Three most exciting architecture startups July 2017

I will write a series of articles about the most exciting companies in the Planning & Construction industry right now. The first one is about IT in Architecture, the second will be about Real estate, followed by robotics in construction. Down below are listed the top three

  1. Konstru is maybe the most exciting (and disrupting) startup I have seen in a while. This young team from New York has build an in-browser platform to exchange 3D models between different planning teams. Maybe it sounds plain, but imagine it as a Dropbox, or google Drive for your plans and drawings, especially for the Revit model. The biggest advantage is you can actually open the 3D model in browser!01
  1. Newforma is focused on PIM – project information modelling, run through the website. It is an all-in-one hub for the key emails, contracts, plans, corrections, etc, to help the construction process run smoothly, especially the collaboration between different engineering teams. Even though it is not the youngest company anymore, its design and the key functionalities are way in front of their closest competition. 750x750bb
  2. Coincraft comes from Australia and helps architects run their offices. It is a company management and project management tool to help architects keep their projects on budget. Architects now know how much time they should spent on a project to still be feasible. It also helps you structure a project, to define how much time (and money) should be dedicated to each phase. And it runs in-browser with a nice palette of grey and gold. Their weakest point must be their name and the URL, which is the same as a coin shop from London.60354_1460442233timesheet2

 

The two-tier prices issue

Whenever doing a project in construction, the main question will almost always revolve around how much it will cost. There are two general ways how to budget a project: find a constructor from the start and define the project costs together with him (one tier budgeting), or let the planners prepare the project documentation alone. Basing on it the constructors then in the second step define the final project expenditure (two-tier budgeting). The second system is the predominant way in construction projects, even though it has its flaws. I would like to briefly discuss it, pointing out the flaws and suggest possible solutions. 

 

Planers prices Vs Market Prices

A quick review. The two-tier system. The investor sets the budget, the planner prepares the project documentation, the list of works and the costs estimate for each work category. In the next step the investor asks the constructors for bids to the given project, based on the list of works (without the costs estimates, of course). These bids can alter to the planner’s costs estimates in both ways, as only they know for how much money they are willing to do a specific job. The investor can then decide for a bidder of their preference (usually the cheapest one).

This system is a two-tier system because there are two prices for any given work: the planner’s price and the constructor’s price. They can differ and they usually do. Normally the planner’s price is set higher, because they are motivated to do so. On one side they do it to keep good relations with the investor, as it is bad if the contractors are demanding more money as they planned for. But it also give them leverage during the construction. If there are unexpected changes or costs on the project, they have some extra money reserves set in the budget.

Planners do not gain anything from making the project cheaper. It is the role of the investors to push the prices  down, which can be a problem. If the investors are not experienced enough, constructors can take advantage of them. In general investors tend to be overly optimistic about the project costs, especially the unexperienced ones (in my experience many projects tend to go over budget).

These two extremes: planners setting the prices to high and investors setting them two low – give the constructors a lot of room for defining the price for the project. If the investor sets the initial budget too low and the planer use too high prices, they have a wide window of setting the prices for a specific task. Sometimes they can speculate in order to make their bid more appealing. They can set the prices too low, hoping for additional contracts during the construction. Their only opponent are the other constructors, who can use different prices for the same work. They are the most experienced side involved in setting the prices and know on which works they can make a profit.

pic 1

The problem

This system is the best we have, as it offers a good solid neutral ground for finding the best bidder for a job. It is very useful for public projects, as it forces the constructors to push the prices down. Quite often the cheapest bidder wins. But the system has its flaws. It is a knowledge problem and affects all three parties:

  • It is a problem for investors, as they can be played if they don’t have enough knowledge about the prices to push them down.
  • It is a problem for planers as they are unnecessarily inflating the project value.
  • And it is a problem for the constructors. As they  are competing against each other – if anyonen has any price advantages, he can exploit them, thus hurting other competitors.

Could the prices at one point converge towards one?

A more stable pricing system would benefit everyone. Could the right solution be more transparency in the process? I think yes, but until one point. I see the prices slowly converging towards one, real price. For this to happen, the work type description and the price must be more freely shared in between the constructors and planners. Knowing the mean/median price for a specific job in a specific region could be beneficial for all three parties. The investor could adjust the planned budgets, constructors could compare their costs with the industrial average, and planners could adjust their prices for more realistic ones.

