Truth Is Golden ep. 209 - I Could Have Been Throwing Rocks At Goats w/ Jan Lorenc

In Episode 209, I spoke with Polish-born designer and architect Jan Lorenc, principal of Lorenc + Yoo, a leading experiential design firm based out of Atlanta. Jan spoke about his upbringing in communist Poland and his subsequent move to the US at age eight, when the weight of communist policies and constant shortages of basic goods became too much to bear for his family. He also spoke about how this early life experience shaped his drive and work ethic. Listen in to hear Jan's journey through life and how he got to become the respected designer he is today.

About the podcast: The intent behind our podcast series "Truth Is Golden" is to look at renowned creatives and their work with a critical eye. We aim to ask deep questions in order to peel back the layers of marketing, clever one-liners and sexy branding. We want to show the world what it truly takes for genuinely creative forces to find their own voice build a career on what is very often nothing more than a drive to do things differently. We want to hear about the successes, the failures, the inspirational stories and the lessons gleaned from all of it. We want the truth, so that we can inspire other people to fulfill their own creative aspirations and in the process contribute to making the world a better place.



The moral obligation of a designer

By Arnaud Marthouret, ~5 min reading time.

 Image courtesy of  @kaboompics

Image courtesy of @kaboompics

Let’s get a little personal, shall we?

Years ago, I attended a world-famous design school, which shall remain nameless, that had just completed a brand-new shiny building the year before I enrolled. Said building was designed by a Tier-B starchitect. Not someone of the caliber of a Frank, Renzo or Zaha, but rather the architecture equivalent of a minor TV celebrity. Well known in the design world, but a virtual stranger to non-architects.

This architect was notorious for designing buildings which were colorful, playful and whimsical, but also equally painful to inhabit. From difficulty to maintain, to poor construction, without forgetting being highly uncomfortable to their occupants. At the time, this new design school building was the talk of the town and the reason I even knew the school existed in the first place. It was an exciting time to be part of a cohort of students who were pegged as a pioneering class in a visionary school. This new shiny building that I was to spend two years of my life in, alas, was no different from the architect’s previous designs, as my experience would later demonstrate.

It turned out that all the hype about the building was just that. The visionary culture the school seemingly demonstrated, was but a thin layer of shiny but fragile varnish, much like its flagship building was but a vacuous shell, colourful and playful on the outside, with nothing of substance to show for inside. The designers had spent so much time, effort and money into making the building look unique and radical, that they had completely forgotten some of the most important stakeholders in the process: the users, who were living in the building day in and day out, burning the midnight oil on a regular basis. We had to put up with suffocating, generic spaces, poorly lit and even more poorly climate controlled, too hot, too cold, too bright, too dark. It was never to be comfortable.


Up to code or up to snuff?

Needless to say that the building was up to code, but like many, many other buildings before it, it turns out that up to code is hardly a gauge of quality when it comes to the way we, little humans, inhabit space. It begs the question: what is the responsibility of the designer in those matters?

It is understood that when it comes to executing something as big and complex as a building, there are many moving parts to oversee and that some of it is bound to fall outside of the designer’s responsibility. Contractors, consultants and sub-trades all have a part of responsibility in the ultimate success of a building. However, when a building turns out to be a monumental pain in the ass, for reasons which can be traced back to the way it is designed, then the moral responsibility of the building’s failure to perform falls squarely on the designer.

This is where, we have the moral obligation to take ownership of the work we do. Mike Monteiro wrote about it when speaking about visual designers. I believe designers of buildings have the same responsibility. The responsibility of ensuring that what is being built is not only going to stand up for a long time, but is going to have a positive impact on its occupants. We now have a pretty good grasp of what constitute good, healthy environments for their occupants. Natural light, colours, acoustics, temperature, social interactions, access, vegetation, air quality, textures, materials, etc., all play a part in the way we perceive and gauge the quality of an environment. The science behind each and every one of these factors is by now well established. How is it that buildings that cannot accommodate their occupants in ways that are if not positive, at the very least neutral, are still being built?


Less Facebook, more Bruce Campbell.

Facebook has a history of causing damage to some of their users, because they fall between the cracks and are considered statistical outliers. These statistical outliers are people and what facebook does to them affect their lives. The same goes for architecture. There are examples of places where certain categories of users are completely forgotten and left to deal with spaces that make their life and work miserable.

This is not to say that there aren’t good buildings out there, because there most definitely are. But, I believe the tendency to cut corners because budgets are low and clients want their project completed yesterday. I get it, we’re often squeezed between a rock and a hard place and it’s quite stressful. However, there is hope.

By taking ownership of the value of your work and start pushing clients back when they insist on cutting corners and doing short-sighted or even indubitably dumb things, there is an opportunity to build an expertise in a particular niche where you can over time, become comfortable with defending your ideas and expertise, which in turn will be more valuable because now you stand for something and can demonstrate the value of your thinking tangibly. While it may turn some people off, it will also attract people that are aligned with your values and willing to pay a premium for your services.

