Editorial: Finding the Silver Lining

Jan. 1, 2009

In trying times such as these, when economic forecasts for the coming 12 months are nothing but more doom and gloom, it's difficult to maintain a sense of optimism about our industry or the overall economy. Recent layoffs at major manufacturing firms compound the sense that the trickle-down effect of our nation's credit crisis is hitting home ... and hitting hard. With unemployment on the rise, companies will have fewer seats to fill in their facilities,
fewer construction and renovation projects to complete, and as a result, design firms will have fewer projects in the pipeline.

Indeed, optimism seems hard to come by no matter where you look—that is, unless you're reading this issue. If you're in need of a shot of hope and encouragement, read ASID's forum article by Bruce Brigham titled, "A Pivotal New Year's Resolution." In it, Brigham does not ignore the challenges presented by a recession of this magnitude; instead, he presents evidence suggesting that companies who only see risk and scale back their operations will be hit the hardest. Those who see opportunities to press their advantages and build upon their brand, on the other hand, will weather the storm best.

"Take this opportunity to define your value and really come to understand who your best clients are and why they really love you," writes Brigham. "Then build on what you alone can offer them."

It bears repeating that before you can build your business, you must first define your value. Unless designers effectively communicate their worth to clients, it will be difficult to survive economic turmoil or competition for that matter. By articulating your unique value proposition and differentiating your firm and its services, it will be easier to attract and retain clients, which—interestingly enough—is the number one challenge our readers told us they will face in the year ahead. Nearly 50 percent of respondents to our latest online survey indicated that finding and retaining clients will be their most pressing issue, while budget constraints came in second at 27.5 percent.

Of course, marketing your value to clients in order to find and retain them is the key to success in any economy; so how does one actually go about doing it? If you're short of answers,read this issue's IDC forum article by Jim Toy titled, "The Next Most Obvious Thing," in which he asserts that we establish a new status quo where all parties in a project—clients, consultants, designers, architects, engineers and building trades—adopt an integrated approach to the process.

"By concisely, clearly, and purposefully communicating our skills and this integrated approach to design, our profession stands to gain immensely," he writes. "We can be seen as visionaries by properly articulating this purpose and by letting design, and designers, take the lead in addressing the challenges of a changing world."

While there are no easy or clear-cut solutions to these challenges, clues can be uncovered by sharing best practices and analyzing successful projects to determine what works and applying those design principles to your practice. Our cover story, for example, on the new headquarters for Wildeboer Dellelce LLC—an out-of-the-box Toronto law firm—is a model of how pre-planning and thorough investigation of a clients' needs resulted in a custom-tailored solution that is sure to earn repeat business and referrals. Instead of creating an "off-the-shelf" design, Giannone Petricone Associates approached the project from a cultural standpoint and asked end-users an array of questions up front to determine the best possible solution for the space ... even to the point of frustrating the client. But the end result can be likened to a perfectly tailored suit-a rather ‘fitting' analogy for a law firm.

Still, the dark economic clouds loom on the horizon and the reality of survival is stark. What steps are you taking to ensure your firm's viability in the months and years ahead? What past or current experiences have prepared you for times like these? E-mail your responses to us and let us know how you plan to weather the current storm. Perhaps by sharing strategies, we can find a common silver lining.

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