The RIBA Linkedin group has been hosting an interesting discussion thread called ‘Re-Educating Clients’ over the last few months in which I have been participating. You can see it by clicking the link above (but you need to join the group and be a member of Linkedin).
It is a fascinating discussion with a great deal of consensus around the positions ‘They don’t understand what we can do’ and ‘we should understand them better’. Then at the weekend Mark Raymond, an architect in Trinidad and Tobago, posted a link to one of the profane but amusing satirical conversations between a graphic designer and his client which is doing the rounds on Youtube at the moment.
NOTE: Please don’t watch it if you don’t like swearing.
The plot in essence is a conversation between the client who is asking for a huge amount of ill-defined work, delivered yesterday in exchange for a pittance, and a graphic designer whose response is to descend into more and more hideous insults. Its funny, and sad.
I find these videos telling. If the graphic designer can only insult the client he clearly hasn’t got a reply to the case for ‘free’ or ‘low cost’ graphic design. His response is a desparate, pointless exercise akin to gnawing your own arm off or banging your head against a (polished plaster) wall. It is madness.
Do architects really feel this way? How much pain is there in this industry?
If you really feel like this then you must stop injuring yourself and your firm and take stock. Now.
Marjanne Pearson says
Thanks for posting this constructive article. As my consulting partner, Nancy Egan (aka @newvoodou) always says, we need to be able to tell a potential client why they need us. The point is that an architectural client doesn’t know how to make architecture. The client knows that they want a building, but it requires the talent of the architect to visualize the project and make it real.
Along with an “elevator statement” that briefly describes what we do (and why we’re different from everyone else), we need to be able to tell someone how it will make a difference, and why that’s important.
What would such “elevator statement” look like? What is the best, most concise description of what we do? (besides of course, draw pretty pictures and play with colors all day)
Marjanne Pearson says
Here’s a link to an Elevator Pitch Builder from the Harvard Business School. Don’t be intimidated by the institution, it’s easy to use.
One of our clients (a small interior architecture practice in the San Francisco Bay Area) just adopted this:
Millican Jones combines a sustained belief in the power of design with real-world understanding of the business objectives of our clients. Champions of a larger project vision, advocates for the end-users, and stewards of our clients’ resources, we bring fresh insight and proven experience to clients for healthcare and workplace interiors.
What sets us apart is the extent to which we repeatedly integrate our client’s vision, signature design concepts, and best-practice elements within technologically ahead-of-the-art facilities. Patients, visitors, and staff in our environments benefit from a clear hierarchy of space, quiet elegance and comfort of design elements, ease of navigation, sophisticated use of technology, and connections to nature.
Does that help?
Not really. It seems like a convoluted statement, especially to laymen. I’m afraid we would be back to the original problem, “My Client Doesn’t Understand Me”.
I have this conversation coming up with a client that hired a contractor then an interior designer and then me. They insist on holding the contracts, but I get the impression that they don’t know what that means, much less what they’re doing.
That may actually be another conversation altogether. But I need a short 3-5 sentence paragraph that will let them know the overall advantage of hiring an architect. It needs to succinctly answer the question “what do you do?”
Thanks for your question, it is a good one which must be answered. I’ve had a go over on this post
Hope it is useful
Thanks very much to Avril Korman (aka @damnedgoodesign) for posting a response here:
Education is Key. It will, however, only go so far.
