Social Media Superhero?

Bob Borson —  September 21, 2010 — 24 Comments

So today’s another Blog Off, an event where bloggers of all stripes weigh in on the same topic. This week’s topic is “Do social sites like Facebook connect the world or isolate people?”

Sometimes you get more than you bargained for … but it’s not always a bad thing, it’s just unexpected. I am sitting on a panel at the upcoming Texas Society of Architects State Convention titled “The Purpose of Social Media for Architects”. I was asked to participate due to my blogging prowess writing www.lifeofanarchitect.com (despite only having been at it for about 2 months at the time). I told, them “I don’t know what I’m doing, I just started myself”. Yeah, but I do have a story and I have crammed in a lot of experience over the last 4 months.

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One of the items that I was going to discuss was what has happened to me since I started writing my blog. Despite my sometime foolishness, there are people out there who are connecting with that foolishness – or at least looking for some sort of real world balance between their experiences, what they read and see in magazines, and mine. As a result, I get a few dozen emails a week from readers asking me for guidance or my opinion on what they should do next – and I answer every single one of them. I didn’t bargain on this when I started, I would have been happy if the people I worked with actually bothered to read my blog (they don’t). I’m also pretty sure that other than my Dad, my wife and my mother-in-law, no one in my family reads it either. Oh well. Being an idiot and one day finding yourself in a position where people want to know what you think is a little startling. Don’t get me wrong, until I learn otherwise, I am right on all things (something to do with the thick skin I built up while in architecture school).

I thought I would share with you 3 emails I received on the same day, within about 20 minutes of one another. I didn’t ask for permission to post these so I have removed their names so hopefully they won’t get too bent out of shape since I know that they do read my blog and might be surprised to find their email here. If you are an architect or designer and you have been thinking about the purpose of social media, keep reading below and start blogging.

Cheers –

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Mr. Borson

I just wanted to thank you for your site.  I just graduated from Washington University in St. Louis (College of Architecture), and as a young professional, it is always helpful to learn more about the profession from an actual architect.  So many magazines these days have interviews with and tips from well-known architects of our day—Star-chitects, as they are so lovingly called—but these individuals make up about 1% of the working population.  Their working conditions, their work in and of itself, isn’t traditional, it’s extra-ordinary.  This is not to say their advice is not helpful, but rather, less tangible, less relatable.  So, long story short, thanks for your posts.  The circumstances you  describe, the issues about what I would call “real-world architecture” are quite helpful to me, and ultimately provide me with something of greater value than what I can find in the glossies.  Keep it up.

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Hi Bob,

My name is [removed].  I’m an architect as well, well intern architect, and I really enjoy reading your blog.  Many of my architecture friends and I love passing around your blog posts because we all can relate to your experiences as a up and coming architect just trying to make a living and still have somewhat of a social life.  I have been meaning to ask if your firm or any firm you know of in the Dallas area may be looking to hire an intern architect.  I left my job in Baton Rouge, La on August 1st to find bigger, better things but as you know, the economy is not helping out at all with potential jobs.  I would be more than happy to send over my resume and a slide from my portfolio for you to have a look at if you would like.  I also have an online portfolio that you can find at the bottom of this email.  I would appreciate any tips, advice, or information you might have dealing with jobs or just the architectural profession in general.  Thanks for your help and best of luck for future projects!

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I included my response to this next email because it seemed relevant and I get asked these questions quite often. (If I had thought that I was going to reissue these answers so publicly, I would have spent more time on them and made myself look even smarter – of well. In an effort of full disclosure and transparency, I have included my response exactly as I had sent it off. Yes, I am now painfully aware that I did not understand the 5th question. I thought the questions was how has my architectural career changed me since I graduated)

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Dear Mr. Borson,

My name is [removed] and I am a student at [removed]. My intention is to enter architecture school in the fall of next year and as a career project, I am researching both the field of architecture and information about the architecture as a profession. As part of this research, I am interviewing architects about their experience in the field.

