Had a very good meeting with a designer on the weekend. She is an architectural technologist, and she came to the house on Saturday to show us her portfolio and discuss how she works. She was recommended to us by a friend in the building trade, and she seems to know her stuff. Next step is to get some references from her and check on them.
So will the references and her portfolio tell us what we need to know? Probably not. Choosing a professional is, I'm starting to realize, as much art as science: you do the basic homework, and then you go with what your gut tells you. We both had a good feeling about her, and in our two hour meeting she offered up several tips that sounded like they would save us money (including advising us which surveyors have a reputation for being more expensive -- I would have thought that was one area in which prices didn't vary by too much. Apparently not.)
If we hire her, the next step is to tour the property with her and show her our list of wishes, wants, needs and don't wants. Then she puts together a concept drawing, we comment, it gets amended, and we keep going back and forth until we're ready for... construction drawings! Woo Hoo! Which we can then show to builders and find out that we can't afford to build what we just spend weeks designing. Or so the pessimist in me says. But one step at a time.