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.
~ 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.
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:
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.
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?
~ 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.
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 email@example.com.
~ 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!
~ 7 Minute read.
In the ongoing raging debate about Toronto’s laneways and what to make of them, no one seems to be able to generate a consensus as to what should be allowed, prohibited and the amount of density that’s reasonable. I have my own opinions on the matter but that’s for another writing.
Working quietly in the background is Womxn Paint, an organization empowering women artists to express themselves through their art. Womxn Paint organizes a yearly jam, now in its second year, to transform a carefully selected downtown alleway into an outdoor art gallery, while making a big celebration out of it.
Beyond the celebratory aspect, it also creates a platform for the artists stories to be heard and raises the awareness of the potential for laneways to be become animated public spaces (more on that later). Headed by our friend, the indefatigable Bareket, Womxn Paint is a celebration of art and a demonstration of how community leadership can bring positive change with nothing more than cans of paint and an unwavering drive. Bareket is known around Toronto for her murals and you will have no doubt seen her “Smile” traffic signal control boxes around the city.
This community enterprise requires serious relationship and entrepreneurial skills, showing us that being an artist, is not just about producing art that gets people excited, and although that’s important, one has to get that art in front of the right eyeballs for it to have an impact. In other words, talent alone does not make a successful artist.
You may have guessed where I’m going with this? Yes, you’re right, this applies to architects too! The most visible ones are not always the most talented ones, but those who have one way or another developed solid business savvy. More often than not, their awesome tactical and operational skills were not learned in school, but elsewhere. It goes to show that soft skills are just as important as acquired technical knowledge to make any enterprise successful, particularly design businesses.
Say what you want about Bareket’s ability to produce beautiful art with a positive message, it’s her communications, relationships and permanent positive attitude, as well as her ability to mobilize an army of other artists that makes her laneway painting events possible.
Let’s not forget about the purpose behind it all.
What makes her successful in bringing all of this together? I’m going to go out on a limb and identify the following key aspects of her success:
The organization has a clear purpose, that makes it easy for like-minded people to get behind it.
The whole project is a collaboration with different entities, both institutional and private working towards a common goal and that goal isn’t “let’s paint pretty murals”. It forces organizations like StART, Womxn Paint (and even rvltr!) and many others, to collaborate with each other in support of that purpose. Without it, it would just be a bunch of people painting murals in an alleyway.
Her event is inspiring and community driven.
She’s a strategic communicator thanks to her past experiences in marketing and PR and knows how to garner attention quickly and effectively.
Did we mention that this whole endeavour culminates in a big party, where the public is invited to take over a laneway for a day and enjoy the art as it’s being painted on walls and garage doors? The warm embrace of the community, both the local residents and owners of the alleyway who have welcomed Womxn Paint in their literal backyard as well as the general public, makes it very difficult to dislike as it is inclusive of just about anyone who wants to participate.
To me, #1 is the key to everything else, without it, it would be a lot harder to get support from all the various stakeholders and would end up having competing interests fighting for limited resources and each trying to pull the project in a different direction.
Womxn Paint’s clear purpose short-circuits all of that and serves as a reminder for everybody involved that the end result is meant to be greater than the sum of it parts (also the topic of an upcoming webinar of ours). Which leads me to my next point.
Collaboration vs. Competition
All these talented artists could be vying for the same rare and valuable mural real estate, each competing for a piece of the same pie. Womxn Paint takes the opposite approach, where they grow the pie itself, allowing a bigger piece for each artist. They do so by creating events and culturally relevant art that people actually want to see, instead of single painted pieces by individual artists. Fittingly, this year’s theme is “Uplifting each other”, underlining the importance of the event in creating a space where the artists can support one another as they’re building their respective careers.
And that’s the basis of creating value, as the total value of the project is much greater than the sum of its parts. It does so by building and fostering a sense of community around a topic that these people are passionate about.