After having come across your blog multiple times while researching architecture, I am interested to know your opinions and insight regarding architecture. I have enclosed a list of questions regarding architecture as a career. If you do not mind and have the time, would you consider answering a few? Any information would be helpful.

1. How did you prepare yourself for the work that you are doing?

My answer isn’t particularly specific to doing architecture or being an architect. I prepared myself by showing up every day, paying attention, and trying to do my very best.

2. What is an average day like for you?

Not very glamorous I’m afraid. I am a senior project manager and designer so I spend a mixture of most days talking to contractors, teaching junior architects what they need to know, designing and working on the computer. I do not have a typical schedule because the nature of my practice requires me to be available when my clients need me. That generally means I work a lot of weekends and evenings. That having been said, the social nature of the process means that my meetings are frequently like friends getting together and simply talking about things they want. At times, it does not seem like work.

3. Describe your first two years in the field.

I graduated in 1992 and went to work for a sole practitioner whose practice focused mostly on retail design. There was quite a bit of travel – but not the glamorous kind, day trips to look at an empty retail space, take some measurements and travel back home. I did get a considerable amount of responsibility at a very early age simply due to the fact that our office was very small and everyone who worked there had several tasks that they were responsible for completing. Within 2 years, I was meeting with clients by myself, creating the designs for their projects and doing the construction drawings by myself. I didn’t realize it at the time but my skill set is well suited to doing several things at once. As I progress through my career and found myself working at larger firms where my tasks were singular in nature, I became bored and unfocused.

4. What skill that you learned in college have you found to be most useful?

Hard work and personal ownership are two traits that every successful architect demonstrates. It goes beyond being proud in your work – most architects feel that the work they do creates a meaningful environment for people and shapes how people go about their day. To know that your work will be on display for everyone to see and judge can be a strong motivator.

5. How has architecture as a career changed since you graduated college?

I don’t think that it has changed me – it has played a part in shaping who I am but that is more of an evolution that would happen to most people as they get older and become exposed to more things in life .

6. Describe your architecture firm.

My firm has 8 people in it and we primarily design middle to high end residential projects. Our typical project lasts about 18 months from start to finish. We are a group that gets along very well and we are allowed to express ourselves through our work and our office space. It is not uncommon for music to be playing  in the back room nor is it all that unusual that we get together when we are not working.

7. What preparation do you suggest for someone interested in architecture?

Get used to looking at the built environment. One of the skill sets every architect (or designer for that matter) has to have is the ability to articulate why you like or dislike a thing, space, material, etc. That is probably the singular most trait that separates me from my clients. They might show me something that they like and if I ask them what they like about it, a typical answer might be “it just feels right”. I might look at it and think that the ratio of room width to room height is well balanced, the natural light is coming in from a north window, and with the dark floors and light colored walls, the room appears larger while still maintaining a sense of enclosure rather than exposure.

8. What are the distinctions between Environmental Design, Industrial Design, Architecture, and Interior Design within your work

For me, this is a difficult question to answer. I work with people every day with these various degrees but they are all still designers so we are able to speak the same language. The real distinction is that the training and path to becoming professionally licensed is different for each of these groups. If I need to go into greater detail, please let me know.

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Maybe as an indication of the times we are in, I have become an advocate of the architectural profession – defending its merits to panicked college architectural students wondering if it’s too late to get out or is there anything else they can do with their degrees once they graduate.

One evolving reason I have continued to write posts for my blog is that I do feel more connected to the design world. The “Social Media” aspect of this process is very real and has had a profound impact on my immediate bubble. No longer am I focused singularly on how I go about my day – now I spend part of my time thinking about how other people are going about their days. For those people who have reached out to me, to establish some sort of connection, looking for some sort of answer or common ground, this is a brief but meaningful connection, or at least I hope it is. This is how people are communicating – globally. There is something happening here and I don’t want to miss it – it’s not that big a leap to wake up one day and realize that I have become irrelevant and can no longer speak the language of the next generation, and for an architect whose greatest asset is his ability to communicate, that would be a tragedy.

