I was delighted to get a phone call at the end of last year from a digital agency that has been commissioned to help the RIBA decide what to do with their online directory of practices. At last!
As you may be aware I’m a champion of the online RIBA directory, but I think it is an awful service, and blogged about a change at the end of 2008* which led to click-throughs to our website plummeting to almost nothing. As a result our half hour conversation covered much of the same ground.
Where do you look for an architect?
Now if you were looking for an architect, wouldn’t you think that the RIBA was a good place to go? Their website address is www.architecture.com pretty obvious. If you are an architect wouldn’t you think that one of the purposes of the RIBA should be to promote architects?
As it happens, the promotion of architects to potential clients doesn’t appear as a headline purpose for the RIBA, indeed looking for the topic on the RIBA website eventually turns up that one of Member Services’ aims is:
“To provide relevant support to clients requiring architectural services.”
So as it turns out, promoting architects isn’t really an important purpose of the RIBA at all, which explains perhaps why their ‘Find an Architect’ service is so dire.
What has the RIBA done for you?
One of the subjects the interviewer and I drifted into was the way architects, and particularly ‘provincial’ architects, perceive the RIBA and what it is about. I don’t think I would be contradicted too heavily if I said that many architects in the regions of England see the RIBA as an expensive members club in London which does very little for them with the things that matter, particularly these days, like help them get work.
Yet the RIBA could make so much of their website to deliver a service direct to every Chartered architect in the country, promoting not only the whole idea of what it means to use an architect, why it matters and what good you can get out of it, but also which architects in your area are just right for your project. Which ones have the specific experience, attitude and culture you want to deal with. Which ones are loved by their clients, not just by the trade press.
A full functioning directory of architects would be:
- Directly accessible via google;
- Visually compelling;
- Easy to navigate by the search terms ordinary people use;
- Showcase architects personalities, not just their categories; and
- Deliver results into which you can filter and drill down, creating a shortlist you can mail direct or a list of names and phone numbers to call.
I hope that this exercise the RIBA has embarked upon will delivery a real step change in the way the RIBA works for its members.
A step change in promoting architects as well as architecture.
My original post about the RIBA’s online directory is here: What’s wrong with the RIBA Clients Advisory Service?
Mark Stephens says
You could swap the letters RIBA for the RIAI and a similar argument could me made for the possible improvements that could be made to search for a suitable architect in Ireland
that’s interesting to know. I had a search for ‘Architect Ireland’ and came up with the RIAI site on the first page of google but that’s not surprising, as the same thing happens with RIBA if you search for ‘Architect England’.
The RIAI website does have a ‘Thinking of Hiring an Architect?’ button which is a sight more direct than Architecture.com’s tortuous route. Have you got any leads from it?
Mark Stephens says
The RIAI currently has an interesting system where prospective clients post their project on a third-party web site (www.onlinetrademen.com) and you the architect then bids against other architects to get the contact details (the client receives your info even if you don’t win their details); there’s an extra cost to be in this and the results (personally) are disappointing.
Simon Thompson says
It sounds good RIBA is undertaking this kind of exercise.
I hope the agency is interviewing potential customers as its priority. If the site doesn’t meet their needs, it will fail. Those of us responsible for managing a firm’s online presence are an important secondary audience for obvious reasons.
That’s an extremely important point Simon. After all, if you want to sell chocolate bars to housewives you make a TV ad they’ll remember. First rule of marketing: spot the target!
Hana Loftus says
A few comments:
You are right: it would be v useful for clients to have an accessible directory that doesn’t just list who is out there but gives some idea of their strengths, experience, capacity etc.
Importantly a directory needs to be independent and this is where we worry about the RIBA. Our perspective is that it is not at all independent about who it promotes, as a result of it being a paid-for membership org, like a business club. I.e. if you have paid to be a chartered practice, you would probably expect to be able to write your own profile but is this in the client’s best interests? We really like the publications the Architecture Foundation did a few years ago on new British architects for the reason that they did a good job of describing who was out there and what kind of work they would be suitable for, in a client-friendly manner but independent as they weren’t asking practices to stump up in order to be included.
More broadly and as per our tweets, we feel the RIBA offers us almost nothing as a small practice operating outside the usual cliques. The only reason we don’t cancel our individual subs is that it is a pain to reactivate them if you change your mind. But we really object to having to pay more to be a chartered practice, registered client advisor, etc etc. Seems to us that the RIBA is more interested in fleecing architects for their money than offering a service. Not to mention how expensive their add-ons are such as NBS, CPD sessions etc…
So a directory that only covers architects who have ‘bought in’ to being a chartered practice seems to be limited (although if it was really good, it might affect whether people like us bought into being a chartered practice.)
It seems that the remit of the RIBA as a spokesperson for ‘architecture’ may conflict with its job representing those who have bought into being members. We know plenty of people who have decided not to maintain their RIBA subs and only go with ARB, yet they are not worse architects. RIBA is very covert to clients/government about this conflict of mission and yet does nothing to persuade the sceptics within the profession that it really does offer a broad church and good service that we should want to buy into. It’s a shame that there isn’t any competition…
Thanks for taking the time to post your considered view Hana.
I hope that your challenge to the RIBA receives some kind of constructive response. What do we get for the money?
Aside from the issue of independence, I have a feeling the audience could easily be there on architecture.com if a reasonable effort was made to make the service work. And if the RIBA doesn’t want to deliver that service, where else do people find the architect they want online?
Irish Architects says
very nice post !
I congratulate and thank you
you can find more with us.
Architect Dublin,Irish House Designs
,and Architects Ireland
Hello DLH Architects,
Thanks for your comment but that wasn’t quite what I had in mind…
Ryan Briggs says
Interesting article Su.
We will gladly do anything we can to make http://www.tcn.uk.com a great resource for Architects to share information and be found.
As you know it’s been created by Industry people for Industry people throughout the built environment and is completely independent.
We are looking to work with industry bodies and associations aswell as colleges and universities to engage with the next generation of talent.
I’d encourage anyone to register via http://www.tcn.uk.com and let us know what ideas you might have?