But for this to happen, a universal database should be created. To that, contructors should share their costs and works database. But the chance of that to happen are quite low, as (big) contractors will be very hard to convince to share, well, trade secrets. Project prices are, after all, their market advantage and thus their try to protect them.

pic 2

But everything is not bad. Constructors are willing more and more to share their work descriptions, and collaborate tightier with the planners. But to protect their interests, they are creating “lockdown” systems: a product or technology so specific, that only they can install it. No substitutes are availbale. This way they technologically eliminate the competition, not just with prices anymore.

A little game

Let’s play a game: how can we improve the pedestrian traffic on the central underground station in Stuttgart.

The setup: the station has two major lines: the  NE <-> SW  and the NW<->SE. The lines are double, of course, with three elevated platforms in between them. There is a passageway above the lines connecting the platforms.

gleis 1

The problem: This layout demands you to use the above passageway way too often. if you are coming, for example, from the SW and want to travel to the SE, you have to use the passageway above the lines from one extreme point to the other. The passageway is annoying, especially if you have to use it daily. You can see your train on the other line, but you have to travel to another level and then come back.

gleis 2

The question: What would be the most effective way to connect the trains so that people have to walk the least distance possible? Could the station be designed in a way to reduce the use, or completely avoid the passageway? So that you can step out on a platform and from there travel in any direction.

What are your solutions?

 

I have a possible one: If you move two train lines on the extremes of the platforms, you can use the trains in the middle as bridges. This way people can travel from platform 1 to 2 without using the elevated passageway.

gleis 3

 

 

Mapping the fields of work of landscape architecture

There are still many misconceptions about what is Landscape architecture and what landscape architects actually do. Most of them are well justified, as the industry self covers a very wide field of activities, often confusing the general public. People often mix Landscape architects with gardeners, architects or ecology planners. As a professional field, it is badly branded. Landscape architecture maybe even is not one profession, but a spectrum of different fields of work. Quite often in praxis there is very little landscape-ish in what landscape architects actually do. I know for myself that at least 80% of my work could be also defined as urban design. I have built just one project which would loosely fit the category of “modifying large landscapes”. Most of the projects are public, and I have hardly done any gardens. 

Let’s try to look at the profession from far away. Let’s try to see if there is a way to organise the fields of of work of landscape architects. There are many, as mentioned before, and I arranged them along three axes: the

  1. According to the level of design
  2. According to the projects scale
  3. According to the closeness to architecture

We can project them on a chart. I have united the design-technology axis with the architecture-nature axis, as they are very similar (maybe they are even the same thing).

la-mapping

1. Design ←→technology

Different project demand different levels of design input on one side, and technological/botanical on the other. Some projects are pure exercises in design and have very little technological/botanical input, such as public space renovations. A renovation of a public square demands a lot of cultural (creative) input, but little technology is involved. On the other side of the spectrum are, for example, green roofs. It is a pure technological exercise with almost no design involved.

2. small ←→ large scale

Project can extend from the smallest gardens up to landscape planning plans for entire regions. I think it is self-explanatory.

3. architecture ←→natural sciences

Sometimes landscape architects have to function as architects for the exterior space – they have to collaborate in order to create a common concept for the building and its exteriors. They share the mindset, the materials, the tools, and in a sense then landscape architects function as architects. When working on more ecological-oriented projects, they collaborate with people from completely other disciplines: ecologists, botanists, etc. Architectural concepts very quickly do not play an important role anymore. The design principles change to follow the natural laws, not anymore the cultural concepts.

It is quite clear that the spectrum of work is wide. Landscape architects have to severely and constantly adjust their mindsets, depending on the type of projects they are working on. Brian Davids and Thomas Oles discuss that this broadness of the industry makes the naming of the industry, well, wrong. They see the mayor problem that the industry self has changed so much in the last decades that the, in a sense, its archaic naming simply cannot cover cover all the  new fields of work anymore. as they say:

The metaphor of landscape-as-architecture is historical, not ontological. It was made, and it can be remade or unmade to meet new demands and new realities.

