i don’t know what that means


As usual, my mind associates day to day experiences with my world as an architect. I really don’t plan these things. Yet, even a trip to the phone store at the mall can remind me of analogous aspects of the profession. Call it a gift.

Earlier this week my family decided to change mobile phone carriers and in turn had to buy new phones. We were due. My wife had done an excellent job on this project with her research and execution of the details. Her tenacity saved us a lot of money as the series of stupid fees was waived on both sides of the deal.


To summarize, our previous carrier was delivering less service than promised and less service than what we paid for monthly, so we had to break up. There was some technical explanation given for the poor service, but no apology or no discount.

See, it was them, not us. We truly did need more space.

By the way, the map that is mostly red…it’s deceiving. Read it carefully. Fortunately, our experience in the other major carrier’s store was wonderful due to the remarkable service of one young customer associate who had a gifted balance of technical savvy (freakishly knowledgeable) and personality to balance it. Consider it serendipity. We had quite a few laughs during the process.


Although we were hoping to avoid it, we also had to purchase a new phone for our son. Mr. Murphy and his laws would have none of it despite the fact that his phone was in good working order (with the other carrier). We returned yesterday and ultimately found the best for our situation. However…it wasn’t that easy.

The associate with whom we worked with previously was with another customer, so we had to deal with other sales associates in the store. I believe it was three actually talking to us who among them couldn’t beat the ability of our one previous friend. As we reviewed our options I asked the more mature team member what the difference was between the phones on one side of the store and the other side of the store (besides the several hundred dollars difference). An answer was given, but you can leave it to me to always have a follow up question. That too…a gift.

Me: <<gesturing>> “What is the difference between the phones on this side and the phones on that side?”

Associate: “These phones…blah blah plan details, month to month…blah…pay per go…blah blah.”

Me: “I think I understand that, but what specifically is different?”

Associate: “These phones are better than those.”

Me: “Ok, ‘better‘ is a subjective term. What do you mean by ‘better’?”

Associate: “These phones have more bells and whistles than those.”

Me: “No, you don’t understand. I’m not a techy person so I don’t know what that means.”

Me: “What specifically is the difference?”

Associate: “These phones have an 8 mega-pixel camera, those have a 5 mega-pixel camera.”

Me: (thinking): “OK, I know 8 is more than 5, but that doesn’t explain the difference.”

Associate: “These phones can download <<gibberish I don’t understand>> apps, those ones can’t”

Me: “OK, I’m still not following. Are those phones adequate for a 12 year old boy?”

Associate: “Yes, they’ll do just fine.”

Me: (exhausted): “Great thanks for your help <I think>”


This past week, for instance, I had an analogous situation occur with at least three of my clients and I was very careful to speak to them at their level of construction knowledge. Hopefully, I heard the real question they were asking so I could actually answer it and answer it succinctly. They all seemed satisfied.

We can fall under the same trap as architects as we explain our recommendations for design ideas, materials, explanations for code requirements and other mandatory aspects of construction. If we have ever done this to you like explained above, I apologize.

Let me speak to the architects reading this for just one moment.

Stop it. Just stop it.

Fortunately, our favorite associate finished up with his customer and having seen us earlier, nudged his way into our deal. Thus, scattering the rest of the herd (of which one was probably his boss). We were relieved at this point and our comfort level returned. I didn’t go through the painful interrogation of the phone questions again, but we felt at ease when he told us we chose the best phone for the price. We didn’t want to spend anymore, we spent less than we had prepared for earlier and we felt comfortable as he finished the process. We had more laughs. I would return to this sales associate. I would refer others to him. My wife is actually going to refer him to someone today.

Again a word to my fellow architects…

Be this way; act this way, treat your clients this way.

Balance the technical with personality. No seriously. Make your clients feel at ease, give them remarkable design and after you’ve listened to what their biggest concern is, address it. It is possible to explain things clearly without being patronizing. Maybe we just need to slow down a bit and pay attention to their non-verbal cues. Sometimes we’re not good at this. Sometimes we answer the wrong question because we weren’t listening.

Let me digress briefly. For those of you thinking it, this post is intentionally ignoring the ‘difficult’ client. Let’s not get side tracked.

If you’re having a few laughs with your architect, they’re probably doing it right. You feel at ease and the exchange is going well. If you’re having a problem with your architect, please find a way to tell them “I don’t know what that means.”

We’ll be grateful.


photos are from stock photo galleries on FreeImages.com – click on photo to see author (used under the Standard Restrictions). And no, I have no idea what these are pictures of in this post.

i don’t know what that means

2 thoughts on “i don’t know what that means

  1. ted rusnak says:

    Lee, I’m concerned.

    (Thank goodness your wife was able to work her way through the maze of phone purchasing).

    No not about phones…the pictures. A motherboard, Dr. Who’s transportation device, the seats on a suspended roller coaster ride, a something-something, and the connection the suspended roller coaster ride rides on (you never wondered why you and everyone with you just didn’t fly off the rails?).

    Oh, architects and their creating comfort levels in clients. What about the reverse? The first restaurant I worked on the client just assumed I, as an architect, knew nothing about restaurants. Same with the Dentist, the manufacturing plant, the factory owner…et al. Correct. To a point.
    All of my new friends came to understand that I was not about to dictate methods or conditions for what they knew much better than I. But they also finally acknowledged that maybe I knew how to put a building together a bit better than them. We taught each other and the projects became reality, profitable ones at that.

    1. Ted, I don’t know what your concern is actually. I think your explanation is spot on. My problem with the woman at the mall was not that I couldn’t understand, it was the fact that I didn’t want her to use subjective vague terminology. I needed information so I as the consumer could make the best decision. I am capable of making a choice with information. My clients too can make a decision if they know the ramifications of each decision. I may disagree with their decision, but they can choose for themselves. We just need to explain as architects without using subjective terms and without using “archi-speak”. What you think is “better” may be different than my “better.” (And yes, I generally knew what the photos were because I chose them. I just don’t understand the inner workings).

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