I will sound like a broken record, but designers have a lot to learn from this. Instead of competing for the same pie, there are things that can be done to raise the way we value design as a society. Toon Dreesen, Principal at Architects DCA is a tireless advocate for #architecturematters and design as a way to bring about positive change in society. A lot of what he bring to the public discourse touches on how the higher upfront cost of good design can be offset by massive savings down the road in the way buildings are operated and maintained. Value engineering has a tendency to save costs upfront and defer them to future generations.
If a vocal and intransigent minority of architects, following Taleb’s example of the dictatorship of vocal minorities banded together with the likes of Toon, it wouldn’t be long until the changes we are seeking would come into effect. Alas, the industry is very siloed with people who are friendly-ish with each other, but still compete for all the same jobs at the micro level and then complain that their pricing structure is a race to the bottom, without looking at the state of the industry at the macro level.
Dreesen argues that if design and architecture were more valued as a society, then there would be more money spent on good design, because there would be an underlying tacit understanding of its intrinsic value. There are countless examples out there of markets that were created virtually overnight simply by finding new and innovative ways to demonstrate the value of a product or service (check out Terry O’Reilly’s podcast for that, he tells these stories better than I ever will).
The million dollar question is: What can architects do today, to raise the cultural awareness of the value of good design the same way Womxn Paint is doing for mural artists?
One final thought.
Art is a powerful tool for transformation. It has the amazing ability to draw us out of our day-to-day routine and send powerful messages, whether it’s mesmerizing visuals that get you to zone out and create your own universe in your head; or in the case of Womxn Paint, the activation of an underutilised and drab laneway, turning it into an open-air art gallery, bringing people together. Until the condos start sprouting up that is. Art is often relegated to the “nice-to-have” category, but I believe that what’s happening with Womxn Paint shows us that perhaps we have our priority backwards. Creativity and play should be encouraged, fostered and celebrated every day.
If you liked this or think you have an answer to the question above, please share with a friend and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
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.
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 :
The HGTV effect.
Architecture is a slow craft that takes years to master. Creating something as complex as a building involves a tremendous amount of expertise. It is common for even the simplest of today’s buildings to be touched by hundreds of hands in the process of designing and building it. It is also a concept that’s very difficult to grasp for neophytes. Somehow, it is very common to find people who think they have a good understanding of building science and the art of designing buildings even if their experience stops at being a mere building user.
Let’s call it the HGTV effect, which makes designing building, house flipping and home renos look easy because it is scripted for TV and this mass-consumption content is designed to make complex issues appear effortless. We all know that the reality is vastly different. So, what to do when a client shows up and they think they know everything and can “do it themselves”?
Empathy and listening skills.
This is where empathy and listening skills come in. The same way you wouldn’t trust a doctor who would prescribe a treatment before a proper diagnosis, your duty as a designer is to diagnose your clients from the start to ensure that your work with the right people and that your relationships are being managed properly.
A proper diagnosis starts with asking the right kind of questions and then listening. Intently. This is where the magic happens, because all of a sudden, your clients are given the space to open up and say what’s truly on their mind. You can really get gold from doing this and it’s a skill that just about anyone can acquire with enough deliberate practice. Asking great questions early and often will also contribute to positioning you as the expert in the relationship as you are purposely taking the reigns of the relationship. Remember, this is what clients are paying you big money for, to lead the engagement and guide them gently but firmly in the right direction.
Don’t tell them what to do.
We live in a culture of telling, which makes this kind of more reflective practice at times difficult because our instincts push us to talk more than we listen. Telling people assumes that the other person does not know what you’re talking about and can be condescending, which in turns impedes the building of trust-based relationships.
A ready-made method for better relationships.
Ed Schein, in his book Humble Inquiry teaches us how to practice such a deliberate and structured form of listening. In it, he explains in great detail and with very telling examples how humble inquiry works. It requires being in a state of mind of non-judgmental curiosity, where the questions we ask are genuinely and openly giving the interlocutor permission to speak freely, without trying to lead them in a particular direction.
