The Business of Architecture and its NicheNovember 7th, 2019
Architectural Review (AR) has been the independent voice of architecture in Australia for 30 years. Three years ago, the publisher of AR, Niche Media, took it and several of its other publications (including the Australian Design Review website, Better Building and inside) and made a very deliberate, very perceptible shift. The move was away from built environment design projects, and toward the business of the built environment design industry.
We noticed. We liked it. We wanted to know why. And so, because we’re all about enabling better business for you, we asked Niche’s co-owner, Paul Lidgerwood. Here, he tells us what makes the business side of architecture and design practice so important.
Designing the bridge over the gap
“We recognized there were a lot of [media] companies out there looking at projects specifically, but there was really nothing that helped architecture and design practices run their whole businesses better,” Paul says. “We decided to make the move and really turn AR into the business of architecture as opposed to a project-based publication — we have a pedigree in small business content anyway.”
“Through research and through talking to our audience, we were able to do a deep dive into those areas we felt may be neglected. Once we understood that there was a gap in the industry, we were able to help fill it.”
Talking to architects and designers about their businesses
For Paul, the conversation continued earlier this year with an even deeper dive into the sector of architecture and design that took the form of him spending more than three months in the field. Talking to architects around the country about what they needed, he was able to identify the importance of a conference to amplify the content the magazine was now covering.
“We had a great response from the market,” he says. “I was out talking to practice leaders over the course of three to four months to get an understanding of what type of content they wanted to read, listen to and see in a conference environment.”
What the market kept telling Paul over those months was that the industry is being disrupted.
“Disrupted by a number of different factors,” Pauls says, “and that’s not a negative thing, it’s just something that’s happening as a consequence of technological advancements. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics, 3D printing and virtual reality, and other new technologies are having a real impact on the way that technology crosses over and impacts design.”
In addition to the definite sense that things are changing in the built environment design industry, Paul says there is also a sense that practices really need to start planning for the future and incorporating some of these opportunities, whether that be in technology, new business models or understanding how Asian markets are impacting the local, domestic market.
The business of designing an architectural conference
The Business of Architecture and Design 2019 (BoAD 2019) is Niche’s inaugural conference and the team have their sights set on learning everything they can from it.
“The biggest learning to-date has come from never predetermining the content for these events based on our own, personal experiences. Unless you get out there and do the groundwork to make sure you truly understand what those challenges for practices really are, then you can’t realistically produce an agenda or a content plan for that conference that’s going to be on point.”
With over 25 speakers representing architecture — from local government to international guests — BoAD 2019 really is a testament to the relevance of the content in the number and calibre of people who’ll be part of it. It also speaks of an industry eager to engage and exchange ideas about the business side of their work.
“One of the most refreshing parts about this whole process has been how willing and generous these practice leaders are with their time to talk about an industry that is vocational to them,” Paul says.
“I’ve operated in a lot of different markets and there’s definitely a whole lot more passion and investment that architects and designers have in their industry. They truly want their industry to be resilient, to be future-proofed, to exist for years to come, because they do such a wonderful thing for our lives in terms of the spaces that we live in, and work in, and play in. And they are invested in that!
“It’s been absolutely brilliant that they’re willing to sit down with someone like me for hours to talk about how they can be a part of helping the industry and what they think the industry needs.”
The business of architecting an AEC podcast
Apart from moving into the conference space, Niche has also begun producing a series of podcasts.
“People want to consume their content in a way and at a time that suits them,” Paul says.
“We were producing a magazine, which may seem kind of archaic, but we do that quarterly as it’s a nice repository of information that we know practices still appreciate. However, we’re also providing that architecture and design business content through our Australian Design Review website and through our social media, video and event channels . The natural extension of that is to provide some podcasts so that this audience can jump in the car or hop on public transport and on their way between home and work listen to content that is going to help them run their businesses.”
Hence, Niche’s recent launch of the Business of Architecture and Design (BoAD) podcast series.
In the series, architects interview other architects about their business journey. How they started, where they studied, early work in the industry and their progression to becoming practice leaders.
“I think that journey is really interesting because everyone’s journey is different. To unpick that in a podcast, whether it’s in one, two or three episodes, I think is fascinating and helps provide that real-life experience that others can leverage off,” Paul says.
The challenge of the business of architecture and design
Paul says that the architecture and design industry is one focused on ensuring the whole community survives and thrives, regardless of whether or not they win a piece of business.
“That’s not top of the agenda,” he says, “which is also a bit challenging when it comes to talking to architects and designers about business — because it’s often not the most important topic for them.”
“You know, they are creative and they love that side of what they do. And I think part of the challenge is trying to get them to understand that they’ve still got to run a successful business in order to do the work that they love. That can be a bit of a test.
“If you recognize you’re not good at the business side, then have someone in your business who is. A lot of the practice leaders I’ve spoken to have discovered that they either have that entrepreneurial and business side themselves, or they don’t. If they don’t have it, they make sure that they have someone else in place who does.”
The most important thing for architectural and design practices to recognize
At Total Synergy we’re hoarse with repeating that change is inevitable in the business world. We’re all losing our voices from talking about the increasing rapidity of that change in terms of architectural, engineering and construction design practices and their associated technology. It’s chat we love, and we’re excited about.
Niche Media feels the same.
“I think one of the most important things for practices of any size to do is just recognize that change is inevitable and that you’ve got to look at it as an opportunity, as opposed to a threat,” Paul says.
“A lot of industries have gone through that massive disruption — there are industries that have disappeared, but there are other industries that have taken massive steps forward to change their business models or change the way they go about things to take advantage of the opportunities.”
Total Synergy and Niche Media both see the architecture and design industries as ripe to take advantage of those opportunities. More time for good, progressive, technologically advanced business practices means #MoreTimeForDesign. So, onward and upward!