I received feedback recently (from someone whose opinion I really respect in matters such as these) that perhaps “Undercover Architect” isn’t really the best name for my business.
The feedback was that, because my target market is people that wouldn’t think to use an architect, wouldn’t look for an architect, or don’t really know what an architect does or how one could help them –“Undercover Architect” will be the last place they look for help (if at all). So by calling myself “Undercover Architect”, I could have created a self-fulfilling prophecy … a business so secret that its market never finds it.
What was their suggested alternative? To call myself a home coach, or a renovation coach, or a design coach, or some other form of a ‘coach’.
The thing is … I worked really hard to legally be able to call myself an ‘architect’. In Australia, you are required to finish a recognised university degree (6 years), complete required professional experience (minimum 2 years), then sit a bunch of examinations (written and interview) before being able to call yourself “architect”. AND you need to undertake continued professional development annually through an audited system. You have to insure yourself to perform your professional duties, and conduct yourself within a tight and litigious framework. And now, with almost 20 years in the industry under my belt, this stuff matters.
And a coach? Well, it seems to be a professional description thrown about a lot today by many who choose to do so. I know that there are varying levels of qualifications and recognised accreditations – but I also know of lots of individuals who are describing themselves as “coach” without ever having completed any of these.
And, if what I’d do in being a ‘coach’ is exactly the same as what I do as an ‘architect’, then what’s the difference?
And in this reaction, I was asked, “What are you not letting go of?”
So what am I not letting go of?
I get it. More and more as I navigate the journey of this new business and speak to a market that don’t or won’t look to use an architect, I hear it loud and clear. All the reasons why people don’t or won’t use an architect.
This kind person who suggested I’d chosen the wrong name said it like this [paraphrased] …
“My husband and I have built lots of homes, duplexes, townhouses. Always with a builder and draftsperson, never an architect. I always thought something was missing, there was a gap. But my father was an electrician, and so I grew up in that ‘tradie’ type of home. Architects were for rich people.
My husband and I would go ‘dream-house-hunting’ and look at expensive waterfront homes that were ‘architect-designed’. My husband would say – “look, you can see this has been designed by an architect. It feels different, it’s better”. And so, standing in the expensive waterfront architect-designed home, it validated that architects are only for rich people.”
I had started a conversation with her about her own intended renovation plans. I’d taken my normal approach whenever someone brings this subject of renovation up with me … I start running through questions and pointers with him or her. What direction does your site face? Where are the best views? Where do the breezes come from? Your living room should go here … you should seek to get light from here … etc etc. You need to understand that great design isn’t any more expensive – it’s about getting the framework right at the beginning, and prioritising these decisions throughout the process. Design for natural light, for thermal comfort, great indoor-outdoor connections, for functional spaces, for flexibility, for spaciousness. Prioritise those things and it will serve you well always.
She said to me that, in that brief conversation, she’d suddenly realised what the gap was. It was this knowledge that an architect could bring to the conversation of creating a home. This specific industry experience that could unlock what is possible in the design of her home.
In Australia, 150,000 homes (on average) are built every year. Only 3% of them come about through a traditional architect/client arrangement. My target market is the 97% who don’t.
So does calling my business “Undercover Architect” mean I’m doomed to fail, and that I’ll never really be heard by the market I’m wanting to help?
I hope not. I really hope not. Geeze. I really truly hope not. There’s too much at stake here. That percentage – 97% – is a lot of people, building a lot of homes, and potentially not making the most of their investments or the living environments they will create. That impacts all of us – through our streets, our neighbourhoods, our communities – for decades to come. Homes being built without design as a priority affects us all. That’s what is at stake.
So why “Undercover Architect” then?
Well, I called my business “Undercover Architect” to remove ‘me’ from the equation. Traditionally, most architects name their business after themselves. I think it’s a signature – like an artist’s stamp on their work. The buildings that architects design are their creative legacy, so calling their practice by their name marks the work as theirs … regardless of the client they created it for (who funded it by the way).
Instead, I see home creation as completely about the home-owner. I believe that the key to unlocking what is possible in the design of a home lies in empowering the home-owner with the knowledge and tools they need to make this happen. Yes, I intend to be their guide, their secret weapon, their partner and their accomplice in this process – and the amount to which I do this is completely up to them. But it’s not about me. Not one little bit. This is about them … about you … having all you need to create the perfect home for you. A home that is your heaven and your haven, all wrapped into one. A home that makes your life simpler, easier, more functional, more beautiful. A home that supports you living your best life.
Perhaps by calling myself ‘architect’ I feel more qualified to offer that advice than if I called myself ‘coach’. Perhaps the professional title empowers me more to empower you.
I know I am not validated by my professional title – I am validated by the difference I make. So am I being stubborn in not ‘letting go’ of the name or title ‘architect’ in all of this? In the debate going on in my head, the jury is still out on this one.
I also started this business to disrupt the industry of home building – so homeowners come to demand great design because they know the difference it makes … and the home-building industry creates better products to offer to their customers. Perhaps – in that process – I’ll just need to disrupt the definition of ‘architect’ in the public’s mind too.
I think I’ll stick with “Undercover Architect” for now – and just work on being the worst kept secret in home design and building.
So for now, I’m hanging on!
Brace yourself 2015 – regardless of the name it’s packaged up in, my vision is strong and clear, and I have tenacity and determination on my side.
This blog first appeared as my Day 1 entry as part of the “Your Turn Challenge”, started by Winnie Kao (Special Projects Lead at Seth Godin). Your Turn Challenge is a 7-day blogging challenge inspired by the Your Turn book by Seth Godin, where participants had to commit to blogging each day for 7 days. This was all about “shipping” as Seth puts it – getting stuff written down and then out. For the original location of this blog (and so much more blogging!) click here.
It’s not the worst name you could have picked ‘Claytons Architect. . . The architect you consult when you are not having an architect’ would be that!
‘Just Enough Architecture’ could have been a good name?
Amelia Lee says
Appreciate your comment Brian. In my career, clients have always come to me, because they’ve known what I do and want that type of help. Now, with Undercover Architect speaking to a different market, I think it’s a case of educating people how an architect can help and where they add value – so they can then choose if that’s the type of help they want (rather than making assumptions about what the help actually looks like).
It’s definitely up to each individual what journey they want to take in creating their home … and I’m always here to help whatever guidance they desire or require – Amelia, UA