It also requires the willingness and ability to put oneself in a temporary vulnerable position of humility, described by schein as “here and now humility” which demonstrates that we are willing to put ourselves in a position of dependence with regards to the other person, which builds trust and enables them to open up more. As we are all more or less dependent on other people, there are many situations in life where this skill can come in handy.
For people at the top of any kind of hierarchy, it is even more critical to learn how to master those skills, as people in position of power tend to be by default deferred to, making it more difficult for subordinates to bring up difficult topics. In a designer-client relationship, this is particularly helpful because it gives the client permission to be more open about their fears, desires and aspirational goals. It also breaks down the natural defences that we all tend to put up when we find ourselves in a situation where saving face is more important than achieving our goals.
How does that apply to a design practice?
In the running of a design practice, we are reliant on our clients to get critical information to make any given project successful. Mastering humble inquiry, puts the client temporarily in the driver seat, giving permission to share information in a safe, non-judgmental way. After all, we all strive to look good, but that comes with a price, when putting up a always-positive front, we tend to engage our ego, that’s just human nature. It results in a skin-deep image of our self that we project to the world. Breaking down that barrier and getting deeper in a relationship is where the magic happens.
Every step of the design process ideally requires our clients to freely express themselves and talk about their aforementioned fears, desires and aspirations. When we get to the point where open and trusting relationships are created and maintained with our clients the information flows freely and our work becomes easier.
This in turns makes you more effective, which ultimately means more profitable because you don’t spend a lot of time -if any at all- dealing with “emergencies” that are often the result of poor communications. It is also important to note that this does not mean that we have to turn ourselves in order-takers, simply executing our clients’ every whim. Becoming a master of our craft is about finding a balance between being a spineless order-taker and an egomaniacal diva pushing people around. It’s about pushing and pulling, but always doing so in a way that both gives out clients permission to fully express themselves while maintaining the position of the expert leader, paid to lead the client to the desired result.
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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!
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.
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.
How is it going to help me achieve my goals?
We will assume for the sake of this article, that you’ve already established, as a part of a larger business development strategy, that getting your work published is something you actively want to do. You already understand the value and simply want to go ahead with it.
While you could be a Generic Gerald - more on that later - and start pitching your projects to publications right away, it’s a good idea to sit down and think about your business objectives and how getting published with help you achieve those.
Strategy, strategy, strategy.
This is where strategic planning comes in. You will want to identify your business objectives and where you would like to grow. For example, if you have a residential practice and get plenty of good residential work, but you would like to grow your institutional portfolio, it may make sense to emphasize the institutional work and try to get published in that area, even though you’ll still want to get your best residential work out there to maintain that side of your practice.
This is where the projects to be promoted are discussed and you can start to form an idea of how you’re going to go about this. We are looking at long term goals, so really try to think about your practice in 5 or 10 years. Whether that vision may change or not, does not matter at this point.
Based on these business objectives, you can put together a list of completed projects in order of priority. This will form the basis of your publishing endeavour.
Did I say anything about strategy?
This is where you need to be bold and brave with your goals. The more off-beat and unexpected, the more likely you are to attract attention. It can be a scary proposition, but it’s a necessary one. This is where you have an opportunity to shine and express an opinion, something unique to yourself, that represents you and your company.
Being bold is a valid strategy. Heck, in my opinion, it’s the only way to consistently attract attention. The most successful architectural practices are the ones that find a way to stand out. That doesn’t mean that they mindlessly jump around like an over-excited child high on sugar. It’s more about speaking to the audience’s interests and desires and that may look very different for each practice.
Choosing the right hook.
Now that you have a strategy and know which projects you want to promote, it’s time to find the right hook, a.k.a. the angle of your story. You will want to tap into what makes your company unique. If you already know this and have an established company culture and set of values, this should be pretty straightforward. If this is not clear, you may want to spend some time figuring that out.
