Architects, Show Your Working
Architects, in our design work, will often end up with immense piles of butter paper. It is a revealing record of the process and history of the design. We may often use these drawings when presenting the design to a colleague and perhaps, on occasion, to a client. It helps explain, or indeed justify, the current proposition. Yet we’re not inclined to do the same for any other decisions that we make or anything else that we do.
When I was at school, I had a reasonable head for maths. In the earlier years, I had a pretty intuitive grasp of what the right answer might be before working through the problem. Often I could do it in my head, jot down the answer and move on to the next problem. Of course that wasn’t how you’re meant to do it.
You’re meant to show your working.
It’s for good reason. Instead of right or wrong, it gives credit for the work you do. It allows others to understand if you’re taking the right approach to the problem and perhaps just got it wrong through a silly error along the way. It assists in thinking through the problem carefully, the clarity of thought should be revealed on the page. It also discourages guessing & stabs in the dark.
That’s some pretty sound advice for work and life too.
What if architects started to show their working in their decisions, in and around their business and what they do? In a previous post, I challenged architects to move outside their self-imposed definition, to question what exactly it is that they do and could be doing. The problem here is assumptions. Assumptions that are being made by not showing their working. What would it look like to write down what an architect actually does and what might the outcome of that exercise be?
It goes beyond the assumptions we make as a profession about what we do. It’s sound business advice too. There’s nothing like seeing the working in front of you, in black and white, bringing into stark focus the work that you’re doing and the decisions that you’re making. You can’t hide from what’s on the page. Are you thinking through everything properly? Is there due consideration to your process and decisions, or are you just taking a stab in the dark? Are you being accountable or are you hiding by concealing the working?
As a leader, it is also important to show your working. Trust, a central tenet of leadership, is built upon your working. One of the most effective ways for a leader to build trust is to make the intentions behind decisions or actions clear. As effective leaders, we must show our working in order to further build trust.
What if architects all started showing their working?
What if architects all had a blog (or log) explaining how their design came to be? Why they do the work they do? How they do the work they do? How they arrived at some of these critical decisions?
Of course it’s not necessary to make all working public, but what might architects see once they started to undertake this exercise? What might the public start to see when architects started regularly showing their working?
Perhaps a better question to ask is, how might architects better show their working?
It’s not a maths test, but I’d be fascinated to see if the profession’s “marks” started improving after showing their working.