The 10 Commandments of Design Culture, Strategy and Communications

Two kinds of architects populate this universe: those who understand culture and communications as a critical part of running their practice and those who don’t.

Let’s do a little mental exercise and picture two architects, both mid-career, with very similar experience and talent:

  • Architect numero uno is deeply invested in the success of her business and although her talent has gotten her some attention, she understands that a prosperous company needs much more than sheer artistic genius. She invests equally in the success of her stakeholders: employees, client and suppliers. As a result, she gets work that’s profitable, that she’s passionate about and challenging but delightful clients, which often become her friends. Her employees are happy and invested in their work and her suppliers are very friendly and accommodating.

  • Architect numéro deux believes that his great talent alone will bring him all the work he needs to be successful. Alas, his reality is different and his business has a high turnover rate, his clients are often pissed off at his lack of professionalism and his suppliers have stopped any largesse after his nth unpaid bill. Yes, he got his big break when talent alone got him his first commission, but it hasn’t gotten any better since and he’s been riding that wave for 20 years. The cognitive dissonance between his idea of a successful business and his reality is staggering and sadly, doesn’t realize that business as usual will eventually, well, put him out of business.

As an architect, your success largely rests on your ability to create, develop and foster a purposeful culture that promotes value-based decision making and business practices as well as open and clear communications. It really boils down to the way the information flows between designers, clients, employees and suppliers. It starts with the way you communicate inside your company, with employees and suppliers, as well as outside, with clients and prospects.

Since we care greatly about your success and that of the industry, here are the 10 commandments of design culture, strategy and communications. If you’re practicing in this field, they will help you identify which areas you may need to work on and act as a guidepost to help you make the important decisions for your business:

1 •

Be purposeful and mission-driven:

A clear purpose and mission will serve as the foundation of every decision made inside your business.


2 •

Nail your values on your door:

Being vocal about what you stand for serves as an accountability tool internally and externally. When the going gets tough, it serves as a reminder to not cut corners.


3 •

Strive to speak human:

Speak to your stakeholders in their own language. To them, archispeak is gobbledygook and serves no purpose. Lose it.


4 •

Do your best to empathize and understand:

Your ability to empathize with your stakeholders, will defuse many tense situations and help you make the decisions that serve everybody’s best interest. Asking the right question is often all it takes to solve a seemingly intractable problem.


5 •

Be strategic:

Before you start solving problems, it is crucial to reframe, challenge assumptions and get to the bottom of the issue. Only then a suitable strategy will emerge.


6 •

Do not allow the commodification of your craft:

Only by using different behaviours, language and strategy from everybody else, you will distinguish yourself, be valued for your expertise and not be treated like a dispensable commodity.


Treat every stakeholder the way you want to be treated:

Your wise grandmother probably reminded you of that one all the time. Trust her wisdom.

7 •


8 •

Be honest and truthful:

Sometimes honesty is hard to deliver, but it will serve your relationships in the long term and build trust. If you’re honest with yourself, people will be honest with you.


9 •

Acknowledge, own and learn from your failures:

We all fuck-up from time to time. Accepting failure as part of the learning process is fundamental. If you’re unsure of what the lesson is, ask for help.


10 •

Experiment with new ideas:

There is more than one way to skin a cat. Give yourself room to experiment and play in order to create a culture of openness and innovation. We call it kicking fear in the nuts.


Bonus commandment:

When in doubt, less is more. Listen to Mies.