Then, onto the project. What is unique about it? It is a great space? Does it reflect the personality of the users? Is it particularly well suited for a specific use? Does it have a unique story? You want to reflect on the project and really nail down what its unique attributes are. Many publications, though not all, are interested in the way the space is lived in and will want to have access to users on the record as part of the story they will write. Not only it’s a good idea to include that in your pitch, but you may want to go a step further and prep your clients by letting them know that you want to get published and get their consent to be contacted by the media should they bite, as getting the users on record is a very common condition for publications, and a deal breaker if they can’t.
Picking the publications that fit with your strategy and angle.
Most editors like to be fed with stories that not only fit their editorial stance (that’s where you need to do your research and find out more about them) but also are compelling enough and well put together so that they can determine right away if that’s a possible fit before they spend any more time on your submission. I’ve heard first hand from editors that they get hundreds if not thousands of submissions and helping them sift through them quicker is very valuable to them and will give you brownie points with regards to increasing your chances of getting published.
If you’ve managed to get past the first line of defense, a succinct, yet thoughtful and most importantly, well put together submission will also play in your favour. Magazines get many submissions following the traditional press release format, which tends to focus on the project itself and the designer, generally following this formula: “Our project is awesome + we’re awesome, so please publish us”. Don’t be a Generic Gerald and do what everybody else is doing. The biggest missed opportunities when submitting projects for publication is when firms fail to speak more in-depth to their projects and how they function, enabling their users to live better lives and instead focus on the aesthetics.
How to be a winner
Being published is never guaranteed, as we will always be subjects to the unfathomable whims of editors and journalists. However, if you thoughtfully spend the time to strategize, come up with a catchy hook and be deliberate about the publications you choose to target, you will likely start seeing publications pick-up your stories more and more.
Keep in mind that this is a long game, and the more you can establish trusting relationships with media outlets, the less resistance you will find on your path to greatness and lack of success early on should not deter you from continuing as you will get better at it over time. Publications will start recognizing your name and give your submissions more attention. Like real life relationships, this takes effort to create and maintain.
Once you’ve submitted your project, the work doesn’t stop here. As everybody else is, editors and journalists are busy people. While it’s a common excuse around these parts to not give someone the time of day, we have to put ourselves in their shoes for a minute and imagine how many hundreds of submissions they have to go through for each and every issue. Sometimes, an otherwise perfectly suited submission will slip through the cracks just because.
Instead of giving up by assuming that since no one responded to your submission, they’re not interested, it is critical to pick up the phone and call that editor (easier to do if a pre-existing relationship exists) or even just send a follow-up email asking for an answer and/or feedback. It is not rare for a follow-up to lead to a yes, so this is low-cost, near effortless opportunity to increase your chances of being published. And don’t forget to ask for feedback on why they didn’t see a fit anytime you get a chance, it will help you improve both the quality of your submissions and strategically target them to the right media.
When it comes to doing this type of work, my personal mantra is “I’m not giving up until they either say, yes, no or tell me they never want to talk to me again”. If you behave like a polite, civilized human, the latter will be very rare. Most people value persistence so don’t be afraid to follow-up multiple times.
This traditional way of getting published, is still effective, albeit very time-consuming. I believe it is worth investing into if you can afford it, as paper-based publications are still very much alive and carry a lot more weight in terms of brand image. Telling someone you’ve been published in Architectural Record is way more prestigious than telling them you’ve been published on ArchDaily and for a good reason. Online publications have a place in your marketing efforts and for different reasons, but that’s for another article.
The State of Architectural Journalism.
I love talking to people in the architecture industry to find out what makes their jobs exciting, learn about their challenges and use that information to try new things. I often do this with journalists and editors and find it fascinating to learn how to think like they do, and it helps me help them to find good stories for their publications.
