The Challenges Of Communication In Architectural Design

People tend to travel in groups that they identify with. We tend to gravitate toward colleagues or friends that “get us” and that we can share some level of connection with. Those connections build trust and rapport over time. It’s great to have a close nit group of friends or family but we live in a diverse world. Many young architects don’t begin to understand the importance of communication until they are forced to step out of their comfort zone and interact with people from different backgrounds and life experiences. Communication is critical to delivering a successful project to a client. The challenge is communicating a design to a client that has a different background, life experience, expertise and expectation of the project, all of which they bring with them to the design and construction process.

Architects usually excel in visualizing projects, but many times they lack the skills to effectively communicate that vision to clients. Many schools of architecture do little to train students in effective communication and focus rather on math, theory or other technical subjects. Many of the lessons of effective communication are learned by the student outside of the classroom, usually in real world scenarios which many times can be hard lessons to learn. Many clients would rather work with experienced design professionals in lieu of younger architects because many of the younger architects lack these real-world experiences and in turn communication skills which can have a significant impact on the project.

One major source of miscommunication usually starts early in the project when the vision that the architect develops in their own mind looks different than the vision that the client has, and the architect has not effectively communicated his/her vision to bring this difference to light. Sometimes architects make upfront assumptions about the direction of the project and they wrongly assume that their vision is also what the client wants. Everyone appears to be going along in the design process without a hitch until it all comes to a head and you have a dissatisfied client. The worst-case scenario is when the client doesn’t realize that his vision is different from the architect until they see the built product. This can lead to buyer’s remorse, project dissatisfaction, lost money, lost time and anger toward to the architect.

The differences in visions between the architect and client is directly related to a lack of communication but it is further complicated by what psychologist call “pseudo-communication”. Merriam-Webster defines pseudo to mean “being apparently rather than actually as stated”. Using this definition, pseudo-communication is defined as apparently communicated rather than actually communicated. I have seen this many time over my professional career. People think they are communicating and on the same page when in fact they are saying two different things. Often familiar words are used but people interpret the words differently depending on their own background. When this happens, it can have a negative effect on a project, the miscommunication many times is not brought to light until later in the design or construction process and after the project has been negatively impacted.

For clients, engaging an experienced architect who is well versed in communicating a design is vital to the success of the project. To that end, an experienced architect knows that they must employ tools to aide them in delivering a well communicated, well designed and cost-effective project for the client. In the past, this required architects to create hand sketches of their visions to communicate and confirm their concepts with the owners. This of course was time consuming and expensive. As the project developed, the sketches were redone several times before an acceptable solution was reached. Today’s technology, however, allows architects to create realistic 3D versions of the project in a digital format which allows the client to readily see the project and compare it to their own vision, effectively strengthening the communication of the architect and client through visual medium rather than words which can be misinterpreted. Additionally, with the use of today’s BIM technology, the 3D models can be easily changed and developed into construction documents which brings an unprecedented efficiency to the project and value to the client. A image can convey a lot of information efficiently and effectively. For example, one can look at the below images without knowing anything about these projects and learn a lot about the designs without a word being spoke or written about them. Architects use images such as these as talking points to generate conversation about the projects and ensure everyone involved in the project is on the same page and shares the same vision which promotes satisfaction with the final built project.

At the end of the day we are all still human and no technology or level of life experience can completely remove the chance for miscommunications to occur. However, engaging an experienced architect who is well versed in the proper tools can add a significant value to the project and help ensure that the design meets the client’s expectations and that the construction process is successful.