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Redefine what Design means to Us

This Guest Post is by Jon Buerg.

I’m going to do something in this post that runs contrary to my typical stance on the subject, and this is say something nice about architecture schools. Our country’s architecture schools spend the majority of their curricula teaching design, but only a small percentage of us actually go on to become what our industry would classify as “design architects.” The rest of us are in other roles: detailers, specifiers, code analysts, project managers, job captains, and so on. I’ve found this fact is very frustrating for people coming into the profession fresh out of architecture school. It was a frustrating discovery for me when I entered the profession too.

I realized early in my career that I had to change my thinking on my position in my firm and in my profession if I was going to stay in the field of architecture and grow as an architect. In more recent years I discovered that what I was really doing was redefining what design is to me, and that might also be helpful in motivating those I worked with who were in an earlier stage of their careers.

This might seem like a mind hack at first, but it’s really about looking at everything you do in your architecture career as design and thinking about those various types of design from the architect’s point of view, as you were taught in architecture school. When you do this, everything is an opportunity to design—even seemingly mundane shit: elevating toilets, folding presentation materials for some city council presentation, organizing details on a sheet or arranging the annotation in each of those details. Then all of a sudden people are noticing how much love you are putting into these tasks and you’re being assigned to increasingly complex projects and now you’re growing as a design professional.

Young professionals don’t always buy into this line of thinking at first, or at all. But those who do change their perspective on design do grow their careers by getting assigned to work that is probably more reflective of the romantic view of architecture that school can unwittingly lead students towards. I suppose another way to word all of this is to have passion about everything you do in your work. I know first-hand how hard that is to do on a boring project with no design (that’s design in the traditional sense), so I think it’s better to simply redefine what design means to us.

At this point in my career I find myself getting asked by clients to craft solutions to all sorts of problems that seem either technical, business-based, or both—such as finding a way to decrease the time between issuance of construction drawings and vendor’s distribution of their submittals; or backing a scope of work into a fee rather than the other way around. Each time the client presents me a question like this, I say:

“I would be happy to design a solution for you!”

What Design Is Post ImageSubscribe to the blog so that you don’t miss future guest posts from Jon Buerg: Shoegnome on FacebookTwitter, and the RSS feed. You should also go ahead and follow Jon on twitter. Hopefully that will encourage him to share more of his thoughts on BIM and being an architect in the 21st century. Jon and I first met at an ARCHICAD user group. If you liked this post, let Jon know and then go attend a user group meeting.

Comments

  • July 30, 2015
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    Jared…

    I’m having trouble finding the words to adequately compliment you on this mature and sage advice. Well put, to say the least.

    • July 31, 2015
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      Steve, it’s not me. It’s my fellow architect and friend Jon Buerg who has the mature and sage advice. I’m just smart enough to share his wisdom.

      • July 31, 2015

        Dumb me regarding giving Jared the credit. Anyway, Jon acknowledged the compliment which still stands. Joe Blow’s comments above are also interesting. Joe, can that be your real name?

  • July 30, 2015
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    Jon Buerg

    Wow! It is very encouraging for me to see such great reactions to my articles. I really appreciate you taking the time to pay a compliment like that. Thanks, Steve!

  • July 31, 2015
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    Daniel L. Pelzl

    Try specifing Ifo 3575s to experience good design.

  • July 31, 2015
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    joe blow

    Food for thought:

    If you change the word design with problem solving, and understand that design is simply just a verb or action of problem solving then it might help understand architecture as a whole, with everything we do within it as being problem solvers.

  • August 2, 2015
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    Completely agree, Jon.
    I think architects are one of the few technicians that may spend a whole evening deciding if verdana goes better than lucida sans under a 4×4 inches drawing for a presentation.
    And we all perceive that details when we are spectators, don’t we?

    • August 4, 2015
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      Jon Buerg

      Love that example, Antonio! So true!

  • August 9, 2015
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    Jim Allen

    This is a great article – thanks! I’ve been espousing the same principle for years. Every time you create a spreadsheet, a form or a sign, it’s design, or ought to be.

    People are all judged all the time, by everyone. Whether it’s our accents, our shoes, our clothes, our car, our attitude. Everything we do informs how people perceive us.

    Architects are silently judged by the quality of everything they produce, whether it is a business card, an invoice, a brochure a presentation or a whole building. These are creative opportunities.

    We have the skills and awareness to design everything we do, we should embrace this!

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