When I met with Dave LeBlanc, columnist for the Globe and Mail and well-known for his weekly column, “The Architourist”, I learned a lot about architecture from a non-architect’s perspective. Dave is not a trained journalist, he spent his whole career in radio production and serendipitously fell into writing about architecture a couple of decades ago when asked to produce short radio stories on Toronto architecture. Having been a fan of design and specifically mid-century modern architecture since childhood he jumped at the opportunity, which eventually led him to become a weekly columnist at the Globe.
Dave is as much interested in stories as I am and, similarly, thinks architectural narratives in their current state are a bit dry and factual, too often forgetting to speak about the human stories unfolding within the built environment, in favor of the building as an object, replete with facts, statistics and bombastic declarations, which are no-more than transparent, ego-inflating statements that makes the designers feel good, but leave the people who are looking to connect with architecture on a deeper level a bit hungry for a relatable story.
How Kahn and Mies brought this home.
When I think about some the best and most memorable buildings I've ever had the chance to visit and get to know intimately, like Crown Hall by Mies van der Rohe and the Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn, the spiritual experiences that I've had in those space had very little to do with the architecture itself, but rather with my experience of the space, specifically through the way natural light was managed and let into the building in very specific and deliberate ways.
I didn't care that much that the building was made of metal, concrete or wood but rather that these materials provided me with an phenomenal sensory experience and therefore deeply influenced me. The Kimbell with its silvery natural light flooding from the slits at the top of each vaulted ceiling, grazing the galleries’ surfaces and revealing the textures and warmth of the wood and concrete combination. Crown Hall through the enormous amount of natural light flooding the space from all sides, and reflecting the seasons and time of day, while blocking a direct views on the outside, the black steel curtain walls, terrazzo floors and wooden partition walls taking a back seat to that experience.
I believe this is what Leblanc is trying to convey in his weekly column: how architecture is a machine for sensory experience, to paraphrase Le Corbusier. Perhaps that's what his "Machine for living " idea meant? After all, what is life if nothing but a succession of sensory experiences?
More experiential narratives, less verbosity.
The lesson to retain from this, is that aside from other designers and self-proclaimed design nerds, very few people care about who designed a given building, how much of a celebrity the designers or how expensive the finishes are, because these facts are completely irrelevant to the physical experience of a space. There is a reason the best writers and magazines in the design world are more interested in how the architecture is lived in and like to include the users in their stories. That reason is that it makes for quality content that will capture a reader’s attention. It is an absolute necessity that the story you tell speaks to your audience, or you run the risk of losing their interest.
There is no shortcut for getting to know your audience. You have to spend time engaging with them. It helps greatly to be able to show a vulnerable side of yourself that they may not know about. Digital and social media allows for unprecedented levels of access to your audience at a very low cost, making it easy to be in dialogue with the people who are interested in your work.
Spending the time to craft compelling narratives that speak to the way your building is lived in is the way to go. I know it’s tempting to wax lyrical about the technical achievements of your project, but if they do not directly contribute to the human, dare I say emotional, experience of your space, they can be ignored. Instead the focus should be put on what it feels like to experience your space from a user perspective.
In these days of instant gratification and casual consumption, most people will probably not pay attention to what you are putting out. However the level of care that you put into it will be noticed by the people who relate to what you have to offer. This minority of ardent supporters will go to bat for you. Once you have a few of those, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
A community of followers, the kind of people who will fervently support you and promote you because they believe in your vision, cannot be bought. It is primarily based on trust and that trust has to be earned. There are no shortcuts.
What can you do today to build such a following?
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Writing these articles for you my dear readers, is always a challenge.
“Will they like what I have to say?”
”Does it even make sense?”
“Will I look stupid?”
“Is it a bad idea?”
“Will it fail?”
“Is there value in it?”
Those are some of the questions that I constantly have to grapple with, in an effort to fight off my second-guessing self, that little voice that always finds very rational, if not “beneficial”, reasons to not do something. I’ve learned from experience that this gut feeling, this fear, is my brain pulling convincing tricks on me to keep me inside the proverbial comfort zone.
