Tips for being an Architect AND a Regular Person

August 5, 2013 — 65 Comments

There are some words of advice that have stuck with me over the years – some were specific to being an architect, but most were generic to being a decent human being. Since I like to think both of those descriptors apply to me, I started to jot down all the pieces of advice I’ve read or received over the years that have stuck with me. Even though I don’t generally consider myself to be in a position to dole out life advice, but since I’ve been around the architectural block a time or two, I thought I would assemble all the words of wisdom I could think of and share them with you.

Architectural Sketch Paper

  • Perception is reality, it doesn’t always matter if you’re right or not
  • Architectural firms have different glass ceilings based on the job title – know what they are
  • Don’t send an email for everything, they live forever and get sent around
  • Never park directly in front of the bar
  • Have a nice messenger bag and take care of it
  • Eventually you are going to eat your vegetables, start early and get the benefits now
  • Take a walk with your spouse/ boyfriend/ girlfriend after dinner
  • Actually go home for dinner
  • Having a graduate degree in something other than architecture can actually make you a better architect
  • Every person you meet will either change your life or you’ll change theirs, act accordingly
  • Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it
  • Never get drunk at office functions, people will always remember it
  • Hand drawing is not a gift, it’s a skill. Practice.
  • Don’t eat your lunch at your desk

Roll of architectural drawings

  • When someone asks you what you think of their house, tell them that you love it
  • Thank your waiter
  • Yelling rarely resolves matters
  • It’s easy to criticize, point out the positives
  • Keep your birthday cards
  • Order dessert first every once in a while
  • Don’t throw your cigarette butts on the ground or out the car window
  • Don’t bring your phone to the dinner table
  • Some people like drafting dots more than regular masking tape, it’s really not that big of a deal
  • Always use the word “we” when talking about your work
  • Don’t tell someone else that the food they’re eating looks gross
  • Have friends who aren’t other architects
  • Use your architectural skills to help out a charitable cause
  • It’s okay to play with toys as an adult
  • Take the interns out for lunch and pay for it
  • Don’t get your picture taken holding a cocktail
  • Take the blame and give the credit

Half Size Sets of Drawings

  • People go to college to learn how to learn
  • If the firm justifies long hours as “just part of the training of interns” look for a different firm
  • Hire people who are smarter than you
  • Work on your vocabulary
  • Don’t get a tattoo on your face
  • Teach others when to use Elmer’s glue and when to use rubber cement
  • Don’t call someone a “Cad Monkey”
  • Learn how to weld
  • Reasons and Excuses sound a lot alike
  • Don’t drink by yourself
  • Being a good designer is more about giving people what they want, not what you want
  • No matter how great you think you are, until your name is on the door, be prepared to do what you are asked to do

Do what you will with these pearls of wisdom, ignore them or turn them into motivational stickers … They’ve generally worked pretty well for me. Cheers, Bob signature

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  • Thomas Flynn Blessing

    Bob you must run a great shop, I wish I had read that list when I was 30. Cheers

  • jericho garcia

    How about “don’t assume”? it is good to hope but don’t misinterpret it as hope.
    Also, take time to travel (vacation).

  • Coltan Severson

    I am curious about your thoughts and insight on classical architecture programs, Notre Dame’s specifically. It seems like a unique and rich education, but would the average firm look down on a “traditional” education or would it set you apart from others in a good way? Thanks.

  • Nemanja

    Find some time for everything you like to do.

  • marie powers

    Your blog inspires me. Thank you!

    • thanks Marie – very kind of you to say!


  • Flora Xiao

    “Learn how to weld”

    I wonder why this particular one?

  • aMa Architecture Inc

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Ashley M.

    Thanks a lot for the tips! I’m a college student studying Architecture, and this was comforting. So, thanks a bunch.

  • lgt

    When someone asks you what you think of their house, tell them that you love it

    ahahahhahaha…. or you can risk it and tell them its a ugly, and get beat up by an’ elderly 😀

  • Vinnie

    Never assume – otherwise you’ll make an ASS out of U and ME

  • Abdulelah Qutub

    I think one that is simple and easy to understand is “just don’t be an asshole”

    • I think that qualifies as solid life advice for just about everyone

  • Stephanie H.

    Take photographs of something besides buildings. I get this request from my mom when I go on vacation.

  • Jess Hopkin

    I would add read to the list. Whether it be the newspaper, a novel, a text book, whatever, just read =)

    • Abdulelah Qutub

      Great advice…

  • Jamie Roche

    Thanks Bob! These are great. They remind me of one that I heard and liked: “Don’t ask people if they need help, just help.”

  • Michael

    Kudos, Bob! Looking forward to the gems you will gain over the next couple of years.

