Digital technology touches nearly everyone’s life. Be it delivered through cell phones, home entertainment devices, ATMs, storefronts or countless other means, digital design is big business and Robert Miles Kemp is at the forefront of that exploding movement.
The son of a carpenter and general contractor, Kemp visited job sites from the time he was small. At nine years old, his father gave him the challenge of designing a structure for a neighbor, which was subsequently built. Kemp loved both the process and the end product. Thus began a career in architecture. More after the break.
Architecture press is buzzing with recent Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on unemployment and self-employment figures for those in the architecture field. The media have taken this data and made a plentitude of fearful predictions about the dark future of the architecture profession: there are more too many graduates, seemingly few positions, higher educational requirements and less prestige for the profession as a whole. They paint a somewhat dismal picture, both for those entering the field and those in mid-career, who are looking to start a firm.
The BLA Statistics and a recent study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education offer the following as signs of difficulty and doom:
- Licensing requirements (for architects) include not only a professional degree in architecture (4-6 years of schooling), but also at least 3 years of practical work, training, and passing all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination
- Architecture graduates face stiff competition, especially for jobs in the most prestigious firms
- Undergraduate architecture students are facing 13.9 percent unemployment rates
- About 21 percent of architects are self-employed—almost 3 times the proportion for all occupations
While these statistics could take one down a road of despair, there is more to the story. The reality is that the architecture field has naturally changed with a changing world. All professions are undergoing a profound evolution on several fronts: demographic, education and economic. These changes are not all bad, and actually may provide the basis for optimism.
“Architecture was historically a gentleman’s profession,” said Michael Porter, AIA during an interview we conducted for Success by Design. He went on to say, “Even as recently as 50 years ago, architects were almost always male, came from wealthy families and pursued the career as a symbol of philanthropy more than for financial gain.”
Why do architects choose architecture? Typical reasons include a deep passion for form and a desire to leave meaningful, functional design as a legacy. Rarely do you hear that an architect held a burning desire to do business and THIS was their chosen means to that end. Rather, doing business is necessary to follow their pull toward architecture. And so the industry is filled with capable architects who know little about the mechanics of running a firm. Payroll, HR, marketing, sales and public relations are foreign topics. They want the jobs, but they don’t know how to get them. They need employees, but lack management skills or knowledge of how to team build, recruit or downsize during a recession.
In the coming months, I’ll be writing various articles to address these topics that impact architects running their own business – large or small. We’ll also consider marketing ideas that have a proven track record of helping companies differentiate from the competition.
As part of the 2×8: Source student exhibit at the Architecture and Design (A+D) Museum in Los Angeles, we recently assembled a diverse panel to discuss the business of architecture from the student’s perspective. To a crowd of 60 plus, we covered topics that ranged from getting noticed by employers and taking risks, to applying past experiences and methods of differentiation from the competition. I facilitated our panel, which included: Steven Ehrlich, FAIA; Barton Myers, FAIA; Kat Fern, ASID, IDEC and Nancy Horne, architecture and design recruiter.
The theme that consistently surfaced was the importance of relationship building and the ability to communicate. Those skills set apart those who have excelled. Some highlights from each panelist are below.