Bring Home the Bacon (Lessons from Mexico, Part 2)

how do you explain the design process to clients

How do you explain the design process to clients? It's like translating a foreign language. Here's another lesson my wife and I learned in Mexico

Ordering dinner in Mexico City is not without challenges.

So my wife Julia has a special strategy to help the staff understand our order.

If a waiter stumbles over what we want, she might add an ‘o’ to the end of words, which works with ‘perfect’ and ‘delicious’ but not with ‘ice cream-o’.

She is not trying to be funny –– this is her genuine response to be helpful.

Translating the language of architecture

How do you explain the design process to clients

Translating into another language is not easy. Neither is speaking to a client at a level he or she understands. Most architects are not fluent in client language. Architects are too smart and know too much to simplify their words.

The reason I can be an effective writer for my Mastermind architects (Masterminders, you know who you are!) is I don’t fully understand everything you do. We work together to translate your process into the client’s language.

Like the client, I have to demand a process gets broken down into small steps I can understand and then converted into a metaphor … so even the small step makes perfect sense to me.

How to explain the design process to clients

For example, the construction process is seldom understood by clients. Each step is a labyrinth of mystery wrapped in an enigma, but I do understand the process a doctor might use:

1) We start with an initial consultation (our ‘Ask the Expert’)

2) Then we move to the diagnosis (LCC)

3) Next step is the plan for the procedure (design)

4) Then we conduct the operation (construction)

5) Finally we have the recovery phase (this is where you slowly recover from paying for the project and realize its value).

Okay, that process may be overly simplistic and the last step might be more for my amusement but at least I can understand those steps. And if the client understands what you are saying, that is powerful.

Not many architects can translate the complex world of construction into the language their audience understands. Those who can, not only get to bring home the bacon, they might even be able to order bacon at a Mexican restaurant.

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