (about 3 weeks) to price your job they will present their bid to you usually in a face to face meeting so they can explain their numbers. After you have met with all the contractors you get to decide who you would like to complete your project.
04 / construction documents
This phase requires little to no effort on the clients part. The architects are adding all the final information that the building department will need to approve your project and release your contractor to start construction.
05 / permitting
Once the construction documents are complete they get turned into the city for permitting. This process varies depending on your city and how many questions they city has for your contractor and architect. The average time in Jacksonville is 3-4 weeks to receive the final permit approval.
06 / construction
After your contractor has received the building permit construction can begin. The length of this phase varies depending on what type of project it is, but during this phase you should expect regular contact from your contractor and possible your architect depending on if your contract included construction administration. If your contract with the architect does include construction administration then they should be in communication with your contract to insure that everything is built to the exact specifications that you agreed on. If you can afford to have your architect include construction administration in your contract, do it, it will save you time and frustration having to deal with the contractor.