Over the last three months I’ve been interviewing designers – architects, landscape architects and interior designers, about how they find construction products online. One result of this work is a series of video interviews, the third of which is with Landscape Architect Adam White FLI – where he describes how he uses ESI.info and the External Works directory to find products and suppliers for a project for Coventry City Council.
I’ve learned a great deal along the way, about how specifiers and designers use construction product directories, how frustrating it is to find the right stuff online, and how valuable trusted directories can be when they take their data online and make it available to specifiers in a practical way.
Here is a summary of my thoughts on the issue. I’d be interested in hearing your experiences as designers about how you source products and what matters to you, and I’d be interested to know your experiences of using ESI.info and its free myESI service. Please add your comments below.
1. Designers sometimes need very basic information
Early on in a project, many architects and designers might only want to know if a product, solution or service exists, and who provides it.
This was illustrated by Matt Franklin in our interview about sourcing balustrades. Sometimes you only need to collect together some contact details ready for the next stage. Sometimes you’re just looking for ways to generate ideas about a design solution.
2. Its not your product, its our problem
An architect looking for a service or product is not going to want to read about how wonderful a company or product is. We will usually have a design problem we want to solve. Does this company provide a solution so we can get on with the job?
A good construction product directory can make comparing similar products and services much simpler, helps us answer that problem quickly and provides us with the information to move on to the next stage in the process.
3. Information is useful only if it is trustworthy
One of the problems with googling for construction product information is we have no idea whether the content we find on the internet is credible or not. Is the company still trading? Is the information still relevant? A construction product manufacturers website may look kosher, but how do I know that I can trust it?
Adam White pointed out this issue in his interview. He works with public sector clients who are going to be sending information on to councillors and parish councillors. A site like ESI.info is constantly updating and vetting its content, so that specifiers like Adam have come to trust it. This trust can be passed on to our clients with confidence.
4. Information must be Shareable
When I’m looking for information about services and products online, I’m likely to want to pass the information on to other people. Adam’s experience of working with public sector clientsis a good example of this. His clients will be unable or unwilling to browse around a whole host of websites, and he needs to provide the information to them in a form they can absorb easily.
So Adam uses the myESI service to save company and product information in folders, and then sends links to the relevant companies out to his clients via email. This saves time and also provides the information in the same, easy to navigate format for each company. Share buttons on the ESI.info pages even enable further sharing.
5. Information should be free
You know this is a bugbear of mine! I’m constantly coming across construction product companies who don’t provide their data free to specifiers. Why not? Your specifier is your advocate. Making them pay to put your product on their drawing is counterproductive.
If you make your downloads available on a site like ESI.info then specifiers can find them and get you involved that much more quickly.
6. We’ll find the way that works for us
Designers and Architects source product information in different ways, both online and offline.
In the three videos we’ve seen three examples of this.
Architect Matt uses the universal search tool on ESI.infoto draw up key word related products and then filter down by images. Images give him cues about the products, but also about the company that makes them, and what applications – domestic, commercial, etc – they are provided for.
Interior Designer Francoise uses the product categories to drill down into the information on the ESI.info website to see what’s available. That way she can see all the timber flooring, then just the Walnut, or just the FSC certified timber flooring options. This gives her an overview and enables her to compare similar products for performance, size, wear layer, in fact whatever factors the product manufacturers choose to label.
Landscape Architect Adam likes to use the External Works hard copy directory to find companies, and then searches for the companies on ESI.info. The website gives him more information, he’s happy it is right up to date, and it becomes simple for him to share with others.
7. Technical libraries aren’t dead, but…
Each one of my interviewees used hard copy information to a greater or lesser extent, and this is true for many users of the Endat Standard Indexes as a whole. The directories are trusted documents, but a website version has its advantages. You can be sure the information is current, you can see a much wider range of information and much greater depth, and you only need an internet connection to access your folders of product information, and the directories, anywhere.
Users of the ESI.infowebsite aren’t clearly identified as against hard copy – not at all. Francoise always asks for brochures to be sent, Adam uses External Works in hard copy as part of the process, we all use the techniques that work the best for us.
When you think about it, we’ve come a long way from printed product information, but like the telephone, this doesn’t mean we have to stop using it. Sometimes the computer helps, sometimes it doesn’t.
Over to you
Does what I’ve described chime with your experience of looking for construction products? Are you an online directory user, a googler, a hard copy fiend or all three?