Deep expertise in one area comes at the expense of unfit clients, a good thing to thrive for in my opinion. Not unlike a good horror b-movie, it’s not for everyone but those who like it are usually very engaged fans.

Strive to be the Bruce Campbell of architecture.


Further reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/oct/14/communities.arts

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/jul/21/architecture


Arnaud Marthouret is the founder of rvltr and leads their strategy, visual communications and media efforts. He has helped numerous architects and interior designers promote themselves in their best light - pun intended - in order to help them run more effective practices and grow in a meaningful way.

If you have questions about this article or rvltr, or want to chat about your strategy and communications, you can leave a comment, share with a friend, or reach him at arnaud{at}rvltr.studio.

How Great Architecture Firms Ruin Everything

By Dave Sharp, ~4.5 min read.

Everett Rogers, a communications expert, wrote the bible on product adoption in his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations. In it, he explained the five stages an innovation goes through on its journey to becoming a household name:

  1. Innovators

  2. Early Adopters

  3. Early Majority

  4. Late majority

  5. Laggards

An idea begins with a small, forward-thinking group, then it slowly goes mainstream via four main elements: the objective value of the innovation, communication channels, time and a social system.


In short: Do good work. Talk about your work. Wait. Meet new people.

That is super simple right? However, I understand what it's like to be an ambitious, controlling person who refuses to think long-term or leave things to chance; who makes simple things complicated just to feel challenged and productive rather than redundant and bored. In the first two years of my business, I threw out my business model on a weekly basis. My positioning was whatever I thought people wanted to pay for. I was different for every client. I got to the stage where if I was in a meeting and noticed a client perk up at the idea of a certain service, I'd rush home and rebuild my website. One week I was a Facebook ad agency. Then a copywriting agency. Then an Instagram specialist. I was like a van driving around town with a pile of magnetic signs in the back, slapping up something new every time. When that became a confusing mess, I tried putting up all of the signs at once - "I do everything for everyone."

Eventually, I decided the paint the damn van.

I learnt that you really just need to choose a thing and focus.

Stick to it.

The leap from early adopters to the early majority, from non-architects to the general public, is the part where we all get stuck. It's known as "crossing the chasm". In hindsight, I can see that my crappy positioning was just an attempt to avoid the truth: I was scared of the leap from my own personal network to the rest of the industry.

I was scared of the chasm.

It's an intimidating name because it's where most firms lose momentum and fail. It's the dangerous stage plenty of my clients are at when they seek out my consulting services. They've survived through the first few years of their firm's life just by tapping their personal network. Their small, forward-thinking, highly innovative projects have started a wildfire in the industry–but their work is still misunderstood or ignored by the mainstream, the non-architect.

The level of hype around their firm and their monthly invoices are worlds apart. When they approach me to work on their marketing, there's a dead giveaway that they're panicking at the edge of the chasm. "We've been doing great, as you know, with residential clients - but we want to start breaking into larger public and commercial..." I respond: "Okay, so who are you interested in targeting in the public and commercial space?"

They reply: "... forward-thinking, innovative decision-makers."

Notice what happened there? Facing the chasm, the moment where their work is just about to reach the non-architect, the early-majority–they turn back and look for safe harbour amongst the innovators. Moreover, terrified of repetition, they want to do something totally different to the thing that got them where they are today.

They approach the chasm by jettisoning their positioning, audience, and portfolio that they have been building consistently since the day they decided to start their own firm. They're busy scraping the paint off the side of their van just when they need to be painting on a fresh coat. Don't throw out the game-plan when you're winning at half time. Crossing the chasm is about refining your positioning, saying no to certain opportunities, and ramping up your communications to spread the word.


Why don't creative people stick to the plan?

In any other domain of professional service, an expert will seek out repetition and specialisation. By doing the same sort of thing over and over again, you begin to recognise the patterns, and this intelligence helps you to do a better job for your clients. You develop competency and efficiency. Word begins to spread. Position that intelligence around an appropriately sized niche and your business becomes un-interchangeable and thrive.

So why do creative professionals, and architects in particular, only get excited when they're faced with a brief to do something they've never done before? And more importantly, why do we see that as the bridge that will give us safe passage over the chasm from early adopters to early majority? Survivorship bias reminds us of famous architects who did lots of different things and somehow rose to the top. Frank Gehry renovated his house, then did the Guggenheim, right?

Ignore Frank, and starchitects like him. They're the exception that proves the rule. You don't hear about the thousands of firms who slowly went out of business because they couldn't focus. Effective professionals, the ones who make the most money and have the biggest impact, carve out a groove and perfect what they do. Effective professionals do good work, talk about it, wait, meet new people and repeat.

It's really that simple.