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  • http://www.edgorleski.com Ed

    Hi Bob – great article (and site). As I enter my last two years at Drexel, it’s nice to hear someone that offers encouragement to students who are wondering if they made the right choice by going into architecture and, after they graduate, if there is anything out there for them. While I can almost see the light at the end of the educational tunnel, it seems like that light is sometimes dimmed by the possibility that nothing will be at the end of the tunnel when I get there. However, that’s not going to stop me from charging forward!
    Since I have not been spending much time looking for jobs that aren’t out there… I have recently began to explore how social media can help me develop a network of contacts and allow me to “hit the ground running” when I do graduate and find a job in an office. The way I see it, there are two main reasons for utilizing social media; first, to keep in contact with friends and acquaintances and, second, to develop new contacts. A year or so ago, I had no interest in joining any of the social media networks because I was only aware of the former of my above mentioned reasons. My wife was a Facebook user and, while it was neat that she now had an easy way to look up old high school and college friends, I didn’t see the appeal of all those status updates and didn’t think it was really important to know when someone was “waking up and getting in the shower” or “bored at work.” To be honest, it seemed like a waste of time.
    After a few months of my wife telling me how awesome it was, I broke down and joined the world of Facebook. In the beginning it was cool to get back in touch with some old friends, but I quickly started to realize the power of this tool and the ability of social networking for developing contacts and trying to get my name and work out there in the cyber world.
    From my relatively recent delve into the world of social media, I have found three immediate benefits. First, as mentioned above, it has helped me develop a network of contacts in the industry that I would not have had the opportunity to otherwise. This networking has already led to a couple job interviews and a small design project. Second, especially with Twitter, it has allowed me to keep up to date with new design concepts, see work done by others, and recognize industry trends. When you filter out the junk and spend some time looking at the posts from those with a good track recorded, there really is a ton of good information and inspiration in those tweets. The third one, which some may disagree with, is that social media networking has made me more confident in my networking and communicating skills when I meet someone in person. While some may argue that social media really isn’t “social,” I have found that it gives me a platform to use when meeting people I have already been in touch with.
    Regards!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I am going to try and cover some of the pro’s of social media you mention at the upcoming TSA convention. The short version is social media can be what you make of it and you get out of it what you put in. Sounds cliche but it is what it is (see? I can’t stop. I think I need more sleep).

      Thanks for the considered and thorough comment – many people will enjoy it.

  • http://www.kitchendetailsanddesign.com Details and Design

    Hey Bob…am trying to get my friend, Nick, who is a recent grad of Auburn in Architecture to write a blog…have sent him your way too…he was a hot shot in his class and think graduated at the top. Incredible interiors guy…am hoping he will read your blog and learn a few things!! Go super hero and fight the good fight!!

  • http://twitter.com/chamwashere Chamois Green

    I think your site is one of the best examples of the benefits of engaging in social media. As a college student, I often feel lost and wonder if there’s anybody out there who cares enough to throw me a few pointers on the potential careers that loom somewhere in the not so distant future. While I’m not pursuing architecture, I still enjoy reading about it and discovering what goes on inside the heads of such amazing technical artists. Thank you thank you for being one of those lights in the darkness of the unknown for us whippersnappers. We need people like you and social media makes it possible for us to find you!

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  • http://twitter.com/cupboards Nick @ Cupboards

    Really enjoyed this, Bob- Always a good read!

  • http://www.eco-modernism.com Becky Shankle

    One of the best qualities about you, Bob is your approachability. You’re thoughtful, unpretentious and skilled at conveying concepts. That is a huge leap ahead of the old school crowd with lumbering egos & closed, judgmental mindsets.