Maybe it would be the time to think of abandoning the landscape prefix all together and substitute it with something different. Maybe something like ‘exterior’, ‘urban’, or ‘environmental’. Maybe we should even discuss the possibility of naming different sub-fields with different names, to say environmental architecture, urban landscaping, maybe even botanical landscape design.

how would mapping of the architecture industry look like?

R. Cialdini: Pre-suasion

pre-suasion-9781501109799_hr

This book was most probably one of the hardest reads I did in the last time. Because it was hard, I want to share some key points on my blog: in part for you, but in part also for me. Robert Cialdini is often described as the resource for sales and marketing theory. And it is so. In his latest book he describes what he calls pre-suasion – the process of influencing people before the sales pitch/presentation even starts. It is the process of making the audience susceptible for the message before the message is delivered.

He also includes the six factors of influence from his previous book, Influence: reciprocation, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity, consistency. At the end he discusses the possibility of existence of the seventh factor: unity. With unity he regards the sense of belonging to a larger group or to a common goal. The book is the exploration of the phenomena of influence, giving some practical tips, but also the limitations of persuasion.

Lets go down chapter per chapter.

Part 1: Pre-suasion: the front loading of attention

1. Pre-suasion: an introduction

It is all about studying the best persuaders to understand how persuasion works. And he did study them. The best persuaders become the best through pre-suasion – the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it. It is about skewing the circumstances in way to make the recipient more favorable to your message. There are three stories in the introduction which caught my eye:

1. A salesman was having problems negotiating for the price of the product, as it was always too high for the consumer and he wasn’t making any commission. As soon as he introduced a sentence into his pitch, the price problem went away. When the discussion over the price started, he said: “As you can tell, I am not going to be able to charge you a million dollars for this, but…” the receivers were now anchored on an unbelievably high price, and were much more receptive on his desired commission.

2. Jim was a fire alarms salesman. He was a door to door salesman and he built trust by asking people if he let himself out and back into the house. This way he was perceived as more friendly (non threatening), and after building so much level of trust was much easier for his sales pitch.

3. There is an another story about arranging the environment properly. To sell more French wine, play French music.

2. Privileged moments

The goal is to identify points in time when the individual is particularly receptive to a communicators message. The usual starters, I am sure many have already encountered, sound like:

pools: are you dissatisfied with__?

– cult recruiters: “well, if you are unhappy with, don’t you want to change that, right?”

– researchers start interviewing people with: “do you consider yourself a helpful person?” Quite often are people then more willing to fill the survey.

Sometimes it works to do the opposite to get attention. Go unexpected. If you are losing the conversation, start speaking more quietly, for example.

3. The importance of attention…is importance

People tend to assign importance to an idea as soon as one’s attention is turned to it. When you focus on an idea, you will regard it as important and will more likely follow the influencer. Tell people what to think about. But pulling attention to an idea will only be successfully when the idea has merit.

Recognition/recall is a widely used index of campaign success, used by advertisers. But it might underestimate the influence of banner ads → third type of result: lack of direct notice. Ads are noticed, but cannot be recalled.

If the competitor goes low price/poor quality, go the opposite way. don’t get caught in a price war with an inferior product. Make the quality the battleground instead.

4. What’s focal is causal

If people see themselves giving special attention to some factor, they become more likely to think of it as a cause. Conviction, not reason, wins.

5. Commanders of attention 1: the attractors

The three naturally occurring commanders of attention are: the sexual, the threatening, the different.

Humans encountering threatening circumstances have a strong tendency to be part of a group. A group is a safe environment. Opposite is true for sexual possibilities. Then people want to be alone with possible partners. “don’t be left out” / “be one of the few” campaign types.

People are more likely to pay attention to and be influenced by stimuli that fit the goal they have for that situation. Sex doesn’t always sell.

As a rule, communications that present the most frightening consequences of poor health habits work better than milder messages or messages that present the positive consequences of good habits. (smoking kills).

People people are tested for hypoglycemia in a public space. They are on spot offered invitations to workshops. They were 4x more likely to sign up, because they believed the workshop would have a favorable impact on their health → belief for better, not denial of the problem. People want to manage their anxeites.

