We could all stand to take a moment to stop what we’re doing and consider Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice, “Hitch your wagon to a star.”
Not only was this American essayist, poet and leader of the mid-19th century Transcendentalist movement extolling the virtues of individualism, which we in the design and architecture community fervently hold dear, he was also hinting at where our decision-making loyalties ought to lay.
Just as Emerson’s quotation pointed early America toward abstract concepts of goals and virtue, those words again lead the way for anyone in the A&D community with the patience to consider them and the capacity to understand their import.
Despite our best efforts to anoint our creative intuition as the vanguard of modern design, our genius goes only as far as prevailing technology can carry us, and for good reason. The technology of today has been developed and field-tested to ensure our creations can stand the test of time – in addition to the test of unexpected client demands and abuse.
The role of technology in design
It is technology that allows us to create the image we believe most effectively satisfies a client’s needs. And so it should be technology that we turn to for guidance.
Before we turn to color and texture, we turn to form and function. So it stands to reason that before we turn to form and function, we must necessarily turn to the technology that provides that functionality.
If the technology is genuine, leading-edge design, chances are it will be self-evident, like Wright’s Fallingwater. But if the so-called technology comes to you accompanied by the words, “just as good as…”, then chances are better than even that you’ll get a cheaper version of what your intuition originally divined as the solution to your design problem.
Over time — and perhaps sooner than you’d hoped — that product will fail and lead to that client’s disappointment … not only with the product, but with the project and, inevitably, your performance.
That leads to the question of whether you accede to a client’s demands for budgetary restraint and forgo the best technology solution, or be willing to overcome a client’s objections with clear, convincing, and compassionate education.
It just may be that today’s client conversation about technology may be tomorrow’s conference keynote speech on just how you managed to accomplish your project’s goals by ushering your client’s support.
Defending technology in design
Start making concessions on your technology requirements, and you’ll begin to erode the quality of your design and the confidence of your client in your professional talent.
Defend your technology and your client will see a professional promoting good foundations that ultimately is beneficial, which speaks louder to clients than all of the economic hand-wringing they’ll try to put you through. (And they will wail, and rail at your suggestions, more as an exorcism of their instinctive frugality than of their rejection of your deliberate attempts to insulate them from trouble, which they do recognize on some level.)
Your mission as A&D and economics coach is to shed light on that level and bring it into their consciousness. They’ll thank you for it if they’re serious. Just as a gold medalist will laud the same coach who made his life a living hell, but who got him to realize his true potential.
Like any good coach, the designer or architect who harnesses technology to carry her projects into a successful future will likewise harness the energy of her client. In doing so, she’ll help that client to understand the value he receives for what might initially be considered an out-sized and unnecessary investment. Today’s perceived budget-busting technology will eventually be his long-term economic ally.
The keys to winning that client’s confidence and support will be the documented evidence provided by and accompanying the technology.
Whether it’s peer review — that is to say, clients speaking among themselves — or hard technical data, there is no substitute for evidence. It’s what your clients presumably use to stay in business and hopefully what led them through your front door.
Despite their initial reactions to the contrary, prudent business people will ultimately see the truth in this worthwhile proposition: you get what you pay for. They probably employ this thinking in their private lives and would be amenable to its use professionally.
There are brilliant examples of the innovative use of technology throughout the history of architecture and design. Most are beneath the project’s surface serving as the foundation upon which its perceived magnificence rests. But there are other examples staring us in the face, such as wall coverings, a product category with perhaps the greatest opportunity to either help or harm the people in its space. But more on that in a future article.
By choosing design products that contain the best technology available, we are doing all we can do to ensure that our design’s performance will stand the test of time, and that of our clients’ wellbeing.