    I’m buying the first round when we meet. Cheers.

    • Anonymous

      I’ll accept that first round! Did I ever write a post on how much I love to drink because that seems to be the currency I am offered most often. (I also accept gold bars).

      When we present this seminar at the Texas Society of Architects State Convention, I am curious to see not only the make-up of the crowd, but how interested or receptive the group will be. I’m sure there will be an update afterwards.

  • http://twitter.com/Splintergirl Amy Good

    Social media certainly has been a great vehicle to get seen by others in the architectural world, as well as builders and like minded people. Your style of writing and the idea that you are transparent suits you well. Without social media, I wouldn’t have had the ability to interact with you.

    And…if we ever meet, I’ll gladly shake your hand and introduce myself. :)

    • Anonymous

      I’ll hold you to that … except I might not recognize you and therefore won’t be in a position to call you out for not introducing yourself… Hmmm – do you have any tattoos or distinguishing scars on your face? Missing any fingers? Birthmark shaped like an apple maybe?

  • Morgan Robert Murphy

    Bob,

    I cant thank you enough for giving young professionals a open invitation for dialogue concerning the field. A complete contradiction to any sort of, “eat the young mentality,” the profession seems to be labeled with sometimes. Love to start my day off with your posts. PS. saweeeet cabana, does your client need a pool boy by chance?!?! Just kidding.

    MRM

    • Anonymous

      I already applied for the Cabana-boy job (there’s a waiting list).

      Thanks for commenting, it means a lot to me and for the people who come back through and read these posts after-the-fact. A goal of mine is to try and start developing dialog between the readers of this site, not just a back and forth with me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there but I think it’s the best goal I could set for this site for now.

  • http://roamingbydesign.com Saxon Henry

    Bob: You are the perfect modern-day charioteer for the next generation. The thing I love about what you do and how you do it is that you do it with great wit and humor. I don’t always take the time to comment but I look forward to perusing what you have to say on a regular basis. Thanks for your great “take” on the world and architecture in particular.

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    Here is my theory as to why your blog is so popular – the architecture is the vehicle. But the journey and the driver are what’s interesting. I’d explain that for you, but you love challenges. In any case, you are so social and sociable that one medium wouldn’t be enough for you.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Alexandra, I appreciate the nice words.

      I would like to add that I really appreciate the time you put into leaving comments. While it’s fun and I can entertain myself writing most of what I post here, what keeps me thinking it is worth the considerable effort, is just the tiniest glimmer that somebody is looking forward to reading it.

      Thank you.

  • http://www.dogwalkblog.com/ Rufus Dogg

    I write my blog week after week and like you, wonder if there is anyone out there reading it. The numbers says there are and sometimes the comments, but for the most part, there is no huge grass roots community swell like you see at Chris Brogan or Seth Godin or any of the other cool kid blogs. And every few months, I get to the point of saying “this blog is taking too much time and nobody cares anyway” I’ll get an email, DM or tweet from someone who has read something I wrote, thanking me or saying it inspired them or clarified their thinking. Always just out of the blue, like the Universe knows I’m thinking about quitting.

    Funny how that all connects and we don’t even see the strings.

    • Anonymous

      you couldn’t have said it any better. Some sites have a crazy level of feedback but for some reason, most of my dialog happens through emails and not on the comment board. Sometimes I think that’s a great pity because in addition to me, others would probably chime in with an opinion if the comment was sent up the flagpole for all to read.

  • http://twitter.com/ChicModern Chic Modern Vintage

    Too heavy for me to give a real comment :) Great post!

    • Anonymous

      I have something coming on Thursday that will be right up your commenting alley. Something that has been in the works for months but is only now coming live.

      Hopefully, you will come back and chime in.

  • http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com Paul Anater

    It’s amazing, heady stuff this social media; isn’t it?

    • Anonymous

      based on the emails I get, it isn’t just social either.