As a Chartered Architect and Design Manager (yes, I have gone over to the ‘dark side’), it is my experience that many architects do not understand what their responsibilities are. Last year, I received an outline specification from a leading international practice which required the Contractor to design most of the building. I was not sure what the Architect was then doing for his substatial fee. The brief basically! This may explain why the Architectural Profession cannot explain what it does because it actually does very little. I hope there are still architects out there who can tell a contractor on a drawing where they want a door handle fixed on a door. If the contractor decides this, he is then the designer.
mark raymond says
the issue of educating clients is an engaging one. whilst it is certainly true that architects could and arguably should go a lot further to communicate what they do as well as the value of what they do whether in the form of an ‘elevator pitch’ or not, the truth is that very often clients are represented not by the ‘you tube graphic designer client’ types but professionally trained people who are able to strip down and identify the weaknesses in the manner and form in which architects provide work and use these weaknesses to leverage financial benefits for their clients – an approach fervently embraced by most clients. in the USA the level and quality of construction documentation and post contract services is so much more clearly formulated, understood and implemented than in the UK and is a useful model on many levels. architects can improve client appreciation by articulating the nature of the services they provide and how this adds value to client needs. this is probably best done not by focusing solely on virtuoso design skills – which clients generally already assume you possess which is why they hire you in the first place – but by communicating in business terms the quality of the service that is provided and then most importnatly delivering it. the vast majority of clients are driven by price, place, promotion, product, person in that order whereas architects perceive that they are selected in terms of person, product, promotion, place and price. very little architectural education or professional practice training addresses this misconception and this maybe is where the problem lies…… by improving our understanding of business and value in business terms maybe we can adjust our promotion and relationships with clients and reassert our status. these skills are not only useful in terms of staying solvent but also an ethical responsibility in serving clients. the graphic designer clip is still very funny as it points out the gulf between the value and cost oriented preoccupation of the client and the product and self-orientation of the designer.
mark raymond says
the architectural version of the web designer scenario
mark raymond says
Hilary Williamson says
Some clients will never understand why they need an architect, let alone an accountant to do your tax returns, a lawyer for legal documents and a doctor for a professional diagnosis. Clients and patients of today have so much access to resources via the internet, which most is free, that they forget how important it is to use a real professional and actually pay for their services. And with the production of ‘home design’ software, contractors have taught themselves how to design what they will build. Some have been successfull, some have not. Clients may believe they are saving money by going this route, unaware that the contractor also charges for the time spent designing.
Have I noticed a trend in this housing market crash with many new homes left empty and undesirable due to being ‘too much house’ with unusable and odd space? Are these homes the work of a contractors design and not an architect? Though a large house may be what clients think they want, the trend may be here where architects can shine by proving that they can give a client ‘more house’ for their dollar, even if it means downsizing. And adding artistic elements with a solid structure will help ensure resale value.
But, like the other professions, clients are also looking for someone they can ‘relate’ to. Someone that makes them feel like they will be taken care of, and that their concerns will be addressed with great respect and their dreams fulfilled. You gotta hide the frustrations that come with clients. Most clients that come in guarded are truly just trying to protect their own assets. They need to feel safe in their investment with an architect and know they are going to see results in their finished project. Don’t you try to save money and cut corners where you think you can?
The architect is the composer and orchestrator of a project. Some clients don’t know what they want and need help in finding a design, while others know what they want, but need someone to bring it to life. Hopefully, a calm, confident architect who is always willing to evolve with the times and each client to create and bond relationships with not only their clients, but also the contrators and interior designers, so that THEY will also be the ones to explain to potential clients why they need an architect. Why they need you. Be the architect that people talk about and recommend to others. Be like the doctor with vast knowledge (and years of schooling), AND good bed-side manner. Word will get out, your client list will grow, and clients will stop searching the internet for cheap fixes.
Prove to them that you can design ‘more house’ for their dollar. Or, you can continue beating your head on your desk wondering why your clients don’t get it.
Through start up architecture and interior design firm experience, we have encountered several jobs that required yes-man contractor with a bit of aesthetic sense rather than a professional designer.
To relieve yourself from this scenario, understand what or who they really need and if they simply want someone to produce drawings and build, then simply guide them in that direction. It will save a lot of headache and unnecessary expenses both for you and for clients.
It’s simply not worth it if you can’t convince the client of design importance and procedures, and it is not worth it for the client if the designer does not know what the clients want.