Architectural Design is a Verb

Marketing architectural design services as a value rather than a cost.

Image used under license from Depositphotos

or professional design services that enable the creation of a finished product, design is a verb. Design is the service provided to the client, rather than the finished product itself. The service is an orderly process to produce a plan that guides the eventual makers of a finished product. The finished product might be a building, a bridge, a power plant, or something as simple as a logo. With architectural design services, it is the sequence of events that draws out the client’s goals for the finished building.

The presentation of a finished building as a completed design is a recurring mistake on many architects’ websites. A finished product. A noun. Those websites will frequently discuss the materials in the photos as a component of the design. They might also use architecture professor-speak and talk vaguely about the theory that organizes the final layout. The websites seldom analyze the design process that guided the development of the project.

This is unfortunate because those websites are missing out on the perfect opportunity to convey to prospects what architects do to bring value to their clients. Because the photographs and accompanying discussion focuses entirely on the finished product, prospects may see the design phase services that preceded it as an impediment to overcome. Or worse, a cost to tolerate while getting what they want.

A better approach is a shift in point of view so that prospective clients view the design professional as an enabler of goals rather than a cost to endure. The way to make that shift happen is for architects to market what they actually DO for their clients. Design. As a verb.

How to do it?

Here are three steps to develop and portray a design process that adds value to the client.

Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room.

The single most effective way to build an appreciation for architectural design services is for architects to not try to be the smartest people in the room. The first step toward a design solution is problem-seeking rather than try to jump to problem-solving. The way to do that is to listen and document the responses to questions.

Listen to who?

Here’s where it gets challenging. It’s important that everyone knows that the design process is a time for vulnerability. It’s a time to let down our guards and be authentic with each other. Clients may need encouragement to bring a wide spectrum of their stakeholders into the process and encourage those people to speak up. Architects need to listen and document what they hear, and to probe deeper if there seem to be underlying issues that need more exploration.

When marketing your architectural design services, make it very clear in your website content that you are a listener rather than a so-called thought leader who may be difficult to work with.

A design charrette is a must-have for every project.

The reason this step is so important is that sometimes people don’t quite know what they want, or they can’t articulate it until they see something on paper. That first throw down of an initial idea breaks the dam and lets the ideas flow. It’s just easier for some people to react to something instead of proactively suggest an idea. Embrace it.

Depending on the complexity of the project, the design charrette can be an afternoon for a small project, or a multi-day event for a large project with a wide range of stakeholders. Encourage participants to pick up a marker, use scissors to cut out shapes and stick them on a plan, and especially to ask ‘what if’ type questions.

If the charrette exposes some severe disagreements between the stakeholders, that is a win because it means there hasn’t been enough agreement to the original premise of the goal. It’s time to back up and take a wider view. When this happens to a significant project for any organization, it may signal the need to bring in a change management consultant to review the internal operations and their relationship to each other in the physical space.

Document the charrette process with lots of pictures that show you interacting with your client(s). Think ahead to where the charrette will take place so that the photos will be attractive. Either hire a photographer or designate someone in your firm to be responsible for photography. Take photos in both the portrait and landscape aspects so you have choices later for the website layout.

I didn’t know it would look like this.

The most heart-dropping moment you can experience is when a client walks into their new space and says, “I didn’t know it would look like this.”

“What we got here is a failure to communicate.” — Struther Martin in Cool Hand Luke

This goes back to not trying to be the smartest person in the room. People don’t like to admit it when we aren’t following along, so we don’t speak up. Most people can’t read 2D plans and maps because the graphics are too abstract. They don’t speak up and admit that they do not understand, frequently because someone else is showing off. Allow the charrette to be a safe place where there are no stupid questions. Communication and confirmation of receipt of the message are key here.

For an architectural design, a literal sketch artist who can do quick perspectives on the fly can help everyone at the table visualize the final design well before it’s turned into concrete reality. With 3D virtual and augmented reality, you have the tools to do previsualizations. Use those tools!

In conclusion, design professionals would do better by changing the focus of your websites from showing pretty pictures of a final product, and instead, show how you got there as a design process. The design process is what you are really selling. Design as a verb.

Architect, writer, hopepunk. Fast, fun, cartoonish stories to inspire a positive vision of our collective future. We will all have to eventually live in it.