Last week I asked the Question,
“When I say the word Architect, what comes to mind?”
and posted the question here on the blog, on linkedin and via my twitter account to as many people as possible, asking them to post up their responses via the seedkeywords website. All 166 results can be viewed in public here and you can play with the wordle image here.
Looking at the results in detail there are a number of themes.
The group of famous architects and characters playing architects includes Frank Lloyd Wright, le Corbusier, Tom Hanks (Sleepless in Seattle), Mike Brady of the Brady Bunch, David Childs, Frank Gehry, George Clarke (Build a new Life in the Country) Jim Belushi, Howard Roarke (The Fountainhead) and most popular of all, George Costanza from Seinfeld.
Clearly most people think of people who design buildings, and some have views about the use of the word ‘architect’ for other professions such as web architects, naval architects etc.
There are a group of positive comments such as ‘creative, passionate, brilliant’, ‘the mother of all artists’
There is a thread of negative comments about architects including the phrases
‘Someone obsessed with space, probably because they have a lot of it between their ears’
‘Slow, delays, inconsistency with engineer’s drawings’
‘design building they want, not what the client wants’
‘unemployed’ and ‘redundancies’
There are several mentions of money and expense, and several of cleverness.
There is some tenderness too – such as ‘Creative, Impractical Luvvies’
And there are some comments that could go either way, such as
‘little boxes’ (a great song by Pete Seeger)
‘Are confused by humour’
‘Delete vinyl, insert carpet’
A further group have made the connection between artistic endeavour and practicality, either positively or negatively. There is a clear strand of thought in some that architects aren’t in the real world, yet others feel they bridge between the real world and imagination.
Some think architects are bald. Some think they wear bowties, black roll-neck sweaters and use Apple Macs. Another thinks ‘Male, 35 years old, white, casual, long rulers, large inclined tables’.
The most common buildings mentioned are office buildings, houses and monuments. Then there’s Venice, the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal.
Is it what you expected?
Why does it matter?
The reason why I am interested in what other people think of architects is that its part of my brand, of my company’s brand. When you say to someone ‘I run a practice of architects’ you want to know what comes to mind, so that you can be prepared for what they don’t say as much as what they do.
Lets try an example. If a friend tells you about a new product, what do you do? You go and search on google for it, right? And on the first page of google is the public perception of that product. The views of friends and even other consumers on the internet are more valid to consumers today than the blurb on the company website. Thanks to Mitch Joel, author of ‘Six Pixels of Separation‘ for this example.
Some may prefer not to have these views aired, possibly because they fear that giving them a platform somehow reinforces them. The fact is that these views are held, good or bad.
Your brand has an image and it’s not what you say on your website.
What matters is that public perceptions of architects (and these are just a few taken in a straw poll) are significant to the way individuals perceive your business.
If like me you look at these perceptions and say ‘that’s got nothing to do with what we do’ then you and I have something in common – a job to do.
Andy Marshall says
Su, I think you are right when you say (in terms of branding) we need to look for the gaps, lapses and silences in all responses to architects and architecture. In a similar way, as an architectural photographer I have always looked for what is ‘intangible’ in a structure as well as what is ‘tangible’. Thought provoking piece.
Thanks Andy, I’m looking forward to using some of your photography in my presentation later in the month. Looking for some good gaps!
Nikki Pilkington says
Well I’m disappointed that one of my suggestions “Su Butcher” didn’t make it into the article 🙂
Interesting to see the different opinions though!
Well having taken your advice Nikki, I’m pleased to think that I come to mind in this context, must be doing something right.
Congratulations for making it onto “The Most Influential Small Business Twitter List” too!
Brian Woodroof says
I agree 100% that regardless of what a firm wants their public perception to be, the reality is what matters. The only way to change it is to engage the public and show them who a firm truly is through the firm’s actions. Talk all you want, but actions will change perceptions.
This was a topic of some discussion at Be2Camp at Working Buildings conference this morning with many speakers discussing built environment people (including Estate Agents) using social media.
You have to get stuck in and engage people, be yourself and show your brand by your actions. Well said.
Angela Carr says
Sobering reading, Su – I’m now in a quandary…
I don’t wear a bow-tie (at least not since a dance-recital when I was 6);
I don’t use a Mac (though I do concede they ARE very pretty);
I don’t possess a black polo neck (they do nothing for me, according to Trinny & Susannah);
I am not male
possession of a sense of humour has not yet sent my mental faculties into disarray…
Can it be that I’m not actually an architect at all?!