‘We believe good design makes people feel better.’
‘We’re passionate about our design,’ said every architect.
Hmmm! Aren’t your competitors passionate too? Doesn’t every other designer want to make buildings that make people feel better?
I had asked an architect what was distinctive about his design? He gave me the, ‘We’re passionate’ reply.
We both knew this wasn’t his usual answer. It was the weekend. We were tired. His project team, including me, had been working long days on a signature proposal. It was a great submission. And we were passionate. We just needed to demonstrate that.
It deserved a great cover story, a powerful debut. You wouldn’t hide the best hotel tucked behind a pokey lobby or a great book under a basic cover. Well, you might. But it would be incongruous, and no fun. You don’t want to be like anyone anywhere. You want to ARRIVE!
‘It needs to be something that’s distinctly you. What are you giving this client that no one else can?’
That’s what I needed to know but that question is too open. It’s like drawing the first line on a white page.
What’s the connection between the designer and the concept?
The architect I was speaking to usually finds literary references to inform his design. Some might say that’s my job as the writer. And yes, I will make further suggestions when spotted or needed. But the designer’s concept rules.
This time, he’d referenced a poem that is also the list of contents in a book. But we needed more.
We kicked around a few ideas up and down the phone line. Nothing.
‘There’s this I’ve been thinking about,’ he said. “I’ll email it.” A minute later I am reading it and he’s filling me in. It seemed obscure. They were words by a college teacher who had inspired him. The words had stayed with him. The words did not even apply to the discipline of architecture.
‘OK. Leave it with me.’ And with that, and informed by the poem, design, and its narrative, we’d reached a nexus from where I could begin. I would refine it in the day or so that followed but I had the first draft ready and sent to him in 18 minutes.
Characterising design is like creating a novel character. You define the characters not by writing a CV or formal description but with a single question about how they felt in a single moment.
It’s about finding the story that reflects you today. That is enough. There is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution. It’s enough to reflect you and your design now.
P.S. Why don’t I share the project, the design, the book, the poem? Respect for the designer’s ideas, and confidentiality agreements. It’s also a challenge to you to think beyond being passionate.