Favorite Design and Urbanism Blog Posts for Week of Feb. 10, 2013

Advanced urbanism. Advocating for transparency. Playful design. Good night at a hotel. Twitter steals some hearts.



Advanced urbanism. Two MIT professors of architecture, urban design and landscape architecture are proposing a new way to approach the urban and suburban fabric of cities here and abroad.

Alexander D’Hooghe and Alan Berger are heading up MIT’s new Center for Advanced Urbanism, focusing on the planning, design, construction and retrofitting of urban environments for the 21st century.  They are also organizing the center’s first conference to be held April 9 and 10 at MIT’s Media Lab.

Via Architects and Artisans


Advocating for transparency. Haley Russell, an interior designer at Perkins+Will in Washington, D.C., explores how to build material health and transparency in the built environment.

Here are six ways to increase engagement with the transparency movement:

  1. Involve manufacturers early.
  2. Change your thinking.
  3. Step up to the challenge.
  4. Look at the life cycle.
  5. Learn from others.
  6. Have patience and be persistent.

Via Ideas+Buildings

Playful design. Denise De Leon of Lake Flato finds inspiration looking at graphics at the Children’s Museum at Pittsburgh.

As a graphic designer, I was instantly drawn to wayfinding graphics (rather hard to miss). Pentagram’s use of scale and simplicity works effectively throughout the museum. Upon entering, I was immediately greeted by a colorful mix of plexiglass panels floating above the admissions desk. As I walked through the building, I felt as though I was in a children’s book- their solutions made sense at every turn I made. – Denise De Leon

Via The Dogrun


Good night at a hotel. Stanis Smith, senior vice president of Stantec, discusses getting a quiet night’s sleep in a hotel room and a list of things that hotel designers don’t address when designing a hotel.

"I want a quiet room, far away from the elevators and ice machines, far away from the hotel nightclub, not facing the street or airport, and preferably at the end of the hall." – Stanis Smith

Via Stantec Blog


Innovative social media campaign

Twitter steals some hearts. Jody Brown of Coffee with an Architect launched a Twitter campaign on Valentine’s Day, encouraging people to tweet about their architectural love on Twitter using #ArchitectValentines. Brown got overwhelming engagement ("If loving you is wrong, then Frank Lloyd Wright" was retweeted 31 times) and posted his favorites on his web site.

Via Treehugger

Related: Coffee with an Architect







Make Your Vote Count: Be2Awards

I first learned about the Be2Awards awards last year while researching our book, so of course we are really excited to have “Social Media in Action” shortlisted for the 2012 Be2 Media Award. I’ll say it up front … the awards are crowdsourced, so please vote for our book! Plus, if you journey to their website and start clicking you’ll discover some fantastic examples of built environment (that’s the B.e.) professionals, companies and organizations who are using new media in innovative ways.

The quality of competition here is no joke.  Mark Johnson’s social media PR campaign (which we recognized as one of our blog post favorites) and his competitor, #droptheban, make for a tough choice in the Best PR/Social Media Campaign category, as does ArchitectMap and Green Vision in the Best Community Category. The categories for the best social media and sustainability blog are ripe with great examples – and blogs to start reading religiously. I was thrilled to see Cesar Abeid’s Construction Industry Podcast, a series that I recently discovered and really enjoy.  The list gets me thinking of other sites, campaigns and communities to nominate next year.

“Social Media in Action” is in the Best Old Media/New Media category and I am honored to be among these prestigious candidates which include the UK’s construction search engine, a UK construction publication that makes all its content free online, the UK’s construction trade association live database of contract awards and The Guardian’s own built environment “hub” for sustainable development.

The Be2Awards are in their third year and aligned with the London strand of the global Social Media Week event series that takes place in a handful of cities worldwide. Be2 is also hosting Be2Talk, a speaker series on the built environment and social media as a part of the London Social Media Week. I sincerely hope these talks will be posted after the event. I’m interested to see Carlton Reid’s ''Cycling, the built environment and social media'' presentation. This is hardly their first event – Be2 has hosted a slew of conferences, Twitter chats and more since the organization was established in 2008 by built-environment professionals Martin Brown  and Paul Wilkinson, Jodie Miners  and Pam Broviak.   I just joined the Be2Camp community to stay better connected to all their happenings and hope you will consider joining too.

Tips for Your Social Media Road Map

While social media has become exceedingly accessible and appears to be simple as everyone is posting, tweeting and pinning, it’s important for firms to have clear goals and a mapped route for getting to these before embarking your firm’s social media experiment. Like any marketing or communications initiative, you won’t understand what social media can do for your business unless you have a plan.

I recently attended a social media webinar hosted by Jason Falls, coauthor of No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing and founder of Social Media Explorer. The crux of his presentation was that businesses need a strategic planning process that incorporates social media marketing business drivers for success. With a plan you can build, define goals, measure, execute and engage in tactics. Having a plan is a fundamental imperative for you to get what you want out of social media.

Granted, Falls is focused almost exclusively on B-to-C, so here are the nuggets of value that can be applied to the landscape, architecture, engineering and development world of professional services.

