Why my retail clients care in the slightest about my publications in Dezeen?
Last week I was chatting to my friend Roberto Gómez about the upcoming release of his e-book. Roberto has been designing commercial building facades for ten years. He told me that before the crisis some architects who were in charge of large projects would turn down small interior design jobs because they were too trivial… or because they wouldn’t pay enough. And that they disregarded an area of the market that they’re now staking a claim for.
I am unhappy to see my colleagues blame their current situation on circumstances beyond their control, for instance that builders, interior designers and decorators have taken over their competences. Does expertise count for nothing? Are we purporting to becoming involved again projects that we do not specialise in (and out of pure necessity)? An architect is not necessarily an expert in commercial design, lighting or retail furniture. When considering a design, experts in these areas will pay regard to issues that are just as if not more relevant, such as investment in refurbishing and potential depreciation. Are we prepared to apply the same yardstick to both an operating account and a design solution?
Not doing so can result in some very negative consequences for an entrepreneur. Some contractors (not all of them, naturally) pay heed to issues such as practicality, price and possible obsolescence of the building before the project even starts. This attitude allows them to immediately empathise with their sponsors. If we do not truly pay attention to all tender specifications or to the subsequent maintenance of the premises, we will not achieve good medium-term results.
In my view, if clients want “white” you must give it to them. And if you want to give them “black” instead, you must inform and educate them – on the basis of common sense – so as to allow them to solve their problems or meet their new requirements.
Design is about finding solutions without giving in to the thirst for prominence, so typical of Architecture, without trying to “make history”. This means that retail designers consider aspects that are “more mundane and less lofty”. They look into their clients’ experience, the arrangement and orientation of the furniture. They match interior design and signage with corporate image. They coordinate usage and programming with the colour of the light’s temperature. They organise visual merchandising according to sales seasonality. They put old and new products on display in cold and hot zones (that is, spaces that are determined by purchasing trends) and so on.
Is all of this Architecture? Only occasionally. This design process gives the best yields when you study the market, adjust prices, choose the proper materials and lighting, and estimate whether visual impact is preferable to comfort. This, in turn, is only achieved after talking to your client and its employees at length with a view to taking the peculiarities of each business into consideration. Architects who are “signed on” by large companies to design their flagship stores work hand in hand with the local Graphic Design and Marketing Departments.
What kind of added value can architects provide compared to other professionals? We are good managers and coordinators, we are versatile, we are able to clearly envision the final results of our work, we possess technical and creative knowledge. We are able to predict what impact our projects will have on space. Our ability to perceive the world in three dimensions is well above average. We design our buildings with order and discipline… and we solve problems, we do not create them.
Let’s convince our clients that they need us. But let’s not use the simplistic argument that “we are architects and we studied for six years”.
Publishing an article in Dezeen “inflated my ego” and improved my CV and web positioning. But I do not usually tell my clients about it. If they hire me, it will be because I have effectively made my case by presenting arguments to back up my experience, creativity, and initiative as well as other personal skills. I will hardly be catching anyone’s attention by stating that “I am an architect and no one should elbow into my business”. If I do… they might as well turn to a builder or an interior designer.