Dave Sharp is our first regular contributor and the founder of Vanity Projects, a social media marketing agency for entrepreneurial architecture firms. Dave’s Master's degree in architecture and work in small practices in Australia and Japan have helped him to gain a broad perspective on the architecture industry that allows him to see trends and opportunities that most people don’t and help his clients benefit from it.

If you have questions about this article, or rvltr, or want to chat about your strategy and communications, you can leave a comment, share with a fiend, or reach us at hello@rvltr.studio.


Truth Is Golden ep. 206 - Loosen Up A Little, with Paul Petrunia

In episode 206, the third instalment in our series on LA creatives, Paul Petrunia talked about his upbringing in the Canadian prairies, how Arthur Erickson influenced him to be an architect, his ill-fated career as a teen ballet dancer and his cultural confusion as an expat torn between American and Canadian cultures. Going back to the early Internet days when he started a dot-com business in the middle of the lake late 90's boom to today and his life as the man behind the popular Architecture website archinect.com.

About the podcast: The intent behind our podcast series "Truth Is Golden" is to look at renowned creatives and their work with a critical eye. We aim to ask deep questions in order to peel back the layers of marketing, clever one-liners and sexy branding. We want to show the world what it truly takes for genuinely creative forces to find their own voice build a career on what is very often nothing more than a drive to do things differently. We want to hear about the successes, the failures, the inspirational stories and the lessons gleaned from all of it. We want the truth, so that we can inspire other people to fulfill their own creative aspirations and in the process contribute to making the world a better place.

Credits:
Post-Production: Ryan Aktari
Music credit: Bounce Trio, Star Animal, 2014.
Organ & Keys : Matthieu Marthouret
Ténor Sax : Toine Thys
Drums : Gautier Garrigue
Composed by Toine Thys (copyrights SABAM).

Buy it on BandCamp :
weseemusicstore.bandcamp.com/album/smal…big-rivers

More info and music here :
www.youtube.com/user/weseemusic
www.matthieumarthouret.com
www.facebook.com/MatthieuMarthouret.Music/

A guide to getting published for architects, part II - Corollary.

~4 minute read.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to get published as an architect. Here’s a follow-up article.

What is the purpose of getting my projects published?

As a designer, you constantly need to generate new work, it’s the reality of running a design business. If you have more work than you can handle, congratulations! You may want to skip the rest of this article, unless you think there is an opportunity to increase the caliber of the work you’re doing, also known as going beyond doing bread and butter work and moving into the aspirational work territory. If that is your case, don’t leave just yet!


For everyone still reading, getting your work published is likely to be one of the few instrumental ways for you to feed that new client pipeline and keep your office busy, depending on the type work you currently do, the type of work you want to do and the type of clients you have.


But it is for me?

I’m glad you asked. The following questions will help you answer that question:

  • Do you have enough work?

  • Do you work with the type of clients that you enjoy and want to be working with?

  • Do you mostly do the type of work that you enjoy and want to be doing?

  • Are your employees happy, engaged and interested in the work you do?

  • Are you personally happy, engaged and interested in the work you do?

  • Is your business healthy and profitable?

  • Do you have a good work/life balance?

  • Have you built a brand that you are proud of?

  • Is your work of a publishing-worthy caliber?

If you’ve answered yes to all this you can skip the rest. If you’ve answered no to any of these questions, read on, publishing may help you reaching your business goals.

I really want to get published! How do I go about this?

I an ideal world, this is where you would seek help from a professional (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) to assess your current situation and put together a plan of action tailored to your needs. However, I’m going to lay out a brief DYI checklist of what you should consider when publishing your projects:

  1. Review and assess the company culture and what makes you unique in the marketplace.

  2. Think long and hard about the audience you’re trying to reach (aka your ideal clients) and what they are likely to read.

  3. Based on your findings in 1 and 2, think about the story angles you can take to talk about, aspects of your project that would appeal to your clientele and speak truthfully to what your company stands for.

  4. Taking into consideration all of the above, think of magazines that would be a good fit for each project. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

  5. Submit to publications (how to do so is a topic for future article).

  6. Relentlessly follow-up.

On general interest magazines and trade publications.

There are two type of publications out there: general interest publications, like newspapers, design magazines and shelter magazines on one side and trade-specific magazines on the other.

While they both are beneficial to architects and designers, they don’t serve the same purpose. You want to consider each of them based the goals that you should have set out in your media relations strategy. General-interest publications are very useful to get in front of potential clients (if, for example, residential design is one of your areas of expertise) and to build a public reputation. Trade magazines are useful to get in front of corporate clients as well as building a reputation within your industry and creating opportunities to collaborate with other professionals within your field.