6. Commanders of attention 2: the magnetizers

After getting the attention, the question is how to keep it. Sometimes the attractors are not enough. The persuader, or the magnetizer fastens audience’s focus onto favorable elements of an argument, excluding the opposing points of view. Pulling power with staying power: the self-relevant, the unfinished, the mysterious. Storytelling is an important part of this chapter, and Cialdini dissects how a story should be structured.

When an important outcome is unknown to people, they can hardly think of anything else. There was experiment where women were asked to rate men in according to their interest in meeting them. They saw their photos, some of them saw also their other details, their social ratings etc. They found most interesting men without social ratings, because they were wondering who they are. Picture as a bait.

He learned that he could increase my classroom effectiveness, by beginning each lecture with a special kind of unfinished story: a mystery. Descriptions require notice, questions require answers, but mysteries require explanations. Structuring your mystery story:

1. pose the misery: in 1960s tobacco use was slowly declining. Tobacco companies then maybe did the best spin in marketing ever. They increased the sales, but they also reduced their marketing costs by 1/3. what was it?

2. deepen the mystery: On 1969 the tobacco companies asked congress to ban their own ads from TV and radio, even though those were the most efficient channels to market tobacco. Tobacco has been absent from these channels since 1971.

3. Suggest alternative explanation: could it be that the companies wanted to protect the health of Americans? Doubtly. They merely shifted their marketing channels to print ads, sport sponsorship, promotional giveaways, movie products.

4. Provide a clue: so for executive logic, print ads were OK, but TV ads not anymore. What was so special about broadcast media? In 1967 was applied the fairness doctrine, which required equal advertising time to all sides of a controversial topic. If one side purchased broadcast time on one topic, the other side had to be given equal, but free time to counter argue.

5. Resolve the mystery: this way tobacco companies eliminated all debate about dangers of smoking.

6. Draw the implications for the phenomenon under study: enhance audiences acceptance to your message by reducing the availability of strong counterarguments to it.

Part 2: Processes: the role of association

7. The primacy of associations: I link, therefore I think

Associations trigger the favorable shift in responding. The primary goal of language is the influence. It is so since the beginning. The main function of language is to influence (only second is to express or describe). The strongest tool is the metaphor. It starts as a part of the recipients reality, but shifts the point to the favorable of the communicator’s view. Metaphor is a meta door.

If you want to change the world, change the metaphor” (Joseph Conrad).

Speak no evil, leak no evil: change your language. The example of a hospital, which removed war-oriented language with care-oriented language. Also don’t say price, but rather purchase/value/investment. People will be more inclined towards a higher price.

8. Persuasive geographies: all the right places, all the right traces

Also places can trigger shift in response.

9. The mechanics of pre-suasion: causes, constraints, and correctives

The presuader focuses recipients on concepts that are aligned, associatively, with the information yet to be delivered. After that, when readied, the elements can fire. Focus on concepts that are aligned (associations) with your message. The basic idea is to move recipients into agreement with the message before they experience it.

What is more accessible in mind becomes more probable in action. This accessibility is influenced by informational stimulus and our association to them.

Let me ask you a question, for your information

Part 3: Best practices: the optimization of pre-suasion

10. Six main roads to change: broad boulevards as smart shortcuts

The six influence factors are: reciprocation, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity, consistency

Gift giving is complex: people feel obligated to repricotate a gift designed to meet their particular needs, regardless of gift’s value or size.

If praising, praise people’s: taste, personality, work habits, or intelligence.

When people work on computer tasks and receive task related flattering feedback, develop more favorable feelings toward the machine.

Salespeople should show customers that they genuinely like themselves. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The medium is the message Vs the messenger is the message.

A communicator who references a weakness early on is perceived as more honest.

if you act now, you will win 1.000 €” Vs “if you don’t act now, you will lose 1.000€

Dr. Neidert developed a core motives model of social influence. It has three steps:

1. Cultivating a positive association. Use reciprocity and liking. The communicator should be perceived as favorable from the receiver.

2. Reducing uncertainty. Before people change, they want to see such a decision as wise. Principles of social poof and authority. Pointing to evidence from peers or experts increase the chance of persuasion.

