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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pitch and Catch

The following is a response to an article by Wm. Farris entitled, ‘The Pitch” that is included in italics below.

The suggestion that good designers can’t speak and hide in corners will simply discourage a response to your question. The question was a good one, and I liked much of your essay; but professional improvement will depend on cooperation, not intimidation. It will also require a focus on design that is not always fine art.
My entire effort stems from a belief that design applies logic and knowledge to a question that may only be partially defined, and leads to appearance when confusion is organized and imagination is added. Fine art is an exceptional result, but may not be an adequate answer. The entire process will only gain public credibility when it is based on more than opinion and individual success. The profession needs a language and tools that convince the public success is a professional accomplishment and not a personal achievement by talent that cannot be duplicated.

My essays and blog have been an attempt to introduce the concept of development intensity evaluation and prediction to design professions such as city planning, economic development, architecture, landscape architecture, and civil engineering. I hope it will help us learn to live within limits, since they will be naturally imposed if not defined. I’ve often referred to it as context measurement, development capacity evaluation and city design for economic stability. The entire set of concepts and tools are contained in my book and software. The effort represents my attempt to offer the vocabulary and language we need to begin answering your questions with additional logic and knowledge. 

The Pitch by Wm. Farris 

If I were to enter a room full of spec writers, I would probably find a lot of comfort. Talking to a spec writer is always a great conversation with both a goal and a point, often with a sense of humor to boot. Being a spec writer is all about being specific. There is no sort of or kind of. It either is or it isn't, or we just don't know yet. It's either good or it's not good enough. Spec writers are real people who should be congressmen. We would probably get a lot done if they were. Instead, we have lawyers for congressmen (sort of kind of people).
If I were to enter a room full of artists, I might ask them about their art. But I will likely regret I ever did. The answers can often disappoint or confuse. An art professor warned me a long time ago to take what an artist has to say about their own work with a grain of salt. Boy was he not kidding. Just look, but don't ask. You have been warned.
If I were to enter a room full of design architects, I would probably leave very quickly. These are not the kind you want to see gathered in herds. They don't gather well. You will find them oddly dispersed, standing in corners, and at least one will be hiding behind a potted plant somewhere. It's something akin to an unstable molecule. They are like deer that might dart into the woods at any second should something rattle them. And try getting these guys to agree on something, anything. Keep it simple.
When I try to get designers to talk about design, it can be like pulling teeth. They might know how to design a building, but learning to verbalize their visual skills is not something most of them are heavily invested in. Of course, there will be a few who talk too much. Those are the ones who can't design very well. They compensate for their weaknesses by running at the mouth on behalf of their more talented peers. The conversation often has no goal and certainly no point that I am aware of.

I try to convince them that learning to theorize about their work will make them better designers. Trust me, it will. The herd looks away. The potted plant wiggles. It becomes even more obvious when you have to sell your skills to a client. Have you thought about how to sell what you do in this tough economy? When the chips are down, the stakes are high, and the competition is stiff, can you communicate a vision? Can you verbalize your craft? Can you prepare that pitch?
OK Mr. Designer, I want you to go back to your desk. You have 30 minutes. Come back here with six talking points of real substance to convince me I should hire you for this project. But let me first give you some talking points that are off the table. You cannot talk about meeting the budget because our project manager already has that one. You cannot talk about meeting the construction schedule because we gave that one to the project architect. You can't talk about programming or function because our programmer has that covered. You cannot say any version of a statement that sounds like we will give you what you want, because every single competitor is going to say that, and you said that in the last 50 interviews you did. That is not original, it's not substantive, and you, of all people on the team, need to sound original. You are the designer. I want you to talk about design. I need substance. Convince me that you know what you are doing.

What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?

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