On how to reach out to publications

There are a few DYI platforms out there that can help you achieve these goals simply and cost effectively, which may be a good option for you. If you’re too busy and have the budget to hire a communications professional, it is a great idea, if only for the fact that they can look at your body of work critically and use their expertise to make the best recommendations for you. Look for someone who will take the time to diagnose before they prescribe. Having a list of contacts in the publishing industry certainly helps too, but the strategic part is the critical piece of that puzzle. A well crafted media relations strategy, along with a few solid story angles that publications can latch on to, is more likely to pique an editor’s curiosity and get you published.


Arnaud Marthouret is the founder of rvltr and leads their strategy, visual communications and media efforts. He has helped numerous architects and interior designers promote themselves in their best light - pun intended - in order to help them run more effective practices and grow in a meaningful way.

If you have questions about this article or rvltr, or want to chat about your strategy and communications, you can leave a comment, share with a fiend, or reach him at arnaud@rvltr.studio.

Anatomy Of A Diagnostic Workshop

~9 minute read.

Last week, we introduced the idea of using empathy as a method to help our clients become more effective communicators. This week, we walk you through the process of doing so.

work-hand-wood-leather-antique-retro-669444-pxhere.com.jpg

Empathetic communications IS the process.

In the first step of working with a client, we take them through a diagnostic workshop, where we spend a few hours with them, asking questions and challenging them to think outside the box. This initial engagement allows us to get to know them well quickly and uncover a lot of vital information, such as aspirations, fears and challenges.


The purpose of this short but intense seminar, is not to lead them towards a particular direction but simply to give them the space to express themselves freely. The questions simply help them focus on specific topics and not get sidetracked into irrelevant sidebars. During that process, we ask them about how they perceive themselves to be, their clients, as well as what their goals, successes and challenges are.


We then move on to visioning exercises, where we ask them to take stock of their current situation and then ask them to speak to where they see themselves going in the future, what they think their clients desires, fears and aspirations are as well as well as a subjective audit of their current communications and how effectively they serve the business’ growth.


Syllable Design, a young and dynamic architecture and interior design firm recently did one such workshop with us. The results coming out of this engagement defied everyone’s expectations, including our own. In the course of one afternoon, we sat down with them and walked them through the following exercises:


1. Check-in: introduce yourself to the group

This is a short exercise where participants are asked to introduce themselves on a more personal level. Despite the fact that within a small business, people will know each other well, it’s a great exercise to put everyone on an equal footing. A “no pecking order” rule helps with giving people, especially the ones lower on the totem pole, the permission to speak and voice their opinions, setting the stage for a more egalitarian voicing of opinions later on.


2. Agreement on outcome and expectations

This is where we re-affirm the non-hierarchical structure of the workshop and get everybody to agree to our rules of engagement. As we want to create a space where each opinion can be voiced freely, we ask everyone to agree to leave hierarchy, prejudice and assumptions behind. This is a critical step in creating an atmosphere of trust and openness to get the most out of the participants and maximise the potential of this workshop.


3. Creative ice-breaker

The idea behind this short, yet very fun part of the workshop is to play. Play as a way to get the creative juices flowing and allow people to create quick ideas without letting their own internal censorship device stop them. A favorite our ours is to do a few rounds of passing a randomly picked object around and ask people to mime (no words allowed!) a situation, object or idea for others to guess. Watch what happens after a few rounds of this.


4. Get to know your own business

As the tongue in cheek title of this exercise suggests, it is meant to allow our clients to look at themselves with a fresh set of eyes, the idea being that most business owners - and their teams - are so focused on the day to day running of their business that they tend to forget the big picture. We ask the big questions that bring this mission back to the fore. By doing so we are able to get everybody’s input on where the business has been and where it’s going. We also get a chance to uncover potential disagreements on the methods, the goals or both and make note of them to address later.


5. Clients relationship review + discussion

This is where the real fun begins. We get to talk about the relationships between the business and its clients. We explore the extent of these relationships and how they’re nurtured in service of the business. This allows for the uncovering of long and short-term goals as well as further explore alignment of the team on those issues.


6. Client relationship visioning + breakout

Given what was uncovered in the previous section, it sets the stage for a breakout session where we ask the participants to think like their clients would; and put themselves in their shoes. We ask about desires, fears and aspirations. This is where lively debates occur as to what client might be feeling like when dealing with the business. We wrap up by asking what can be done differently based on those findings arising from the conversations.


7. Communications review

This section is a subjective sweep of all external + internal communications in order to determine the current direction and possibly uncover new ideas. This is a primer for the following section.

8. Communications visioning + breakout

In this exercise, we ask the workshop attendees to envision what they think their stakeholders want to see from them. How to best utilize their business’ “voice” to communicate effectively, with originality and provide their audience with great value.


9. Summary / Wrap-up

At the end of the workshop, we check in with the participants and ask what was learned, what worked well and what could have been better. We believe that since we’re asking of our clients to reveal so much about themselves, it is only fair that we lead by example and have an open conversation about our work. Direct, honest-to-goodness feedback is what fuels us to continuously improve ourselves.


What they got out of it.

