Architecture as a metaphor

If you were to commission a new government office or commercial headquarters, you would not simply find the best construction company and then ask them to erect a building for you.

Indeed even if the construction company was reputable and had a good track record of prize winning buildings, they themselves would not be prepared to start your building without a comprehensive set of blueprints. They also would not be expecting to design the building for you, or even try to imply that they understood your specific strategic needs.

No, you would instead look for an architect.

The role of an architect

An architect or architectural firm brings expertise to your project. They will typically represent your business interests, and be determined to create a plan for a successful space that satisfies functional requirements, but more importantly the requirements of the humans that will occupy that space.

How then is it that many website construction companies insist that they also design your website? That they somehow have the expertise and insight to understand complex business drivers and strategic objectives?

Sadly, the Internet ‘cityscape’ is cluttered with poorly implemented spaces that do nothing to serve the interests of the humans that use them, or even the organisations that need them as a place of business operations.

Yet the blame cannot rest with design agencies alone. Many companies seem to relegate the responsibility of the online presence for their company, office, or organisation to the marketing department. Theoretically the marketing department is expected to deliver the website as part of a corporate rebrand or particular product launch.

Should your marketing department design your building?

Unfortunately, the marketing department are usually not actually best qualified to write the brief for a website construction or online community development project. This principle is similar to key stakeholders of a multinational firm deciding to delegate the responsibility of building a new flagship company headquarters to one of their operational departments from several floors down. In reality they themselves are actively interested and invested in ensuring that the new headquarters reflects and achieves the high-level strategic vision, shareholder promise, and that it will ultimately deliver tangible results in the form of efficiency, kudos, publicity, and above all financial return on investment.

Understanding the vision

The architect plays a critical role by understanding the client’s (that is: owner’s, key stakeholder’s) underlying vision. The architect brings an understanding of many disciplines, of latest technological advances, of changing legislation or certification criteria, and of the higher purpose for the space in the long-term.

Whilst the construction company has its own unique expertise in project management, contracts, materials, and the skills to implement a design, they are operating in a sphere of deadlines and capability – not strategy. In the same way, a creative agency will naturally always have a bias away from technologies or techniques that are outside their current capability or experience, even if there are other ways to achieve the end goal that would better serve the client’s objectives.

It all starts with the blueprints

It is striking that so many online and advertising agencies are claiming to be ‘full-service’ and ‘integrated’, yet they do not bring to the table the discipline, transparency, diligence, objectiveness, and desire to serve the client’s real business needs. Their end-goal is simply to get the job done in a way that maximises profit (perhaps by reusing existing skills or modules), as quickly as possible, and in a way that garners awards or attention for their own brand.

In the building of your next flagship project, would you rather work with an ‘architect’ or a ‘construction company’ in the creation of your blueprints?

Paul Grant

Paul Grant is Healthcare Engagement Strategist with global consultancy Creation Healthcare, where he leads digital behaviour research studies and advises healthcare clients on engagement strategies. He has been providing strategic insight solutions and professional services to the world's leading biopharmaceutical and healthcare organizations, helping them to find appropriate pathways to engagement within regulatory frameworks.