Tag Archives: business

Designers are Control Freaks

I’ve already quoted this before on here, but worth quoting again:

‘You’re all here in architecture school because some part of you is a control freak.’ – Prof. Justin Hilton

It is so true. Whether it be architects, interior designers, landscape architects, graphic designers, etc, designers have powerful opportunities to control many senses of the users that occupy are utilize the designer’s project. A great example of this is retail, where many studies have been done to prove that through store planning and graphic design, retail sales can be escalated. I came across this great article today about how Whole Foods does this so well:


We should take note, however, that this responsibility should not be taken lightly. In the Whole Foods case, design is used to proactively influence a person’s actions. In the case of architects and interior designers, we have the ability to create spaces that subconsciously can improve the quality of life for users in an important living or working space. Remember, people, our legal job description is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants. It sure is fun, though, being able to say that you’ve positively impacted someone’s environment, whether they realize it or not.


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The Masterbuilder

If there ever could be a single essay that described my philosophy as a design professional, this is it. I don’t ever have to even write it myself. This guy wrote it for me. It is thoughtful and perfectly true. The role of masterbuilder that Mr. H. Robert Dinsmore, Jr. writes in this article is exactly who I want to become, the role I am lucky enough to be learning right now. I have a long way to go, but everything you need to know about Bob’s career goal is right here.

Read this.


Please comment as well. I’ll probably make a series of posts about this article, I’m just so pumped about it right now I need some time to think about how to break this down.

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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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Civic Arena – Should it Stay or Go?

The Civic Arena is just screaming to get a post on this blog. Great building, great icon of Pittsburgh, great sports team inside it.

The current argument is, ‘It may ultimately be the best decision to demolish it, but let’s not rush it. Let’s take the time to make sure there’s not a good solution to develop in and around it.”

Alright, I may not agree with demolishing it next Tuesday. I suppose I’d rather see it standing than see asphalt for the three-plus years it will take all development parties involved to start any sort of new building project. Given the forceful opposition to progress in this city though, lets make that five-plus years.

The historical photos seen below are emotional, wonderful, inspiring, and makes one wish for a moment that the igloo would be around forever with that wonderful view opened up to the city’s skyline.

Then all of a sudden, I see the reaction of people to the new arena. Now, I know that the reaction of Yinzers going to see Paul McCartney is different than a designer’s point of view, because the new arena is pretty uninspiring from the exterior. However its interesting to see how quickly the Civic Arena became the used up toy that doesn’t flash as bright or make as much noise as the new toy…

I’ll keep my thoughts brief on what I actually think should happen. I’ve thought of them in list form, so I’m writing them that way.

-The land that this building occupies is the most important development land that any of us may ever see in Pittsburgh in our lifetimes. It can become the only true live-work district in the city, and be the catalyst for real revitalization of the downtown residential markets.

-I will be absolutely, positively stunned if any architect or developer comes up with any redevelopment proposal of the Arena itself that not just looks good, but can generate real revenue. It just doesn’t happen in buildings like this one. Money trumps ideas.

-If politicians, neighborhood groups, or anyone not designing or holding the development money have too much say, it will be a colossal failure and will never reach its potential in terms of what this NEEDS to be for Pittsburgh. This area is bigger than the revitalization of the Hill District. Its the catalyst for the growth of Pittsburgh.

-Probable timeline for the beloved Igloo: Whine, whine, whine, get a demo delay, find no profitable use, whine, demolition, big whine, urban planning, political influence, two years pass, and in 5-7 years the creation of the best district the city has ever seen. A whole new neighborhood is formed and becomes the only area of this city that resembles a progressive, large city district that will attract people back downtown to live, work, and play.

That’s what I hope, at least.

Edit: After reading the comment posted, I’m hoping that I did not come across at elitist in this post. Given my love of Rural Studio’s work and many other small neighborhood initiatives, I clearly do view architecture a social art. I absolutely do feel like the Hill District residents should benefit and be influential in the redevelopment of this area. I wouldn’t even disagree if the Hill residents were ultimately the ones to make the final decision if the Arena was demolished or not.

Although there is a surplus of open office and residential space in downtown currently, my belief is that this is due to a lack of basic amenities provided by the area. That goes to my point as to how important this area is – it can provide a new level of density that can house amenities that residential markets long for, and could spark a shift in population back towards the downtown triangle area.

Back to the Hill residents – I don’t think they should be the ONLY ones deciding what will be redeveloped here. For one, its too important of an area for downtown, to link back in to the Hill and recreate that neighborhood. Secondly, I can’t take a stance that says that communities can tell developers where and how to spend their money. If I was investing my own money here, I would have an understanding that I need to prioritize the community heavily, and make sure that the Hill residents benefit heavily from it. But I would in no way invest in the area if the community had ALL of the say. It doesn’t make financial sense.

I do agree whole heartedly with the end of the comment though: our mayor should be NOWHERE near this one.

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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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