Desigers must choose: Become the architect or the bricklayer?

Some very interesting insights in an article I recently read on the Communication Arts website entitled The Architect and the Bricklayer Confronting Choices for Creative Firms. The author, David Miller, references the recent, upbeat findings of a report on the GD industry conducted by the Association of Professional Design Firms.While the report found increases in money spent and overall economic conditions in 2004 compared with 2003 or 2002 (which were pretty lousy years), it also reported that there appears to be two clear “edges” forming in the industry.

With the further Wal-Mart-ing of business, the design market study demonstrates the pressure on designers to either be cheaper and faster????????or to be exceptional. In a figurative way, the market is asking providers in the creative services sector to decide whether they are ???????Architects??????? or ???????Bricklayers.???????The Architect model requires design firms to lead, offering strategic insights and seasoned perspective, navigate complex client cultures, provide highly-differentiated and bold creative vision, and to maintain robust, differentiated strategic processes.The Bricklayer model requires design firms to be structured and managed as high-efficiency producers, serving as get-it-done functionaries, able to reliably turn out high-quality design, often within tight time and cost parameters. Their inherent nature is to fit-in, to flex and adapt schedules and processes to match client circumstances. It requires design to work dynamically within a brand system, and with the client????????s other creative resources.

The article also talked a little about some of the issues we confront constantly on this blog. Issues like commoditization and the need for designers to separate ourselves from the pack.

Clearly, clients are looking for lean manufacturing solutions. As the design industry study makes clear, creative firms are being asked to develop overall design frameworks, and are then faced with clients inclined to ???????take it from here,??????? farming-out design execution and production to lower-cost production resources, found in-house, freelance and in small agencies. Said Donaldson, summarizing the fiscal climate, ???????Clients are cautious to get value for their dollar????????and they should be.???????The account management role in design firms is experiencing a period of redefinition, shifting from managing project tasks to a greater role in developing deeper client relationships. While account managers retain responsibility for client satisfaction, budget and schedule management, the role of cultivating professional relationships, and to identify and develop further opportunity, is an increasing priority.Designers also report that their clients are reaching a creative plateau, satisfied that the work they receive is ???????good enough,??????? serviceable and not worth further development. Karl Bischoff, a partner at PBDH and chairman of APDF, said, ???????The client market has now been conditioned to good design at absolute value rates, as there has been little accountability for the contribution of design in the performance of the client????????s business. If we????????re going to be accepted as a strategic asset, we have to perform like one, so we????????ve developed ways to actually prove to clients the leverage of better design on business objectives.???????

I think we all, on various levels, have confronted these developments over the past few years. It’s probably going to accelerate before it slows down. We can probably either decide to be the architect or inevitably end up as the bricklayer — whether we choose to or not.Those with a firm plan in place who position themselves well can reap great rewards as bricklayers. The same can be said for those who position themselves as architects. However, I suspect that many will stick their heads in the sand, as we typically do in this industry, and end up stuck in what will probably end up as a middle ground between the two. The “day worker”. Neither a bricklayer OR an architect.If that happens, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves..chris{}

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