Public Perceptions of Architects and Engineers

Jul 10, 2000

I have always been interested in design and construction. When I was as young as seven years old, I was drawing up floor plans for houses on graph paper and building them with my Legos. Never mind the fact that in Lego scale, one peg equals two feet, resulting in some pretty thick interior partitions. But I did know enough to put my bathrooms back to back to minimize plumbing costs! Somehow along the way, the business world seduced me through my early work experience at The Kirkwood Cycle Shop. I got an undergraduate degree in business along with an MBA, and ended up working in the design industry anyway. The point of my story is that I have always had a tremendous respect and admiration for people who are creative enough to design something that meets a budget and can actually be built. Let’s face it— that’s no easy feat. We say the A/E/P business is simple, and the business is. But the actual work of “A,” “E,” and “P” is not that easy. In fact, I’m amazed sometimes that anything ever gets built. Certainly, the public has no real appreciation for the work that architects and engineers do. We all know this, and at any gathering of folks in this business the sentiment is bound to come out. But what’s the problem? And what can be done about it? Here are my thoughts on the subject: Start early. I think we should all get involved with things such as making visits to elementary schools to explain to children how great a career in our business could be. The early seeds that are planted will not only result in more college-bound students becoming interested in these fields, but will also create a better impression for adults who don’t pursue careers in the A/E/P industry. Be loud and proud. That’s what we used to say as kids when we put a new set of dual exhausts and glass-packed mufflers on our cars! But it also applies to people who own and work in A/E/P firms. We need the equivalent of dual exhausts and glass packs for ourselves! Because for whatever reason, as a group of individuals (with a few exceptions), we are reluctant to really brag about our accomplishments. Have better signage. Better signage on our buildings, better signage at job sites, better signage at trade shows. We do a terrible job here! We don’t sell our name or our involvement with all of the great projects our firms have been responsible for. Why is that? Beats me! Just too introverted, I guess. Do a better job. While the work is difficult— and there are so many needs that have to be addressed to get any construction project built— one reason we may suffer from a poor image is that many times we don’t do the best job! Lack of creativity, inability to stay within a budget, failure to listen to the client, and lack of involvement during construction all hurt an individual firm’s reputation and the collective image of the business. Be more willing to push limits. In general, I’d say architects are better at this than engineers, but by and large, there’s not enough innovation in design today. Everything is a copy of something else. When that’s the case, it’s hard for the client and the public to give credit to the designers. It’s kind of like being a musician but always playing someone else’s songs. It’s tough to get famous that way! Run successful businesses that make money. What does this have to do with the public perception of our professions, you might ask? It has everything to do with it. Everyone is fascinated with money. Successful businesses get lots of media attention. That means free PR. The better we get at running our companies so that they make money and grow, the more favorably we will be perceived. If we don’t run successful businesses, we’ll be thought of as idiots! Sure, there’s no dramatic series titled L.A. Engineer or The Architects coming to HBO this fall, but that doesn’t mean we have to be invisible. There’s plenty we can do to improve our image. We just have to do it! Originally published 7/10/2000.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.