Improving the Public Perception of Architects
It is estimated that Architects design between 2% and 10% of new houses built each year. In order to increase demand for Architectural services in the residential market, it is important to provide the general public with messages reminding them of the positive benefits of working with an Architect.
A handful of popular "reasons to hire an architect" are repeated often online and in the media. But do they work? Are they changing the public's attitudes towards Architects? Are some more effective than others?
In this initial study, I surveyed 773 people aged 25-65, who live in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. I wanted to find out the degree to which these common "benefits" of hiring an Architect influenced their likelihood to consider using an Architect to design their home.
The reasons to hire an Architect
I started by identifying and categorizing the most commonly stated reasons to use an Architect. I sourced the reasons from various Architect's websites, real estate media and the professional bodies. Generally, the arguments for using an Architect fall into four categories:
- A: Architects are highly educated, qualified, certified and experienced.
- B: Architects have skills and knowledge that can save you money during construction, and make your home more efficient.
- C: Architects can design a home for your unique needs and lifestyle, improving quality of life.
- D: Architects offer a comprehensive service that can help make the process easier.
There are, of course, countless other benefits to using an Architect, such as aesthetics, sustainable design, health benefits, social benefits and so on - but within the limitations of this initial study I chose to test these four in isolation, as they appear to be the most commonly encountered in the sources cited above.
For each category, I found, adapted or created a short statement emphasizing the chosen benefit.
A: Architects are highly educated, qualified, certified and experienced.
"With years of university training, mandatory practical experience and a registration exam, architects are uniquely qualified to manage your entire design project for you, and ensure its success."
B: Architects have skills and knowledge that can save you money during construction, and make your home more efficient.
"An Architect designed home can be more efficient and functional, with less “wasted space”, fewer costly changes during construction, and often fewer long-term maintenance costs. Architect-designed homes can often have a higher resale value as well."
C: Architects can design a home for your unique needs and lifestyle.
"An architect will design for your needs, for your site, for your location, your climate, and your budget. They work to build a relationship with you to understand your lifestyle, how you currently live and how you would like to live. This enables them to design a home that is uniquely suited to you and your family, and enhances your quality of life."
D: Architects offer a comprehensive service that can help make the process easier.
"The process of designing and constructing a new home can often be complex, time consuming and messy. An architect uses their experience to help guide you through the process, working with you from the very beginning to develop a brief, throughout construction, right through to when you move in - taking extra care to ensure its success."
I also created a control statement to test the underlying likelihood that someone would hire an Architect to help design their home, without the influence of any positive benefit messages.
"An architect is a person who plans, designs and reviews the construction of buildings."
The survey structure.
The survey randomly allocated one of the statements above to each of the 773 respondents. After carefully reading the statement, the respondents were asked to rate their feelings about the following statement on a point scale from 1 to 7 (1 = "Definitely Not", and 7 = "Definitely") .
"If you were building a new home, would you consider hiring an Architect?"
|(C) Unique needs||142||5.40||+0.02|
|(B) Save money||166||5.40||+0.02|
|(D) Easy process||174||5.34||-0.04|
While the improvements found in the results are minor, the statement emphasizing the professional qualifications, training and expertise of Architects had the most pronounced effect on the respondents attitudes towards using an Architect, while the other messages made almost no difference.
What does this mean for Architects?
The results of this initial study are not directed towards Architects looking to communicate the benefits of their firm's services to prospective clients. Instead, they offer ideas about how Architects can communicate the value of the broader profession to the general public in ways that will resonate.
Individual firms, and their communications, play an important role in improving public attitudes towards the Architecture profession among diverse audiences.
From my own observations, messages related to the superior training and qualification of Architects are often overlooked in the discussion around strategies to help increase the role of Architects in the design of the built environment.
Perhaps it is assumed that the public already understands, or has lost interest in, the unique professional standards Architects are expected to meet in order to practice.
If the finding that emphasizing the regulatory and educational point of difference holds true, it could provide a relatively uncomplicated message to affect public attitudes towards Architects, when combined with other positive benefits.
More research is needed to investigate how different aspects of the "qualification" message, different modes of communication, and different message framing may amplify the effect size.
Hopefully this study provides a useful starting point for further discussion among Architecture professionals who are interested in improving the public perception of Architects.