3. Motivating action. Use consistency and scarcity.

11. Unity 1: being together

Seventh principle of influence, according to Cialdini, is unity. It is about how to build good relationships, blood, family, business relationships. It is how to be perceived as part of a larger group. Put simply, we is the shared me.

12. Unity 2: acting together

This is the emotional sense of connection.

Systems thinking 1: fast, emotional, associative, intuitive. To close the sale: “I feel this product is right for you.”

Systems thinking 2: slower, deliberative, analytical, rational. To close the sale: “I think this product is right for you.”

Anything too stupid to be spoken, is sung,” Voltaire. If you cant make a case to an audience with facts, sing it to them.

Music should be used to advertise familiar, feelings based products.

Coordinated action: it is a turn taking exchange sequence. In happy relationships partners engage in a turn based exchange sequence. They give each others favors, creating a relationship rather than an unmet obligation. Also products could engage users in sharing tasks.

The IKEA effect. People value their amateurish creations as much as experts’ creations. Consumers should be engaged in collaborating to co create novel or updated products/services, but it should be framed as their advice to the company.

Advice is a mechanism of unification., because when we are asking for an advice, we are looking for an accomplice.

13. Ethical use: a pre-pre-suasive consideration

14. Post-suasion: after-effects

Creating lasting change by asking for strong commitments. If the patients were asked to fill their cards for the date for the next visit, they were more likely to come.

Architecture and marketing Pt.1

In the last months I started to study modern online marketing techniques, as I was g myself about the ways architects market their practices and if there is any room for improvement. In the future will write a series of articles about the topic.

Very long sales cycles, but short windows for gaining new projects

After almost 10 years in the industry, I still have a feeling that most of the new client acquisition in architecture is done with referrals. Word of mouth seems still to be the way to go for most of the offices. If architects (and other planners, of course) do some strategic marketing, in general they focus on just these three channels:

  • bids and competitions: winning a competition increases your exposure;
  • journals and books: monographs, anthologies, articles about your built projects;
  • specialised websites (archdaily, landezine, world architects).

*Bigger offices also present themselves on specialised fairs, and famous architects on festivals, conferences and as (guest) lecturers on universities.

The problem is that through these channels they only reach other architects, not their potential customers. Investors, small and large, are usually reached through bids, or more often with referrals (friends, family, etc.). To enter bids for projects, architects have to nurture relationships with investors – process also known as business development. For the referrals there is not much to do. Architects have to focus on good work and hope for loud customers.

What should they do to reach beyond just these two channels? Classic advertising is out of the question for, of course. A printed ad for an architecture office would be ridiculed more than latest Adam Sandler’s films. But could the marketing practices from other industries benefit also the planning and architecture industry?

 

Why is thinking about marketing important?

In the last decade the competition between architecture studios has risen. As the distances have shortened, offices from all around the continent can even more equally compete on competitions and bids. Architecture as an industry has very long sales cycles and many project stages, but the bidding opportunities for each phase are available within a relatively short time frame. It may be soon to late to build a proper relationship with the customer and (or) bid your proposal. Some other professional has already taken your job.

How to do marketing correctly is still a big unknown. Down below I have listed three approaches from three different professionals. They suggest very different directions to go, from being more loud to be creating free content.

 

1. Architects should be more active in the public sphere

Laura Iloniemi believes that this bidding-oriented relationship should be changed. She envisions a more broad, active involvement of architects in the public debate over the built environment. In her opinion architects should build on the quality of their design and their ability of asking the right questions. Or as she elegantly puts it:

“Architects need to escape the job-pitching mentality and engage instead with an altogether bigger picture of design issues in public. Architects share and debate many intelligent and valuable ideas among themselves, and it is these ideas, rather than their “brands”, that should see the light of day in public.”

She proposes strong activism, similar to what early modernists were doing. Loud, present architects, commenting on public policies and especially educating possible investors.

 

2. Automation of marketing

Peter Wyro, a marketing professional, thinks that marketing automation can speed up the business development (nurturing relationships with investors), executing more tasks, attracting more prospects (possible future contracts), and can do it more consistently. Contact personalisation technologies could help architects differentiate their brand: it helps them approach a very specific segment of the market, the one they are the strongest in. In his opinion, automation can help architects nurture relationships with existing and possible future investors by “being on their radar”.