I also know that coming out of that comfort zone is where the most learning and growth happens. I’ve seen it time and time again, in me and others. I know people who purposely push themselves past every one of their fear as an exercise in testing their boundaries. In return, they get so much more than they bargained for.
Historically Influential figures like the Eames and Bukowski, among many others, overcame their fear of failure on a daily basis which in turn shaped them as the masters of their respective fields we know today.
The Eames invited and welcomed failure. They saw it as a way to quickly learn and come to an optimal solution, the result of many brains, not just their own, tackling a problem, failure being the mechanism enabling them to shed the bad ideas and only keep the good ones, slowly arriving at a solution that while maynot have been perfect, it had been optimized through an iterative process. It’s been said that new hires in their office would be tasked with work they had no expertise in, like a graphic designer being asked to think up a building concept. It was a clever way to send a powerful message to their employees: don’t let fear of failure stop you.
Bukowski wrote for over 25 years before he got his first novel published, at age 50. An epic failure by any conventional standards, but he didn’t write to fulfill someone else’s definition of a successful writer. He wrote because he had an insatiable urge to create and overcame his fear of not making it by not worrying about the outcome, he just wanted to write. He was eventually able to make a living as a writer. Ironically, the first two thirds of his life before his late career as a full-time writer are in large part what made him such a compelling writer. Indeed his semi-autobiographical novels were heavily inspired by his own life and we wouldn’t have his amazing body of work to enjoy if it weren’t for him grinding for 25+ years relentlessly sending out manuscripts to publishers.
Fear keeps us from doing what the Eames, Bukowski and countless others have done before. Fear of failure, fear of not being able to pay the bills, fear of not looking good, fear of disapproving opinions and the countless other excuses that our cunning little brains cook up to keep us safe. The problem is that this safe zone is antithetical to growth, learning and accomplishing something greater than ourselves.
The key to overcoming fear and become comfortable with being uncomfortable is to find what moves you. Call it a purpose or a mission. With a clear mission, it becomes a lot easier to push past fear and be uncomfortable, in service of something greater than ourselves. With strong values and a clear goal, the path lays itself down and all it takes is actually doing the hard work to make it happen. Hard work being the operative word. In the course of this work, failure is inevitable, embrace it and make it a central part of your learning.
The most successfully durable companies in the world, are those with an undeniable sense of purpose and a clear mission (Zappos and Whole Foods are great examples of this) and if you look into their history, their wake is littered with personal and professional failures. But it is their seeking and embracing failure as well as their ability to learn from it in order to better themselves that makes them great today.
Don’t wait for permission to do something, nobody will ever give it to you. Get out there and try new things. If it fails, you’ll learn more from failure than you will from success. It’s time to boldly get out there and kick fear in the nuts!
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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:
The 10 commandments:
Be purposeful and mission-driven: A clear purpose and mission will serve as the foundation of every decision made inside your business.
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.
Strive to speak human: Speak to your stakeholders in their own language. To them, archispeak is gobbledygook and serves no purpose. Lose it.
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 an intractable problem.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t do it alone! It’s okay to ask for help when you’re stuck. Getting help will help you focus on what you should be doing most of the time: successfully running your business.
It’s time to kick fear in the nuts and get crackin’!
In episode 2 of our second season, Stefan Hunt, recounted his -short- life story, from a typical western childhood in New South Wales, Australia, to his early foray into film making, crossing the US at 18 with no money, a bieber haircut and a drive to surf all 48 states, including the 20+ landlocked ones. His first film, self-described as “cringeworthy”, got him some attention and eventually led him to become the multi-talented professional filmmaker, artist and storyteller he is today; all the while continuing on his literally off the beaten path journey. Listen in to hear more about how one can be a highly creative, decent and compassionate human being at the same time.
Where we learn some critical lessons about client relationships from ZoolanderRead More
In this third and last post, we talk about status quo and the lessons from advertising that apply to client communications.
We've always done it this way.