In working with Syllable, we helped them uncover a number of unmet needs and blind spots, because they had spent so much time working in their business that they had neglected to take a step back and dedicated the time to work on it.

We were also able to ascertain how aligned all 4 employees (2 founding partners and 2 full-time employees) truly were when it came to the important things regarding the future of the business. It turns out that the alignment in vision and goals for the future was fairly high, but the workshop also enabled us to uncover a few disagreements, not so much on the end goals but rather on means to achieve these goals. Overall, what that meant is that their culture, although still in its infancy, is already showing signs of maturation in the right direction and if nurtured has the potential to become a great company in a few short years.


Knowing about these disagreements is also great, because it brings them front and center for the clients and they have no choice but to acknowledge and deal with them. As for us, it gives us a direction as to where we need to take them next in order to help them iron out the kinks and ensure that their goal of long-term success becomes a reality. They have great ambitions for the near-future after all, so our jobs is to help them get there.

In light of these findings, we came up with a plan to take them to the next level:

  1. Developing and refining their culture by formalizing it in the form of a vision, a mission (or positioning statement) and a set of values, alongside with cultural guidelines aimed at keeping it alive going forward.

  2. Developing a communications strategy and guidelines to unify the culture into coherent and consistent communications, internally and externally. Defining the “voice” of the business along with operational standards to facilitate the delegation of such tasks as the company grows.

  3. We also identified areas of further work such as lead generation, sales process and media relations to be tackled further down the road.


The entire team at Syllable was so inspired by this workshop that they have started taking on some of those issues without our help, which is extremely rewarding for us as we see this as a sign that they felt empowered enough by our revelations that they couldn’t wait to tackle some of those things, such as:

  • Codifying roles and responsibilities, and building accountability structures to support those roles.

  • Formalizing processes and writing SOPs for common and repetitive tasks.

  • Refining and narrowing their area of focus to generate more interesting and profitable work.

  • Developing strategies to strengthen the team collaboration and reinforce their nascent culture.


But I will let Danny Tseng, one of the two partners say it in his own words:

Conclusion:

Syllable was a pleasure to work with, they readily accepted our unusual workshop format and played along with an open mind. The result, beyond what’s been described above, is a sense of clarity and purpose as far as their direction as a business and what it will take for them to get there. The ha-ha moments that we were able to extract out of them during the workshop were unexpected and very promising, lighting a fire in their belly that has kept burning in the few months since our intervention, as we have been keeping tabs on their progress. In practical terms, they have made a myriad little operational changes that have already started making them more effective team members. A more unified and happy workforce makes the business more productive and freed up some time for them continue developing new areas of the company. They are currently putting a lot of thinking into the type of work and clients they want to work with.


Arnaud Marthouret is the founder of rvltr and leads their strategy, visual communications and media efforts. He has helped numerous architects and interior designers promote themselves in their best light - pun intended - in order to help them run more effective practices and grow in a meaningful way.

If you have questions about this article or rvltr, or want to chat about your strategy and communications, you can reach him at arnaud@rvltr.studio.

Truth Is Golden Ep. 205 - Less Is More Or Less w/ Dan Brunn

Dan Brunn’s early life in Tel Aviv, subsequent move with his family to Southern California at age 7 and his later nomadic lifestyle as a adult certainly did not make his life easy, yet set the stage for a highly creative and driven character to develop. Someone as uncompromising as he is a kind soul who wants to do good in the world. Dan is a young architect based out of LA creating buildings inspired by the Bauhaus aesthetic he grew up around in Tel Aviv, but also influenced by Southern California modernism. We chatted about what moves him, his very early love for architecture, his influences as well as his love of cars, music, food and travel. Listen in to hear Dan speak about his work and life.

A vision for the future of architecture?

~ 4 minutes read

In the countless business-oriented books that one can find, there is a trend in recent years of books discussing the core of a successful enterprise. Heavily rooted in empathy, sometimes explicitly, sometimes not, it makes empathetic interpersonal relationships the center of attention. Heck, Entire businesses are created around developing empathy-based company cultures and leadership.

There are many stories of business leaders and creatives who created businesses (and failed many, many times while doing it) that were centered on providing satisfaction to their stakeholders in one form of another. There are books focused on teaching us to be better listeners, claiming that in this culture of telling, listening is a rare skill that can lead to great outcomes when wielded properly.

Over the last few years, while continuously educating myself on the matter, in order to understand empathy better and more importantly, why it has become such an integral part of the business thinking zeitgeist, I integrated some of these lessons in my own work. This led to developing services helping architects to develop better cultures and communication strategies.

What is empathy anyway? The dictionary definition is as follows:

“The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

It’s when someone tells you the details of a creepy story and you get the heebie-jeebies because you can picture yourself in that predicament. It’s when you become sad because your friend lost a loved one and you remember your own similar experience from a few years ago. It’s when someone tells you about skydiving out a flying plane and you get a rush of adrenaline just imagining what it would feel like.

