The principal of this global architecture firm based in Tucson came to us as many clients do, wanting a website. In this case, the firm had made do with a single page placeholder for many years even as their business grew and it became apparent potential clients expected a website as a precursor to engaging the firm for their architecture, design, and planning services.
For this group of architects, the challenge was to put into words and images the feeling and meaning of the residential and commercial designs they create, in order to convey to current and potential clients—individuals, institutions, and real estate developers—what the firm offers, not only in terms of a design aesthetic and a range of services, but attention to detail and breadth of capability.
How do we convey principles of materiality and tectonics on a computer screen? Furthermore, how do we impart the substantial current capability of a firm long associated with a particular type of regional work without losing the firm’s essence?
Just as in past eras when the development of a printed brochure for a firm relied upon first knowing what one wished to say to the public (a clear understanding of benefits, target customers, and brand positioning), so it is the case that to develop a potent website for today’s forward-looking firm requires a strategy that articulates who the firm is, what’s on offer, and how the firm is uniquely positioned to deliver.
It is sometimes the case that a firm—or an artist or a professional sole proprietor—refrain from launching the sort of web and social media presence from which their business could benefit because they have been too busy to give time and attention to articulating their strategy. A website is not a pretty thing, but a tool. And is the case with any sort of tool, it only works if it fits the job.
Because the strategy that precedes visual and web design determines whether the printed materials and website work to achieve the goals, we embarked on the design work by starting with strategy. We asked questions; we understood how the firm evolved, where it aspired to go, and the meaning of the 10 core values which drive how the architecture work is done. During the strategy stage, we approached the project with open-minded awareness and talked with each employee individually to understand his or her responsibilities and personal conception of the firm’s work and purpose, and in this way affirmed their role in the strategy. From there we clarified the firm’s mission, philosophy, and brand hierarchy and prepared a strategy brief that summed up the main messages to be conveyed and goals to be achieved.
The strategy brief informed the type and color studies for the design of a visual identity. We explored tone, emotion, light, and space. We balanced engineering precision with sensory feeling in order to generate an emotive energy in print and on screen. We considered how others in the industry present themselves (well or poorly). It was in the course of this activity that, with the leaders of the firm, we determined that a name change would support the firm’s goal of being a cooperative studio, a flat organization that relied on the diverse contributions of all the employees, a group of professionals with a “shared vision and common aspiration.”
The fresh visual identity and name provided the direction for the look and feel of the website, which we designed in tandem with the back end development of leading edge technology which enabled us to establish navigation that reflected an understanding of the people we wished to reach, and to arrange project photography and descriptions in a manner that reinforced the architecture’s sensibility and the firm’s core values. Our development led with mobile to ensure the integrity of the design regardless of the user’s device. The site was organized to enhance searchability and built to ensure quick loading of even the largest images.
As is the case in a design thinking way of working, we iterated through concepts as we circled closer to the strategy and design that would most effectively communicate the essence of the firm, its work, and its professionals. Throughout the iterations, we worked beside the firm’s leaders who are themselves talented designers to respond to concrete concepts, and to evaluate them against the strategy and the firm’s core values, always asking, “what if?”
It is one of this firm’s core values that best sums up a project of this ambition: “Remember architecture is hard – anything worthwhile is challenging.” It was due to the interwoven dialogues of the iterative process, working along side the firm’s leaders, asking the right questions, and being “comprehensively observant” that the project succeeded, drawing unprompted compliments from the very clients who had bemoaned the firm’s digital absence.
It had become clear from the outset that the new name and the web presence would do as much for employees as potential clients, helping to affirm the cooperative work method and elevating the contributions each makes to the architecture. In this way, our measure of success lay not just with the impressed clients, but with the talented employees’ renewed sense of pride in their firm.
Using the professional photography assembled by the firm along with poetic copy developed collaboratively, we launched a new website that compellingly conveys built projects and is flexible to embrace future work. We implemented the visual identity with printed and digital stationery and letterpress business cards for every employee, to reinforce the messages clients see on the website.
All of these encompass the regional architecture legacy on which the firm’s reputation relies, convey today’s fundamental principles of cooperation and global reach, and anticipate the needs of new clients and future projects.