Value of Design

Posted by on Jun 13, 2014 in Architecture | No Comments

Some time ago I was part of a local business networking group here in Brainerd, Minnesota.  It was a group that met once a week and gave several different professionals an opportunity to mingle with other professionals in the area and build better business relationships.  I was a member of this group for about two years.  I made several friends and associations that I value.

At one point I had an opportunity to meet with another individual in this group who represented another company in the commercial building market.  His company is actually a design build firm in which the primary business is construction but they offer architecture and design services as part of their package.  I remember this gentlemen telling me that they give away their design services for free.  This is the companies marketing pitch they give to potential clients.  When I challenged him, he insisted that they “eat the design costs.”

That was an interesting concept to me and I was immediately skeptical. Clearly, their staff architects, engineers, draftsman and others who produce the design are getting paid a salary. The money to pay those salaries has to come from somewhere and I know construction margins are not quite that good.  I just don’t see how, if it’s true that they “eat the design costs,” that it is a profitable business model.

Regardless of the veracity of his comments, it has led me to consider the idea of giving away the design for free.  How do I as just and architect compete with that?  I don’t offer another service to cover the costs of generating the design.  In a small market, this didn’t seem to bode well for me.

As my train of thought rolled along the tracks to it’s next stop, it occurred to me that this is a clear indication of how much they, as a company, value design. It’s not even worth paying for. Isn’t that a dangerous precedent to set?  How does it make the architects at the company feel about the work they do when the company says they are just going “give it away?”  I mean, hey, it’s free.  And, again, how do I compete with that?

But then I had had an epiphany.

I don’t have to compete with that. In fact, I don’t WANT to compete with that. Those clients who don’t value design to such an extent that they expect it for free simply would not agree with me and I would not be the right architect for them. It’s the difference between price, and value. I will compete on value.  Then again, what’s the old adage, “you get what you pay for”?