In industries with a strong tendency towards status quo and commoditization, there exists a tremendous opportunity to shake things up and stand out. Ironically, the reasons commonly heard from people who do not want to rock the boat, are the very reasons why one should.
What are the lessons to retain from this?
If you are in any position where you are facing customers and clients, you should think about the way you communicate to them in the following terms:
What is my message?
Does it stand out against a sea of commodity providers?
Does it reflect what my company is and address my clients’ fears and aspirations?
What do my clients truly think about it (aka put yourself in their shoes)?
How can it be improved?
What is my competitors’ messaging like?
If any of these questions make you feel funny inside, congratulations! You’ve just made the first step towards building a better business. You intuition telling you that something needs to change is worth taking the time to explore possibilities and see where your messaging and communications can be improved.
If you recognize the need to change the way you communicate, what is the first step you can take to enact that change?
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Last week, we took a look at well-know advertisers and some of their campaigns, as well what makes great advertising.
In this second instalment, we take a look at how creativity is here to save the day, how empathy can help us gain a deeper understanding of our audiences and ourselves as well as the value of risk-taking in a safety-obsessed world.
Creativity is only way to stand out
There are many examples of ads out there that were able to stand out and be remembered many years after they were released. If not all of them, the huge majority are remembered because they were conceived in contrast with other, more conventional ads. It’s that contrast with the conventions that made them stand out.
Creativity can take many forms, but humor is the widely considered to be the fastest way to break the mold and send a message that company X isn’t like companies A,B,C and D. It takes courage because as humans, we generally do not like to stand out and want to blend in, to relate. A company with the confidence to stand out, is a company that knows itself well enough to know what makes them unique and not be afraid to communicate that message in their adverts.
Understanding of one’s audience is the only way to truly connect.
The risks taken in setting oneself on the path to stand out from one’s competitors can be mitigated by researching one's audience and gaining a deeper understanding of who they are. You need to learn about them, their fears and their aspirations. By doing so, you will gain two things: first, a direct path to forming an emotional connection with them and second, the ability to cut through the noise and send a message that they will instantly relate to.
Similarly, companies have to spend time understanding themselves and do their homework reflecting on what makes them unique, as well as combine that knowledge with that gained of studying their audience. Finding a purpose is a great place to start. A lot of companies out there have a default purpose that is uninspiring. It is necessary to dig down to what the aspirations of the business are. Every great company has clear and concise purpose and is very clear on what that is.
Armed with the tools of empathetic understanding of itself as well as its audience, any business can set itself on the path to stand out.
But I'm afraid of taking risks!
Setting oneself apart is taking a risk, no question about this. There are many examples out there of companies that alienated their audience because their messaging veered too far from what people were accustomed to. However, armed with the right tools, solid knowledge about itself and its audience, a business should be able to find a way to both stand out and not alienate the people it caters to.
Ultimately, it comes down to this choice: either one is willing to take risks and the potential reward is great, or one decides to stick with the status quo with the high probability of commoditization and increased competition, making it harder to run a successful business. Do you want to be Old Spice or Charmin?
It is also important to remember, and O'Reilly explains that in detail in his book, that the large majority of companies who have taken a leap of faith and changed their messaging for the better have seen tremendous returns. Case in point: Snickers with their ongoing "You're not you when you're hungry" campaign has seen their global sales in the first year of running the campaign increase by 15.9%.
What are examples of businesses you’ve seen taking similar risks and get results? Comment below to share your thoughts!
This I Know, is a book the advertising by industry veteran Terry O’Reilly. O’Reilly not only is one of the best storytellers out there, but his hilarious take on the advertising industry reveals a lot of secrets about great advertising, and what makes it successful.
In this first installment of our 3-part article, we will take a look at what makes an ad memorable and why Charmin has nothing on Old Spice when it comes to creativity.
What makes a memorable ad?
