Ears can be used as a Design Tool

Design Post 2.1

Throughout our lives, we are always listening. When we are young we are taught to listen to our parents to keep us safe and provide a level of discipline and respect. As young students we listen to learn the material and pass the exams in our chosen fields. Later in life we listen to our co-workers and superiors to learn how to move forward, propel the business and succeed. The common element in all of these life stages is that we are listening for ourselves, to learn and to better our future. In business it reverses. As a firm owner we need to train ourselves to listen to our clients to understand what they want, what their budgets may be, what their timing needs are - and if we are successful in listening with the client's point of view we can master the first art of design - understanding the problem. Only by understanding the problem can any meaningful solution be proposed.

When I returned from programming meetings, my staff would invariably be amazed at the wealth of knowledge I gleaned from a single meeting. Sometimes my meeting notes reflected not only great detail and specific numbers but also an expression of feeling and emotion on soft issues such as corporate culture or change management that concern my clients. Of course everything I learned did not come from the clients words, but much came from the facility tour, the attitude towards staff spaces, the way the space was maintained, the use and arrangement of space by departments and groups and appropriateness of storage and furniture utilized - even the manner in which I was greeted by the receptionist and offered refreshments or not. I always looked into the break rooms and kitchens as they are very revealing elements of corporate culture. I am listening with my ears, seeing with my eyes and developing an understanding in my mind that will allow me to paint a picture of the ideal space for this particular client. It is not about me, it is about the client, their culture, their business, their needs.

My next amazing talent, so I was told, was the ability to assemble not only a great plan design, but also a great interior design and finish package that almost without fail was sold on the first presentation. Was this really a design talent or a listening talent? Young designers are so excited to have a design opportunity that they can often listen only with designer ears - often presenting a great idea but not one that solves the client issues or even meets their budget. They present ideas as though the client can visualize the ideas without understanding that the client has no significant plan reading skills or 3D visualization skills, so their great work and words fall on deaf ears.

As you grow professionally the listening becomes more and more natural as do your design presentation skills. If you speak to the client in the clients vocabulary or beforehand, take the time to establish a mutual vocabulary of thoughts and ideas, the ideas are more easily explained and mutually understood. Then, the client's ears can hear our design.