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Advice for Young Architects, The Business of Design

Dear Future Architects, Don’t Forget to Treat Your Clients with Respect

In this most recent post in the ArchiTalks series, Jeff Pelletier writes a letter to future architects, reminding them to always put their egos aside, and treat their clients with respect as they navigate the relationship between client and architect.

April 10, 2016

Dear future architects, gather close, and listen very carefully: Do what you say you're going to do, and apologize when you're wrong.

Hold on, let me step back for a minute. This is another post in the ArchiTalks series of blog posts and the topic is, "Dear Future Architects." I had thought a lot about some great sage advice about getting licensed as early as you can (really, do that), or learning how to hand sketch even if you're still not amazing after years of training (again, do this), but I decided to go a different route. Perhaps it is my insane allergies (or cold, or flu, or weird illness where I can't breathe, get vertigo, and spend the day desperately trying not to fall asleep), but I think I want to be a bit more blunt and direct with this post.

So, here I go.

Dear Future Architects,

We're excited you're going to join this great profession. I'm sure you're very talented, and have lots of wonderful ideas about how you're going to change the architectural playing field, and design amazing homes we'll talk about for centuries. You likely have a great big ego.

No one cares.

Prepare to stop being a pain in the rear and giving us all a bad rap. Your clients are generally going to be solid people with actual lives, real budgets, and perhaps even some questionable taste. They are, however, real, awesome people willing to take the plunge and hire you to make even a small dream of theirs come true. So, suck it up, be nice, and treat those clients with respect. In fact, here are some points to consider when you're faced with a project that maybe you aren't too enthralled with:

  • Your client's budget, even if miserably small in your eyes, is still a lot of damn money. When you scoff at someone trying to make an impact to their home with only $100,000, I would encourage you to think about parting ways with that much money of your own. How would you like to be treated? It likely still may not be enough money, but it is still a LOT of hard-earned money.
  • When you tell someone that you'll have them something on Tuesday, and it is Tuesday afternoon and you realize you're not going to get it done, call or email them. Explain. Apologize. Next time, figure this out on Monday, and give them a heads up.
  • When you screw up (because you're human, and you obviously will) figure out the solution to make things right. Prepare a response to your clients, and list out the next steps to make things right. If you charged them for that time then you should offer to refund that money. Clients don't pay for non-stop perfection, and going down dead ends is inherently part of the process, but when something seems off, just make it right.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Constantly. Be your own devil's advocate. Role play with your team to see what you missed. Give them a level of service that would leave you impressed.
  • Remember that your client, at least the people hiring an architect for the first time, have almost no idea what you're talking about. Zero. Avoid acronyms, and speak in the most simple manner possible. They'll let you know when it is time to up the level of discussion.
  • It is the client's project, not yours. Remember that, even when you adamantly disagree with their design decisions.
  • Return emails and phone calls within 24 hours. Even if that means an email stating "So sorry I can't fully respond today, but I will get back to you by Friday." Wouldn't you like to know your email was received when you're paying them thousands of dollars?
  • Talk to everyone about their projects, even when you know it won't be a good fit for your team. Treating someone respectfully and giving them as much information as you reasonably can at a quick meeting will mean they'll speak well of you in the future. I can't tell you how much work we've gotten from clients who we ended up realizing we couldn't work with because of schedule, project type, or budgets that just couldn't make the project work.
  • Work in such a manner that the client can cancel the project at any moment, and you haven't done work that you would have otherwise wished you hadn't. Work in sequence.
  • Finally, realize you're still going to drop the ball even when you're constantly pushing yourself to do the right thing. Learn from it and move on. And remember to always treat your clients with respect. Even when the client is genuinely unreasonable or miserable (this is rare but this does exist). Remember that our job isn't to be a punching bag. That's a different profession. Take the highest road you can, treat them with respect, and gracefully exit.

Keep your head up high and remember that this is an amazing (but crazy) profession. Best of luck! You'll soon get to point at drawings like the best of us! Also, if you're young and considering this career, take a look at a previous post I wrote with some advice.


This post is part of the ArchiTalk series in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect selects a theme, and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is "Dear Future Architects." To read how others interpreted the theme, please click the links below.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Dear Future Architects: A Confession

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Dear Future Architects, You Need to Hear This

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Dear Future Architects: 4 Perspectives

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
dear future architects

Evan Troxel - Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel)
Dear Future Architects

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Dear Future Architects: 3 letters

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
future architects: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Dear Future Architect -- Remember Then

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"Dear Future Architects,"

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Dear Future Architects..

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Dear Future Young Architects... Please Quit Screwing Around!?!!

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Dear Boy in the Plastic Bubble,

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Dear Future Architects

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Dear Future Architects...

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@anth_rich)
Dear Future Anthony

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Dear Future Architects, Do Your Thing

Greg Croft - Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Dear Future Architect,

Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Dear Future Architects, Don't Forget to Treat Your Clients with Respect

Jared W. Smith - Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
Dear Future Architects...

Rusty Long - Rusty Long, Architect (@rustylong)
Dear future architects, never lose your optimism

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Dear future architects, are you credible?

Adam Denais - Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch)
Dear Future Architect, a Letter to My Younger Self

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Dear Future Architects...

Ken Saginario - Twelfth Street Studio
Dear Future Architects...

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