face the music

I’m not using this idiom in the strict sense of facing punishment, but accepting responsibility. After all of these years of working for myself and working for years in a very responsible position prior to that, the one thing I have learned is I have to be the one to face those for whom I do my work.

At times I have discussed this issue with others working with me like colleagues, staff and even consultants when inquiring about the depth of their efforts. “Would you want to face the client and explain this” is a curt replay of the discussion. Occasionally I sense this expectation from younger designers naively battling between eagerness and entitlement to be the lead or start their own firm. I still remember sitting in on client meetings, early in my career, feeling relieved that I didn’t have to be the one presenting. I love to learn vicariously but you have to get your hands dirty a few times to truly learn something.

In her 1991 book “Architecture, the Story of Practice“, Dana Cuff mentions that “…young, recently graduated architect-employees search for and accept moonlighting jobs–independent design projects completed outside the office–not only to make extra money but also to be able to make their own decisions.” I can relate to this, but I look back and am glad I (generally) avoided this practice not just for ethical reasons, but simply because I wasn’t ready.

Now it’s part of my day-to-day job and I embrace it. It ups your game in a hurry.

It begins at the interview when discussing capabilities and fees and continues once we’ve handed them a proposal for our services. With every client I prefer to discuss fees in person at the initial meeting for most projects so we can broach the most sensitive topics at the outset. I have found that if you have trouble with this issue the rest will not get any better. Responding to comments at this stage is an art and a science.

The next opportunity is during the initial design phase. Once we have developed a design far enough to present options to our client, we sit across the table from them, look them in the eye and explain our ideas…and wait for their reaction. You think you have a cool idea, but is it a bit unusual? Yeah, put it in front of your client and see if you can convince them.

During construction (which I liken to an architect’s final exam) we have one more chance to own up to our decisions — even though they were made as a team. This is where everyone can see with their own eyes what it was we intended for the project and they can make judgments whether right or wrong. If we have done our job well and thoroughly, carefully and thoughtfully these interactions are positive. In fact it is very satisfying to have our clients looking around the space and then look at us and smile. No reward without responsibility.

Are you a consultant that only deals with architects and not the end-user (the one writing the check)? Perhaps you are a young designer fresh out of school or with only a few years of work experience. Ask yourself if you are ready to face a client alone. Even with over twenty-two years of practice experience there is still a little bit of hesitation at each interaction. It is a test of good communication, good preparation and good execution.

So…do you really think you are ready?


photos are from multiple stock photo gallery on Stock.Xchng (used under the Standard Restrictions)

photo 01, photo 02

face the music

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