Architects, Branding and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Things are in full swing here. The place is full of students and the bicycle park is full by the time I get in everyday. I am “under the pump” as they say and this may be why there were so many typos in the first posting of this. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

As a profession in some ways architects have all the characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The common complaints by clients and of course other members of the construction industry are: grandiosity, lack of empathy for others and a need for admiration; a common willingness to be arrogant, self-centred, manipulative, and demanding. This is of course a harsh assessment and many other groups in our industry also suffer from these traits. Especially, Project Managers and contractors !  People with NPD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder often believe they are superior or special. We all know people like this.

Arguably, some of these narcissistic traits are needed to get architecturally designed projects built, in a world that seems not to care about architecture, design or aesthetics. A world that really doesn’t care about design value. It may be because architects go against the normal grain of “cheaper and quicker is better,” and actually care about design, that they are seen by others as being narcissistic.

However, there is one area where I wonder if the self-regard and narcissism of architects is skewed.  This week in the MSD Architectural Practice class we ran a Q&A panel on architects and branding. One theme that came out of this panel  was the fact that architects were great at producing awesome renders and most, although I would say not all, have a pretty good idea about communications design and graphics. Yes, all of those things are taught at architecture school. We are good at building brands for other people like developers. But I think that is the problem. That’s all we architects are good at; we are only good at doing the renders and the graphics for the designs. As a result, we think we a really good at branding because these activities have visual components. But being the narcissistic profession, that we are, we then think this is all you need to do. We too often reflect and bask in the glory of our own technical skills.

Knowing a little about computer generated renders and graphic design does not necessarily mean architects know much about branding. This is an even more pressing issue as branding is now  more complicated in an era of ubiquitous computing, customised advertising, the rise influencers, the proliferation of social media channels. Data analytics of consumer preferences is now a dark art and few architects understand it. The shift to the very short digital film clip as the most common form of communication is smoething that seems to have eluded us.

Branding for architects isn’t just about a few slick images and a funny cute name. Its not something you can do in an afternoon in the office (unlike a blog full of typos).  As Verity Campbell reminded me at our Q&A session architects really need to think about how our representational, images, logos, names and graphics are seen by others. Architects need to bridge the communication gap between ourselves our clients and community.

At the firm level. 

Branding is about  distinction and positioning. What’s the point of every architect in town claiming to do sustainable design. When I searched for sustainable architects in my city I got 684,000 results in less than a second. I couldn’t believe this search result. Whats the point of doing a website that seems more like a hodge-podge of quirky graphics that does your head in when your cursor tries to engage with it. Or loads so slowly you have a aneurysm waiting. At my age aneurysms are a real issue when you are looking at slow moving web sites. All of  this hokey pokey branding schmaltz is like the caricature of the architect with the Corbusian glasses in black with the Comme des Garcon jacket driving to the site meeting in a Citroen.

As noted at our panel architects need to develop marketing and branding techniques that uniquely position themselves. This is a common error. For example when you find blurbs on websites like this. (I have redacted a few things to avoid mutual embarrassment).

and the combined experience of the office ranges from significant major projects in Melbourne, to many small and site specific projects, and international works. Our activity, interests and expertise, ranges from urban design to interiors and furniture – architecture in its broad sense.

We bring design to a broad set of situations and audiences, including peripheral locations, difficult problems and tight budgets. We aim for our work to participate in the widest environment it can; in new forms of communication, in sensitive natural environments, new types of cities, and with ordinary life.

Yip. All things to all people. Everywhere. How can the above be seen as effective branding? Yet, this is the mistake that is commonly made. I am sick of reading about what architects could do: Anything you ask them to do apparently? Or what they are like: creative, smart, experienced etc. etc. Most potential clients probably what to know what architects are doing, what they have done and how they are actually different to the tens of thousands of other sustainable design orientated architects in the universe. Maybe this is why I like the Assemble web site so much as a model.

At the community level

Our professional associations need to get much better at marketing and promoting architecture. Lamb does it and now they kind of own Australia Day. I am actually not sure how many punters are going to get to this “find your architect” AIA page  deep inside what is essentially an industry association website.

The AIA 2017 National conference is called PRAXIS. Holy Sardine Batman ! At least there is a bit of diversity in the speaker line up. Of course, when I think of the word PRAXIS I think of Deleuze & Guattari. But its just lots of architects talking about architecture. At least you get a tax deduction. Maybe the conference needs to include more punters, more real people, more politicians, policy experts, and more decision makers and be seen as means to market what we are as a profession to these broader groups.

In Australia the individual AIA chapters have Twitter accounts, the  National AIA Twitter account seems to have tweets few and far between. The account that has over 23,000 followers but just seems to feature a lot of stuff about the AIA conference and little that would be engaging to the punters, decision-makers or any one else for that matter. It’s a real snooze fest.

There is no obvious involvement through these channels in promoting architecture as anything beyond a kind of slick image marketing brochure. No wonder the punters think we work for the rich Kardashians. There is no deeper engagement, through all of these channels, with the policies and dilemmas of architecture in our time. I know I am biased but Parlour is a much better model of how to do things. At least the Parlour Instagram account doesn’t send you to sleep.

The last upload to the AIA Youtube site was about 2 months ago. Whoops that was the wrong link ! Here is the real AIA website. This doesn’t really appear to be a direct or crafted communications strategy that would link architects to anyone, except for maybe: other architects. No wonder we are too often, and unfairly, regarded as narcissistic out of touch idiots. At least we are fashionably dressed and have nice, although ineffective, websites.

 

 

 

 

 



Categories: architectural branding, architectural practice, Australian Architecture

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