Tag Archives: academia

The Great Design Recession

My very first post on this blog was published on July 29th of this year. It can be found here. It speaks about a few things, but it expresses my concern for talented students of mine not being able to find work…along with alot of other people. Five months later, things don’t seem to look a whole lot different in the general market. Our industry is getting hit with an unemployment rate of double or more the national average. Plenty of firm leaders aren’t seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Or if they are, they know things will be very, very different when it all settles.

The AEC industry was one of the first to get hit in 2007, and looks to be one of the last to recover. The primary reason for this is simple: money. Until the banks start lending normally and the private sector starts taking risks, things will not recover fully. Federal money to fund school, infrastructure, and government projects are simply a band-aid right now that only a few parts of the industry are able to benefit from and are not a sustainable option at many levels.

 

This rant stems from an article from Architectural Record that was published on Monday – it can be found here. Even the founder of my old firm is quoted, and then beat up a little in the comments section at the end.

I say all of this to stress the importance of one segment of that article:

“Yet an alternate reading of the tea leaves suggests that what may really be happening is that architecture is not keeling over but molting. Increasingly, it is becoming a multidisciplinary profession that will benefit generalists over experts, however painful that transition might be, according to employed and unemployed designers alike.”

I’ve never liked the idea of an ‘expert’ in architecture anyhow. Many firms will pigeon-hole staff into be very efficient at one type of task on a project – it makes sense financially for the firm, and its job security for that person – until that role disappears. Architects are supposed to be the ‘master builder’, aren’t they? That’s what the word stems from. Yet, our modern day landscape of the profession doesn’t have many of those. Knowing how to design, how to build, and how to be a business person all factor in. Get broader – find new mediums, take opportunities that present all different kinds of challenges, and widen your skill set.

Though things appear dim, don’t be fooled. There are jobs to be had, work to be done, and money to be made right now. Don’t let the flashy project images of chic design firms get you short sighted. That design firm path that schools teach you is not the only way to happiness in the design industry. In fact, its quite the opposite at the moment for many. Just as you are being taught to be creative in the studios, you also need to be creative in how you approach work. Take your other skill sets, business smarts, and passions and find ways to express yourself, stay busy, and make money all at the same time. It may take you to places you never imagined once you had your heart set on that big firm job – but it may be all for the better.

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Should Design Schools Teach More About Business?

Hello, world! I’ve been itching to do something like this for awhile – that is, somewhere to post and express some of the really interesting things I come across in life as a designer, educator, Pittsburgher, fiancé [most importantly], and project manager.

This first post will focus on the teaching component of my career, or more so the students I have been able to work with over the last 2 years. Over those 2 years and at 2 universities, I have worked with over 100 students. Unfortunately in this economic climate, not many of them have secured jobs within the design industry at all, let alone an architecture/interiors firm. This saddens me a great deal, as I see all of this creativity being manifest in the form of drawings, models, and perspectives that are all a part of a fairy tale project that I make up. I see enthusiasm and growth. I see the moments where they connect with and fall in love with the concept of designing space for people…forever. And yet, little do they know what world awaits them when they graduate. Little do they know how much of a labor of love this industry is – and the key – that real money is only in owning your own design practice.

These thoughts combine well with a poll I just discovered today about how academia treats business education in architectural [or any design field, for that matter] education. Should  there be more education about the business side of design? Should we simply continue to foster the creative environment so that designers can more fully understand who they are as a designer, but put horse blinders on them about what they will face when they leave? Not just with finding a job, but how difficult it is to maintain a business. Was the massive shrinkage of some of the largest US firms a solely matter of economic downturn, or did business strategy also play a role?

What do you think? Here is the poll: http://poll.fm/1zzlx

I’ll have my own design firm someday – and good design will be a priority – but so will good business. So far, I have a feeling I don’t have many good examples of design firms to imitate business practices from.

As for my students, don’t lose hope. It may work out differently than you expect, but that passion you feel for design won’t ever go away – you’ll find a way to be successful.

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