What can social media do for your firm? Once you understand what social media can do for your firm, you can assess what is achievable and how to fit this into your business goals.

Falls cites seven drivers of social media:

  • Enhance branding and awareness
  • Protect your reputation
  • Expand public relations
  • Build community
  • Enhance customer service
  • Facilitate research and development
  • Drive sales and leads

You should decide which of these drivers are most important for your firm. If you focus on more than one, which is more than likely, you’ll have to assess your resources and budget.

Now that you know what social media can do for your firm, you can develop a strategic plan.  But just how do you approach the strategic planning process in social media?

Falls defines a strategic planning process as the following:

 “A strategic planning process delivers a set of defined initiatives (projects) that achieve a desired set of business goals.” – Dennis McDonald, technology expert

 According to Falls, there are four things needed for a solid strategic plan:

  • Clearly defined goals
  • Measurable objectives for each goal
  • Strategies to meet objectives
  • Tactics/tasks to accomplish strategies.

When defining goals, each goal should have a singular focus instead of multiple ones. It’s very likely you will have more than one goal. Goals should support your strategic plan. Examples of goals include increase website traffic, increase online sales, decrease negative online sentiment, capture consumer insight and improve search results.

For most AEC firms, a strong content strategy will show prospective clients, competitors and the public what their firm does. Your firm may want to develop a content strategy that features work, the process of a project, a firm’s personality or project awards. Does your firm offer specialized areas of expertise? A solid content strategy may be a good opportunity to showcase these subject areas. Your content strategy could also show related work … Are there assets that you use internally that may be useful to your public audience such as a photo library, product data or original or aggregated research?  Again, these may be valuable to showcase as part of a strategy, but it supports the drivers of social media such as building a community or enhancing public relations.

According to Falls, another key element in making the strategy successful is to ensure that objectives support the following:

  •  Point to one of three things, which is especially critical in the public relations world
  • Have a result or outputs which in most cases is content or product
  • Have outtakes such as information or entertainment
  • Have outcomes such as a change in metrics
  • Indicate a target audience
  • List an expected level of attainment
  • Identify a deadline or timeframe

One of the AEC industry’s biggest misconceptions about social media is that these networks are just another newsroom to post information and news. Social media goes beyond that – it’s not all about your firm’s accomplishments and announcements. One of the most important drivers of social media is building community. This means interaction. It’s about getting to know your followers and fans and engaging with them so you can create content that connects with them and learn what they are doing as well. If you promote their feats and successes, they in turn will talk about your firm’s accomplishments in their circles, expanding your audience and stakeholders.

A Marketing Revolution for AEC

It wasn’t that long ago when the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries looked down on the idea of marketing and self-promotion. For the most part that has changed today, but in many firms the role of marketing is still dominated by proposal generation leaving little time remaining for analytical thinking about markets and audiences. The industry continues to be behind the curve as compared to other professional service fields.

The role of the web in AEC marketing is no exception. Having a presence online is the norm. Every firm has a website, because everyone expects to find your firm online. While each day, more AEC firms are adding social media tools into their online mix, many more are still reluctant to commit, clinging to the myths about social media’s relevance and purpose.

But even the firms that have embraced social media wholeheartedly tend to be using it as a soft sell compared to the online marketing machines that are bringing in new leads daily for other professional service industries. According to Hinge Marketing’s recent report “Online Marketing for Professional Services Firms,” purchasing decisions are influenced by social media – videos, testimonials, photos, stories. These are the elements that distinguish one firm from another. If a prospective client searches for you online, and you’re not there, they will find your competitor.

The report focuses on five professional services groups – marketing/communications, technology services, management consulting and accounting finance and AEC – and suggests that there is a connection between online lead generation and the growth and profitability of a company. Of the professional services firms they surveyed, those that generate a higher percentage of leads online grow faster and are more profitable. Unfortunately, they also found that very few AEC firms generate online leads at the benchmark rate of 40% or more and that AEC has the lowest growth rate out of all the surveyed professional service industries.

 Could this be because of its low level of online lead generation?

 The AEC firms that were more active online, developed a community and showcased unique assets such as a video saw an increase in new clients and more positive mentions about them online. One featured case study that supports the connection between online lead generation and company growth is the architectural firm Modative. About 90% of Modative’s leads come through the website. The firm receives about four warm online leads a week and its web traffic has increased from 10 visits a week to 400 per day in a short time by using search engine data available through tools like Google Adwords to find good keywords that increased search engine traffic. Modative wrote several pieces of educational content on the topic of “small lot subdivisions” and uploaded to their website in their Resources section and requiring an email address to download each piece. This contact info is added to the firm’s list of leads and becomes part of their sales pipeline.

One fascinating twist in their findings is that the AEC industry uses social media for recruiting more than any of the other industries. Perhaps there are lessons AEC marketers can learn from colleagues in the recruiting department.

If architects and engineers follow the online marketing trends of other professional services groups, could the industry see exponential growth, profitability and a new way to do business?

What do you think? Is online marketing the future for your firm?