Reality vs. drawings and words Matt 29 Jun 2006

6 comments Latest by Chris

An excerpt from Edward Hall’s “Beyond Culture” about the relationship between architects/clients and the difference between visualizing something and experiencing it:

Architects can look at a drawing and, using it as a reminder system, reconstruct the spaces quite vividly in their own minds. But few clients have this capacity. Clients have to actually be in the space after it is finished before they can experience it…The nonarchitects who review the plans do not have the capacity to see what will happen until the highway or the bridge or the building is in place, and by then it is too late.

Chloethiel Woodard Smith, a very gifted architect and friend, has had success in designing for people (as contrasted to designing for other architects). Recognizing the translation problems her colleagues were having, on occasion, she eschewed plans and words and instead put on demonstrations for those involved in a project so they could see what would happen. Considering the placement of a freeway in our nation’s capital, she placed chairs strategically on the ground and hired trucks and vans to be parked where the freeway would be. The reality of the high vans accomplished what drawings or words failed to communicate. The beautiful view of the Potomac was shut off.

We sometimes get questions about whether Getting Real can work with clients (as opposed to internal projects). In some ways, it may be an even better idea with clients. Compared to web specialists who develop sites/apps frequently, clients may have more difficulty visualizing what a wireframe, spec, or sketch will become. Getting Real helps get them “in the space” before it’s too late.

In the same essay, there’s also an interesting bit on perception and how people can miss things that are right in front of them:

People develop different sensory modalities either by temperament or training. Many people whose talents and livelihood depend on what is written, live in a paper world and take in little else. In fact, it is difficult to predict what people will perceive or fail to attend. Kevin Lynch once asked passengers in automobiles driving a selected route on the freeway from Boston to Cambridge to draw at periodic intervals what they saw out the car window. No one drew the automobiles, trucks, or buses. Bridges, underpasses, church steeples, landmarks, yes — but no traffic.

6 comments so far (Jump to latest)

John Lewis 29 Jun 06

Writers are told to “show don’t tell” and I think this is optimal in terms of understanding how to “Get Real”. Start with something that works, something visual that people can understand and work from there.

Putting the client in the users seat often changes the entire dynamic. I’ve sat a client down in front of their own website and asked them to watch the flash intro… but before they could get into the site I made them do it four more times. I asked them if they wanted to watch it a fifth time and it finally sank into them that no one wanted to see that animation.

Mark 29 Jun 06

In keeping with the architectural theme and how clients cant always transfer what’s on paper to a proper vision of what design reality will be, I think the decorators of those spaces have the same (or perhaps even bigger) issue.

Far too many times, especially with home builders, clients are taken to a “design center” to look at swatches and samples of carpeting, paint, bricks, tile, marble…to have installed in their own homes. The problem is, there is an insant disconnect between what the customer sees and agrees to, and how it comes out in reality. The spaces aren’t the same, the play of light and shadows on the materials is different, the sunlight bouncing off the material is different than the fluorescents of the design center…

Tom 29 Jun 06

All aspects of business struggle with this. It is difficult to communicate the intangible. It becomes a matter of give and take. Even the “expert” in the situation may not have completely realized the result of their work. For instance, the designer has not placed the fabric or the paint or the furnishings in the room yet, they are just guessing. An experienced guess but a guess nonethless.

I think what this topic brings to mind is making sure that there is good dialog between the two parties engaged in the business. It is up to the architect to communicate with all of their skill (and whatever bag of tricks they have) what the final product will be. It is also up to the client to engage in the process by asking questions and affirming that what they want is being delivered.

Too many times both parties assume which leads to trouble.

Austin Govella 29 Jun 06

It’s mandatory to communicate in ways the receiver understands, but there’s also great value in raising the literacy of everyone invovled in the conversation.

In design, I’ve had great success lately in moving clients from discussing high fidelity, working HTML mockups to iterating lower fidelity mockups. They’ve learned how to think more absractly about the design: about scenarios rather than graphics, about interaction rather than layout.

Their enhanced design literacy allows them to better communicate their needs and allows me to focus on higher value activites rather than getting the mockup right.

Jeroen Mulder 29 Jun 06

Very interesting. It was only yesterday I almost had this discussion with a teacher at my assessment. Having used “Getting Real” to a certain extent in a project at university, they interpretated it as an excuse to “I’m not going to do any preparation and just start out of nothing”.

They obviously didn’t get it… the point I tried to make was that it was about visualizing your ideas and concepts as early as possible so you’re discussing real things, instead of still ideas and concepts. I guess I should just link them to this entry :-)

Chris 29 Jun 06

A great working example of helping clients understand, is actually having them in the project room as part of the team. Right now I’m fortunate enough to be working on a project that has the client in the room with the development team on a daily basis. It’s an amazing experience.

This completely eliminates any source of confusion. If the client doesn’t understand, we see it right away. In this situation the client asks questions at any time and if the client doesn’t ask questions usually it’s quite obvious that they need help. You cut off any lag time for feedback, the client is part of the team and you never leave a teammate behind.

Another great facility used to help reduce the cycle for the client to understand something is quick builds. We deploy to the target environment on a nightly basis so that our client can get her hands on the latest and greatest of “what she knows”, which is the application. Instead of saying hey isn’t this great, you’ll see it in a month or so you see it the next day. Again, if there are issues or the client doesn’t like the way something feels, we know right away.