You may say “OK empathy is great, but what’s your point?” Empathy is important because by gaining a deeper understanding of another’s circumstances helps us understand any given situation better. Combined with the outsider’s perspective, we are now equipped to help others overcome seemingly intractable problems, by having the ability to look past the blinders, yet understand their position at the same time, in other words effectively putting ourselves in their proverbial shoes.

The epiphany

On this journey to learn more about empathy and relationships, I slowly came to the conclusion that the architecture and design industry was in dire need of such help. In the course of my work, I get to interact with many architects and designers and invariably end up looking at their communications and marketing at one point or another. What became painfully evident to me is that there is a trend in the industry for incredibly uniform communications. In other words, architects, by and large, all convey the same message. You can go to any of their websites and you’ll find very similar descriptions of their companies, culture and work.

This lack of distinction in the way firms communicate leads to a general perception that architects are a commodity and therefore interchangeable. While this is also true in many other industries and conversely, one can find designers out there who stand out and buck the trend, the architecture industry is incredibly uniform in that sense. I believe that this is due to a couple of reasons:

  1. Architecture schools don’t teach critical business skills: Marketing, communications, business management, sales and HR among others are painfully absent from architecture curriculums, or an afterthought at best. The heavy emphasis on design and technical knowledge creates amazing designers but largely ill-equipped business leaders.

  2. Architects are generalists: Architects are trained to be generalists and often try to do everything. I think the future of the business lies in hyper-specialization. Instead of competing with a virtually infinite numbers of generalist firms, there is value in picking a niche and becoming the best at that very thing, competing with few or better yet, no firms at all. It may seem scary and limiting, but is in reality liberating because it cuts out a bunch of distracting activities and focuses a firm on one, narrow area of expertise.

Equipped with that knowledge and seeing the opportunity to change the way architects communicate in order to change the public’s perception of the value of architecture (#architecturematters) we are helping clients develop their culture, visual communications and marketing strategy.

Stay tuned for next week’s follow-up article on how we went about doing this.

What do you think stands to be improved in the architectural field?


Timing your visual communications to run a better business

~ 4.5 minutes read

In the typical cycles of business, we are now fully in the 100-day sprint, the roughly 100-day period between now and the holidays where businesses are the most productive. People are coming back refreshed from vacation, kids are back in school and summer is gone, so there is no more excuses to play hooky and go hide at the cottage. Lake water is too cold anyway. That is, until the end of the year, before people take off again for the holidays to go skiing in Gstaad.

In the realm of visual communications and specifically architectural photography, not only we are subject to business cycles as described above, but even more so to seasonal conditions. That translates into a shooting season - without guns -  that extends from roughly May to November, coinciding with vegetation being in a suitable state and the weather being cooperative to allow for good photographs of your buildings and spaces. In that timespan we get all kinds of colours and textures, from the vivid bright greens and flower blooms of spring to the colourful fall season, without forgetting the deep greens of the mature, midsummer vegetation.

When you superimpose the seasons with the traditional business cycles, it looks something like this: post-christmas coma and hibernation from January to May, spring awakening in May-June, Summer slump (a.k.a. Spending summer at the cottage) in July-August and 100-day sprint from September to Christmas time a.k.a. “Shit! I need to wrap up my projects” period.

  Photography seasons

Photography seasons

Why should I care?

We are in the last 50 or so days of good, predictable weather and decent vegetation before we are stuck with cold, shitty weather for the following 6 months which makes architectural photography quasi-impossible. Some projects are suitable to be photographed in winter, but these are the exception to the rule. Timing a project with a snowfall is also extremely challenging as winter snow tends to turn into slush in the city after a day or two and believe me when I say you don’t want to shoot in those conditions. If you’re an interior designer you might think “Haha, nice try, but this doesn’t apply to me!” as you’re not subject to weather.

While you’d be correct in thinking so from a technical and logistical perspective, let’s not forget the dreaded award season, from post-christmas to the early summer, where most award submissions are due. Marketing professionals spend most of that time working on submissions, on top of the million other things they usually have to do like managing social media, RFPs, etc. Based on my experience, most of them do not want to deal with managing photoshoots on top of that.

Ok, so all of this is self-serving, but how does it apply to me?

I’m glad you asked. Well, taking into consideration all of the above, what that means to you, is that by and large, you are left with 60 days (90 for interior design projects) to plan, execute and complete your photography projects before everyone in your office switches to holiday mode and slows down to a crawl for about a month, spending more time thinking about that vacation in Gstaad or the dreaded presents they need to get for their incredibly hard to please in-laws.

Considering that it takes easily 3-6 weeks to plan, prepare for and execute a shoot, there isn’t a lot of time left to get that accomplished. With professional pictures in hand before the the season’s end, you will be able to do the following:

  • Promote your latest 2018 projects to prospects with the goal to sign new clients, and keep feeding new prospects in your pipeline.

