Talking Points: communicating design ideas to the homeowner

In Talking Points, a recent online article in Residential Architect magazine, 11 architects across the United States share approaches they use to convincingly relate their design ideas to clients...and not unimportantly, to contractors and review boards. The article speaks to architects, yet it could prove helpful to homeowners, too.


Reading Talking Points, prompted Paul to comment on how we approach our customers with ideas for their home design projects. There is a balancing side to persuading clients. As Paul sees it, "there's such a valuable opportunity for discovery that comes when you stop trying to persuade and you simply listen. And what should always be in the foreground is that the customer knows what they want better than you do and that listening to what they are asking for is the most important part of the whole process. I think of customers as these occasional magical guides that will take you to places you've never been before. And if you're trying to sell your idea all the time, you're missing the opportunity to be taken to a completely novel place. If your business is to be creative, there's nothing more valuable than that. In fact, habit is the absolute enemy of creativity. And so the customer has this great role to play, which is that if they don't understand what you're presenting, or if they object, or if they have something else in mind, then they can suddenly go from being somebody that you need to persuade to somebody who will help you make a discovery. They will be a causal agent of the discovery, which to me is just the best thing you can get in this work."


Thinking on the art of persuasion, Paul reflected on approaches he's taken over the years: "One is that sometimes my most persuasive efforts are for convincing the homeowner what not to do. If something has been asked for that I see as a mistake and my expertise tells me that it's headed for trouble, then I try to be very clear about why it's trouble...not from an effort to sell my ideas but to discourage them from something I think is a bad idea."


Paul also noted, "I think very carefully about how to help the customer understand an idea based on their learning filter. If I put an idea in front of a customer that I think is a good idea that fosters their interest and they react negatively to it, then I feel like I haven't necessarily failed on the idea but that I've failed on helping them understand the idea. It's a balancing act. I think it's really important to communicate confidence in your ideas and to be articulate about selling those ideas but also to be enormously flexible, ready to give them up and start over. It's too easy for us to get wedded to our ideas."


"I've sat down with some architects who present a design to the client with a narrative which is little more than a description of the drawing; what they have drawn. But if the narrative is about the why behind the drawing, the customer can come to understand how the ideas support their feelings as well as their program. When understanding is added to experience it becomes enriched with meaning. Design ideas supported by reasons and communicated with clarity will help to shape the client's eventual experience of their home." -Paul Reidt

Alan Haigh and Paul Reidt in a meeting with a customer at KR+H's showroom. 

Alan Haigh and Paul Reidt in a meeting with a customer at KR+H's showroom.