It all starts with the client

Architecture starts with the client. It might seem obvious, but the reality of the profession says otherwise. And it starts in the classroom. I can barely remember a design studio class in which we were taught to design not only for the users but also with the clients’ needs in mind. In fact, there was no mention of a client at all! In practice too, it is not uncommon for design teams to skip to designing before identifying what problem the client was trying to solve by hiring them in the first place.

Seldom does anyone stop to think: what are the client’s pain points, needs and KPIs? Instead, we crack on blindly putting a lot of effort into beautiful and functional designs that are great in many ways, but are actually solving the wrong problems. There’s a quote I love by management theorist Peter Drucker that sums it up perfectly: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently [and might I add, beautifully] that which should not be done at all.”

Before I even began architecture school, an architect and family friend warned me: “Architecture is basically long hours and no pay – save yourself the agony.”

The industry’s disregard for clients’ business goals

Widespread disregard or misunderstanding of the clients’ business goals and problems has had a negative effect on the industry at large, especially when it comes to our fees. Fees in architecture are abysmally low compared to other professional service and consultancy providers. Expectedly, it’s a longstanding concern within the field.

Before I even began architecture school, an architect and family friend warned me: “Architecture is basically long hours and no pay – save yourself the agony.”  I get it. It’s disheartening that clients have come to consider architectural practices as a commodity. They are skeptical about the concrete value that architects provide their business and customers with – value that’s specific, measurable and relevant.

Success is solving your client problems

But let’s not discourage. If we’re to become our client’s partners, and therefore be paid appropriately for our services, we must rethink the profession at its core. As Mark Cook, former VP of Product at Kodak Gallery, eloquently puts it: “Success is not delivering a feature [or in this case a building], success is learning how to solve the customer’s [or client’s] problems.”¹

At the start of a project, I now strive to go beyond the brief or the RFP. I make a point to study my client in order to better understand them, their needs and their customers. And most importantly, I then communicate the value of my work clearly and detail how I can help them achieve their business goals.

Too many architects see clients as an obstacle to achieving their visions. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Adopting a client-centric mindset

We need to adopt a client-centric mindset. Too many architects see clients as an obstacle to achieving their visions. This couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, I’ve come to see that it’s precisely when you understand both your client’s core business goals and the end users’ needs, and align them with your own aspirations that the real magic happens.

Sources: 1. Quote from The Lean Startup by Eric Dries

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