Love the One You’re With: A Changing Design Profession

It’s no secret that the design industry has been hit especially hard in this recession, with some design insiders estimating that 40% of architects and engineers are either working part time, are out of work or have changed firms, directions and even careers.

One Denver practitioner has dubbed it “the death of the historic architect.” But, he said, maybe some good is coming out of that: new relationships, creative alignments, fresh partnerships and a makeover of the profession as it has historically been defined.

Design professionals are exploring new niches for their talents or adding to them by getting real estate licenses and extending their commercial sales savvy, exploring “design development” opportunities and applying their skills to community improvement in nontraditional ways.

“Some of us are hanging out our shingles in new neighborhoods,” a Denver sole practitioner says. He is now designing “grow” facilities for the medical marijuana industry and teaming up with bigger firms on small projects that require more local connections. “I’m also perfecting my Spanish. That’s already helped on one church rehab project. I wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise,” he says.

Another positive is the creative partnering that has emerged on bigger projects. Teams no longer are made up of only two big studios pooling their talent, but can include four or five different design firms of all sizes to round out the creative needs of the client.

None of this means that traditional designers are dead and gone—the report of their death would be an exaggeration, as Mark Twain said—but the profession is evolving in many interesting ways.

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes: Social Media

Have you tweeted your customers today?

Technologically speaking, how businesses communicate with clients and competitors has changed a lot in the last five years. In 2005, smart phones were in their infancy – and the cell phones professionals carried were used primarily for making quick phone calls. In 2005, having a website was the necessary equivalent of a Yellow Pages listing. And—enter your preferred social networking site here—was for teens and young adults, with no real professional application.

Today, smart phones are as standard a professional tool as computers and are getting better with each technological generation. The advance of Web 2.0 has evolved websites into tools for harvesting information along with disseminating information to a broad, and growing, audience.

And networking social media, no longer just another way for teens to avoid their parents, have infiltrated the business world, creating new tools to build or maintain a reputation with a potential to reach more customers and create professional growth. In their current form social media are an infant technology, which has left many professionals unsure of a clear business use. However, its uses are becoming clearer, and before the end of 2010, they will become an integral part of everyday life – both professional and personal.

“Social media have changed the way we communicate and that, in turn, has changed the way we do business,” says Lisa Glass, communications manager at Denver’s RNL. “[Social media have] increased the flow of information in the construction and design industries, fostering a network of connections between professionals that were not as possible before the advent of social media. “It is easier to keep up with colleagues, community and industry leaders, and learn what they are excited about or where their concerns lie,” Glass says.