The problem with automation is that there is no one-size-fits-all solutions. The clients can already differ on a wide range, from families to corporate banks, or their needs from a new interior design to large engineering projects. The communication channels can be anything from emails to posts, bids, articles, and so on. Sometimes clients prefer to see architects in person. Automation takes time and effort to master. The biggest upside is the monitoring of the process.

3. Content marketing

A short explanation – content marketing is a practice of sharing useful information with your customers. For example, a fitness studio is giving away free exercises, nutrition tips, and similar. Free content establishes this fitness studio as the authority on the topic, which attracts more paying customers to join them. Tim Asimos, a marketer specialised in the AEC industry, argues that content marketing is the most underutilised marketing tool for the AEC industry. Architects have a large pool of knowledge they could share this way with the world. Besides helping building up their brand, it is also a fundamental shift of how companies approach marketing today. They can share the insight, answer questions, solve challenges, educates and entertain. He believes that content marketing represents a huge opportunity for A/E/C marketers to move the needle for their firms.

An example of how to do content marketing right is the latest redesign of Mozilla in 2016 (released in 2017). Johnson Banks studio, London , has diligently presented each phase in the logo creation, from sketches, intermediate variants, final work, and applications. Mozilla is a global brand with many users, and during the process they gave the users the chance to interact with the process of the logo creation. They could express their opinions, give suggestions, or to vote for their favourite variant. The process was smartly balanced between public involvement and giving the designers enough space to do their work properly. Could something similar be done for a building construction?

The interests perspective of the Planning/construction industry

Both industries, planning and construction, are composed of different players with very specific interests. In most of the construction projects we can find 4 parties involved: the investors, planners, constructors and permission granters. Sometimes, for the large-scale projects, there may be some additional shareholders (the state or sports/international authority), such as Olympic games or ITER, but they are so rare that we can leave them out.

Each of these four members has its own interests in the construction process, often conflicting or influencing other interests. The art of construction is actually to balance these four forces, which are pulling the project in their own direction. In order to create beautiful projects, it is necessary to reach an equilibrium between these forces. The better the balance, the better overall result. If they are off, the building will suffer in one way or another. They will be either dull, poorly built, non-pleasing, or non serving their initial purpose.

Let’s take a look at those specific interests:

Investors: Their main two motivations are the building usage and to keep the construction costs under control. They are also very interested in actually finish the building. Commercial investors have to sell the building, which makes them very motivated to make the building, well, sell-able. If they need to build and sell 11 units to make a construction feasible, they have to do it, no way around it. Sometimes that leads to conflicts with planners and permission granters. Aesthetics is also important, but not that much, except for design-afluent individuals, but they are a minority. Most of the investors are satisfied with a good-enough design.

Planners: Architects are in general motivated by aesthetics and don’t really care that much about the costs. From a cynical point of view they are the most interested in getting great pictures at the end of the project. They are striving for projects which have to be pretty, they have to stand out, be unique, different, add quality to their surroundings. Sometimes the permission granters share very different views on what should be built, forcing the planners to compromise. Also the investors will limit them with costs control. Aesthetics as their main focus also means that they will be very picky about the construction details, making the constructors frustrated.

Constructors: The construction details are not the main focus for the constructors. They are much more preocupied about costs and the time schedule. Quite often they try to look for short-cuts, use cheaper materials and techniques, frustrating both the planers and investors. Aesthetics is of no interest to them, as it doesn’t bring any added value to their work. Sometimes they are interested in the size of the project, because of their commissions.

The state/permission granters: In most countries their main job is to keep sure that the new building will not stand out too much from their surroundings, directly conflicting investors and planners. They don’t care about the construction costs or the time frame that much, either. They also limit the manipulation space for the constructors to protect the public interests. They may limit the waste disposal, maximal size of the lorries, the working hours on the construction site, and similar limitations.

I think it is good to be aware of these biases. It may help you, regardless where you are in the process. If you will be as investor limiting too much the planers, building will not be sell-able. If a constructor will try to cut corners too much, he will have to pay extra penalties at the end (plus getting a bad reference for the future). If a planer will not take into consideration the limitations of investors and constructors, will bring a project to a standstill. It is the balance (and the awareness of the balance which is critical.