With the advent of popular multimedia platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the architectural profession is poised for change. So said Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, LEED AP, and 2009 Rising Star Leadership Award winner John Brown, RAIC, housebrand, in their September 15 session, "Using Mass Media and Technology to Promote Good Design."
Kaufmann, residential architect's 2008 Top Firm Leadership Award winner, told the crowd of about 200 that now is an essential time for reinvention and innovation, and that they should take advantage of it. "It's a great opportunity for us," she said. "There is so much waste and so much inefficiency, and we really have to rethink how we design and how we build, but also how we communicate with our clients."
For inspiration, Kaufmann said she looks to Charles and Ray Eames—the type of architecture they practiced; the principles on which they designed their buildings; and how they communicated "through many different modes, including toys, exhibits, film, and books."
Kaufmann embraces mass media in a big way, using platforms such as museum exhibits and Twitter to publicize her various endeavors, products, and events. She has had show homes built on the floor of the National Building Museum, in the parking lot in front of San Francisco's City Hall, and at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. "While the education in text form is helpful," she said, "it's nothing like someone walking through your home."
She also urged architects to provide as much information as possible on their websites for the purpose of educating potential clients and discussed the merits of video as an outreach tool. Architects should embrace the medium for providing thoughtful and accurate content, she said. Blogs are another good way to get information to people looking for content, she added. "The blog has been pretty helpful for going into varying amounts of detail on different things."
But significant questions remain. What, for example, does using these different forms of communication get you? And how do you measure what's important? For Kaufmann, all that effort has led to more than 300,000 people walking through her firm's show homes and exhibits. "We've had lots of press, which is great because it helps" educate the public, she said. It also results in heavy traffic for your websites. "As we look at these metrics and think, How is it going to help our business? it can also help in ways you could never imagine," she told attendees.
Brown used his portion of the session to discuss how his Calgary, Alberta-based firm, housebrand, has used different types of media to shape the practice. He began by asking how many attendees have a website they use on a regular basis and how many are satisfied with their office space. These questions had relevance to his firm and its relationship to the public, he said.
In housebrand's case, the firm followed the strategy of The Hertz Corp., which promoted renting cars in general rather than its own rental cars specifically. Similarly, housebrand didn't sell itself; rather, it sold the category of good design.
The firm started by buying a one-page ad in a local design magazine in which it instructed the public at large about design. "If there is one thing I can credit our success to, it's doing" that ad, Brown told the audience.
"This ultimately informs what we're doing within new media, but it's important not to think of new media as being separate from all the other marketing things that you do, including where it is that you do business, because your office is very much a part of your public persona," he said.
Next, housebrand embraced home shows, setting up each time an exhibition "that talked about real estate and the process. It didn't talk about us," he said. According to Brown, this was an early attempt to reach the public. And there have been many others. Each time, he explained, "We're not handing out business cards telling people about our fee structure. What we're doing is celebrating design, celebrating the idea of good thoughtful design to everybody."
Brown said his firm also shuns the conventional office space formula, instead modeling its workplace as a retail store where people can come in and simply browse. "It's a key component of our relationship to the public," he said. "That's what new media is about; it's about your relationship with the public, and your office is a huge part of that."
Brown also talked about his firm's use of video on the Slow Home website, an educational tool for viewers through which he analyzes floor plans and talks about ways to fix them.
"What's important about media is that it be integrated into an overall strategy for your business," he explained. "It's not just about how you get work but how you build up an idea of the category that you're in. If you use media in exciting new ways, it will benefit all of us."