  • Have your images ready for your winter slump, when your marketing people will want to have them handy for the 10 million + 2019 award submissions they’re going to prepare. Believe you me, they will thank you.

  • Wrap up the current year with completed projects, which should bring a sense of accomplishment to your practice and boost morale before the seasonal affective disorder sets in. Happy employees = productive employees.

  • Take advantage of the winter slump to plan and prepare your 2019 press submissions and scour the newest editorial calendars, in order to time your media relations accordingly and increase your chances of being published, not to mention that beautiful photographs will help you in the matter.

All of the above, accomplishes one thing: it makes your practice more efficient and more effective on many fronts. Which results in less time spent scrambling to get something done at the last minute, more time to do other important business things (or more time for yourself) as well as a long-term increase in your profitability because you now run a lean, mean business development machine.

After all, who wouldn’t like more time and increased profits?

If you have questions about this article or rvltr, or want to book your fall 2018 shoot, you can reach us at hello@rvltr.studio.



Vetting Clients = Power

~ 6 minute read

It’s just like dating.

Unlike many other professional service providers, architects sell services that routinely tie them to a client for multi-year projects, often taking one, two or even more years from kick-off to occupancy. Such long term relationships eventually move past the honeymoon phase to settle into a routine, a more casual association where each party gets to know the other more intimately. Much like a romantic relationship, the qualities, quirks and annoying behaviour traits of the other naturally rise to the surface, as people get more comfortable with one another.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about this, but it does beg the question: How do we ensure that one chooses the right kind of clients? Much like one should probably not get married on a whim, designers ought to spend time ensuring that the clients they take on are a good fit, both from a service provider perspective, as well as on a personal level, as the two eventually become intertwined as the relationship evolves.

 

A quick sidebar on residential architecture.

I’ve personally heard many an architect say that their relationships with residential clients are way closer to a friendship than strictly a business exchange, because in order to design a suitably customized space, the architect has to know their client intimately on, or even beyond the level that a close friend or a family member would. Boundaries become blurred and the relationship becomes a hybrid that can at times lead to awkward situations, because the architect is both a friend and a service professional, a confidant as well as accountable for the work they do.

While the architect has the moral obligation to behave professionally and be on the ball when it comes to dealing with issues, working with carefully selected clients through a vetting process ensures that, when the shit hits the proverbial fan, there is enough trust and confidence at on personal level to maintain a good relationship. A poorly-suited client would be more likely to use problems as an excuse to drag the relationship into adversarial territory, due to lack of rapport and trust. Something to be avoided at any cost.

 

How does vetting work?

A few weeks ago, we looked at what to do when dealing with unreasonable clients, and briefly touched on the idea of vetting clients. Many professionals are all too willing to subject themselves to client interviews, but few do take advantage of the opportunity to flip the interview on its head and interview their prospective clients in return, the prospect of more business being too tempting to risk letting go.

In the sales process, once a fitting prospect has been identified, the first step in establishing the relationship is to demonstrate value of your expertise and quickly win the polite battle for the control and get some face time with your prospect (a topic for another article). The following step is to move on to the the qualifying conversation where prospective clients are interviewed to determine if they’re a good fit. A number of questions need to be answered in order to do so.

 

From objective questions, like:

  • “Do the client’s objectives align with ours?”

  • “Can we confidently deliver on what they’re asking for?”

  • “Do they have a budget and timeline?”

  • “Have the decision makers been identified?”

 

To the more subjective ones, such as:

  • “Would I happily go have a drink and shoot the shit with them?”

  • “Am I able to uncover their deepest fears in order to address them?”

  • “Do I understand their aspirations and can I help them achieve these goals?”

  • “Do we share the same values?”

 

It can be accomplished by spending a bit of time with the prospect, asking a lot of very specific questions aimed at uncovering the needs, fears and aspirations of the prospective client and listening intently to the answers. Letting them answer each question as they see fit. Mastering interviewing clients is a rare skill, but the good news is that it’s something that can be learned through practice. Since this is a qualifying interview, it should be clear to both parties that the intent of the meeting is to determine fit. The next steps being discussed and mutually agreed upon at the conclusion of this discussion.

 

The art of shutting up and listening.

In a previous article, we covered the art of humble inquiry. I personally like to start with very general questions so the prospect can tell me in their own words what they think they are about. Since I am looking to work with people who share similar cultural traits, I usually ask them to tell me what their company culture is like. From there, we move on to goals, aspirations, challenges, successes and failures. Getting these questions answered should paint a pretty accurate picture of what that firm is about.

From there, more aspirational questions can be asked in the form of spontaneous visioning exercises, for example, asking about where they would like to see themselves three years from now. Which will reveal as much about what they aspire to as it will also reveal the gap they have to bridge to get there. This is gold for the rest of the conversation, as now there should be a pretty clear picture of what the clients goals are and from there it can be determined if our services are suited for them.