Think about a memorable ad that you’ve seen - any one of them will do - and now try to remember why it stands out in your memory, even years later. Chances are it was unlike any other ads of the time and perhaps even since.
The most memorable of these are funny, irreverent, sometimes downright outrageous (warning: NSFW - sound off), highly creative and often do not focus on the product or service offered, but rather how the offering makes the audience feel.
Old Spice does it right.
These ads usually fit two criteria: they are creative, often by employing humour and they manage to create a strong connection to the audience. The creativity enables the ad to stand out. By presenting the subject in an unexpected way, it commands the audience attention.
Take any of the Old Spice ads with Terry Crews, they are funny, nonsensical and talk less about the product than its supposed benefits for the user. Seeing Crews being a goofball is a treat in itself, but hearing in the subtext that Old Spice will somehow make me smell and look like him, makes me want to buy Old Spice, even though I would never in a million years buy a scented shower gel. It does so by connecting with the deepest desires and fears of their target: men. Indeed, who wouldn't want to smell, look cool and ripped? The creators of the ad went through the trouble of understanding their audience - empathizing with them - and used this knowledge to address their fears and desires.
Charmin does it wrong.
Conversely, take Charmin toilet paper ads for example, are for the most part safe, ultra-boring and speak to their audience like children. There is a reason we never remember any of them. They place the product firmly in the commodity box, where one roll of toilet paper is perceived as the same as any other roll of toilet paper.
As we’ve learned to tune them out after a lifetime of conditioning, they lose their effectiveness. They end up sounding condescending as they are the advertising equivalent of someone robotically repeating the same sentence over and over with no end in sight. I don't know about you, but I personally find pastel-colored bears irritating, insulting even. I am looking forward to the day where we see old-spice like TP adverts.
We’ve just looked at how effective advertising can be. In the next instalment, we will take a look at the power of creativity and risk-taking. Stay tuned!
What are some examples of bad ads that have stood out to you? Comment below to share your thoughts.
In episode our first episode of season 2, John Dewolf, Vice President at Form : Media walks us through his youth in the Canadian Maritimes, his early career as a graphic designer before he realized, while working on a software to help people save for retirement and later on the redesign of the US census forms, the power of design to positively influence people’s lives. We also talked creativity, his design process and how his career is bridging the gap across many design disciplines to create places that people can relate to. Listen in to hear more about John and his captivating career.
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.
There are a lot of businesses in the world who struggle to find their marketplace differentiators and that is especially true of architects and designers. As part of my work, I get to read a lot of what architects write about themselves. For the most part, the dreadful descriptions of their culture, their work and themselves is incredibly self-centered and focused on what they have accomplished in the course of their career. While there are some instances where this is necessary, it generally serves no purpose other than to generate pride in one’s work and boost the ego – not necessarily a bad thing. But if your goal is to attract more clients of the type that you work well with and build a lasting, value-based business, this is the opposite of what you should do.
A lot of architects will claim that building a value-based practice is their goal but fail to demonstrate this commitment through their actions. This form of cognitive dissonance takes them on a path of comparative and consubstantial self-promotion, which always leads to the same outcome: competing to get jobs on price alone, a losing strategy as it were, since there will always be a competitor waiting in the wings to undercut them.
The questions we ought to ask ourselves is: “How do we get out of this downward spiral and find clients who value our expertise and are willing to pay good money for it?”. This is where values come in. A business with solid values (like our good friends at DPAI) knows what it stands for, what its strengths are and does not hesitate to only seek new work that is aligned with those values. When doing so, values have an uncanny way to manifest themselves into our work, resulting in the attraction of like-minded clients.
It’s the combination of strong values with a laser-focus onto a niche market that will position a business to succeed. It starts with leadership asking themselves what they stand for from a values standpoint, which will eventually lead to being clear on their area of expertise and the market they eventually choose to focus on. Done well, this results in a clear differentiator and will set design businesses to demonstrably differentiate their expertise from the pack and grow into a nimble, confident business that attracts the right kind of clients.