 

Your gut is right (most of the time).

If there is a good fit, your gut should tell you by now. Conversely, if there is no fit, now is the time to politely say so and make a graceful exit, as it’s a very bad idea to force a relationship where there shouldn’t be one. Like other areas of life, it’s better to accept that we’re not meant to get along with absolutely everyone. With that being said, with a good lead generation process, most of the prospects knocking on the door should be somewhat pre-qualified at the very least interested in what is on offer. If that’s not the case, then it’s time to review your lead generation strategy to find out where the breakdown in communications is.

 

Where to go from there?

Now is the time to co-define the next steps. A fit has been established and the last thing that should happen is to leave the prospect without pre-determined and mutually agreed upon next steps. Depending on where that conversation ended, you should be somewhere between a verbal agreement to proceed and an interest in pursuing the conversation further, but whichever case you find yourself in, the next steps should be crystal clear to both you and the prospect.

I want to conclude with this thought: throughout this vetting process, it is by gently taking control of the conversation that you can lay the foundation for good communications and give prospects a glimpse of what it is like to work with you, simply by acting and being a certain way, which should be congruent with who you are. As an expert in your field you want to create and maintain said expertise and it shows in huge part in the way we interact with one another.

Talk is cheap, actions matter.

 

If you liked this, please share with a friend and let us know your thoughts in the comments!



 

Truth Is Golden ep. 204 - Multicultural Modernism

In episode 204, we interviewed veteran architect and globe-trotter Steven Ehrlich, founder and principal at EYRC, a Los Angeles based architecture studio working under the tenet of "Multicultural Modernism". Steven talked about his formative years on the east coast, his early career in Africa as a member of the peace corps, Creativity and the challenges and inspiration that come with running a small, but mighty and well respected practice.

The intent behind our podcast series "Truth Is Golden" is to look at renowned creatives and their work with a critical eye. We aim to ask deep questions in order to peel back the layers of marketing, clever one-liners and sexy branding. We want to show the world what it truly takes for genuinely creative forces to find their own voice build a career on what is very often nothing more than a drive to do things differently. We want to hear about the successes, the failures, the inspirational stories and the lessons gleaned from all of it. We want the truth, so that we can inspire other people to fulfill their own creative aspirations and in the process contribute to making the world a better place.

Credits:
Post-Production: Ryan Aktari
Music: Bounce Trio, Star Animal, 2014.
Organ & Keys : Matthieu Marthouret
Ténor Sax : Toine Thys
Drums : Gautier Garrigue
Composed by Toine Thys (copyrights SABAM).

Buy it on BandCamp :
weseemusicstore.bandcamp.com/album/smal…big-rivers

More info and music here :
www.youtube.com/user/weseemusic
www.matthieumarthouret.com
www.facebook.com/MatthieuMarthouret.Music/

{Insert flight pun here} Let your projects soar with aerial photography.

When I hear the words aerial photography, it evokes a different perspective, looking at the world through a bird’s eyes. Since we humans, are so accustomed to looking at things from the ground level, which means looking up at the city; having access to this view from above, gives us the ability to appreciate the urban environment from an unusual perspective. A different point of view which makes us appreciate the amazing setting we’re a part of. I personally marvel at the level of human achievement every time I get a chance to look down at the city, as it suddenly comes into focus.

With the advent of consumer-level drones, aerial visualization & photography has become a bit of an ubiquitous commodity, but it has not completely superseded traditional aerial shots from aircrafts, if only for regulatory reasons that make flying a drone in the city both complex and a huge liability (drones also have the bad habit of being very prone to randomly crashing, speaking from experience). That means that to shoot anything from the air in the city, there is not yet a good substitute for planes and choppers.

This is why rvltr partnering with our dear friend and veteran aerial photographer Brett Price(linkedin) to offer you his expertise and knowledge of shooting from the air, combined with our knowledge of the city and its surroundings. Over the course of the first 2 weeks of September, Brett and rvltr will be available to shoot all over the GTA and beyond.

If you had projects under consideration for some yummy aerial photography, now is the time to act and book Brett + rvltr here. Spots are limited and going fast!

Instagram @brettprice / @revelateur_to

The fine print: Each location is shot to your specifications (Close ups, or to show property in relation to amenities etc). If you are interested, book us here, or have any questions please contact us, with the address of the property you wish to have photographed along with roof colour, and size of property. We will get back to you promptly to discuss the details of your project and come up with an appropriate scope of work and budget, based on your needs.

Truth Is Golden Ep. 203 - There Is Something Funny About This

In episode 3 of our second season, I talked to David K. Levine a distinguished academic, political economist and popular author. We talked about his midwestern childhood, how economics can explain a lot of modern society challenges, his transplant life in Europe and how one of the biggest risks he took was a late-career change, taking on subjects he was not an expert in. Listen in to hear more about David and his accomplishments.