  • Nathan Taylor

    I’ll be translating this into Chinese and posting in in the office for the design team tomorrow! I’m sure they will like it!

  • Thanh Ho Phuong

    I like all, however my favorite one is “It’s easy to criticize, point out the positives”

  • Tejas

    if we actually read only 2 points daily and act on it , it will change the designer within us.

  • Galen

    Another one – don’t hold an idea so tight that it dies.

  • Alex

    I guess I’ll print this out. And will have my kids memorize it.

  • Frank

    One piece of advice that immediately stands out in my mind:

    “I don’t care if you fall over 10 times, as long as you stand up for the 11th time.”

  • ArchOne

    From my grandmother:

    Travel – it builds character and purpose

    • Abdulelah Qutub

      I completely agree… I have put buying a car on hold and will be travelling more this year.

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  • Bryan B.

    Related to, “It’s okay to play with toys as an adult.”

    I always try to keep in mind, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

    -Roald Dahl

  • Jeff Bianco

    Here’s one I learned along the way:

    If you are going to be perfect all the time, you can be an SOB. If you want to leave room for making a mistake once (not in awhile) then you ought to be nice.

  • Reading this as I eat lunch… at my desk…

  • Alexandra Williams

    I need more toys.

  • Those are good life lessons in general.

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Bravo for yet another title which caused me to laugh aloud.
    But, I am an irregular person that way

  • Great list. We as a culture are losing simple things like dignity, politeness and respect. We could all learn from these tips.

    A few more that are quotes.
    1. “ to others what you would have them do to you” ~Jesus
    2. “Do or do not. There is no try.” ~Yoda
    3. To repeat one from your list – build your vocabulary. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Inigo Montoya
    4. “Push that broom better than anyone else and you won’t be pushing it for long.” ~one of my Italian uncles.

    • lardavis1951

      from a clever friend/architect: “Semper Ubi, Sub Ubi”
      always wear clean underwear.

    • Abdulelah Qutub

      Love everyone of these

  • Robert R. Machado

    If you’re going to be a bear….be a grizzly

  • Kathy Kennemer Genet

    Architecture is a creative process that takes a long time to reach the satisfying result… as a creative person you need to find a hobby that gives you quicker results to tide you over until your project is built. (words of Lance Tatum, UT School of Architecture Professor)

    • I had Lance Tatum as one of my design professors – small world and good advice.

      • afterdark

        The roots of education may be bitter, but the fruit is sweet.

    • lardavis1951

      I look at my classmates – the one or two that seem settled always have some outside interest. My outside interests have taken precedent – part of the reason I’ve not progressed, but have survived some of the more stressful times at work.

  • Tim Barber

    1) As my best friend’s mother taught me “Act positive and you can sell and Eskimo a refrigerator”
    2) As the sign on my 5th adviser’s door stated “For every complex problem there is a simple solution……………………………………….and it’s usually wrong”
    3) As I learn in college “Your idea is 50% and your presentation is 50%. You can have an average solution and sell the heck out of it or you may have a fantastic solution that nobody will be interested in”
    4) You can not change other people all you can do is change how you deal with them. “It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of your time and it annoys the pig”

    • very good list.

      The first one on your list reminded me of one I should go back an add to my list: “Act like you’re supposed to be there and people will act accordingly”

      • lardavis1951

        ooh, that’s a hard one to master.

  • If_the_Lamp_Shade_Fits

    I’m awfully glad I read this walking into the tattoo parlor. (And if it is called such, shouldn’t there be more velvet furniture?)

    • glad I could help you dodge that bullet. And yes, more velvet … oxblood red in color is preferable.

      • Mark Mc Swain

        Ah, “parlour” like “salon” or “lounge” or “(with)drawing room”–terms which “everbody” recognizes, yet evokes a different image in each listener.
        Which is important to today’s topic in that, just because people understand the words you use, does not denote that they mean what you mean them to be.

        • lardavis1951

          had a client say a proposed light fixture was “kitcheny” – ’nuff said, back to the catalogs, even if it was not a “real” word.

  • Kamau Munderu

    My internship boss should see this line ”Take the interns out for lunch and pay for it”….Great advice Bob- for a 2nd year

    • of course, that should not be a standing declaration, just every now and then. People occasionally need to be reminded that everyone the team is important and plays a role. Saying “Please” and “Thank you” even when you don’t have to makes it all that much more powerful.

  • Petra Lipar

    Some that have always worked for me is:
    – Never intentionally hurt anyone.
    – Do not regret your past decisions; you did the best you could with the information available at the time. If it all went pear-shaped, it was a valuable lesson.
    – Regretting the past is a colossal waste of energy – learn the lesson, move on.
    – The only thing worth regretting is action not taken, so save energy and enrich your life – do all those things you know you’ll regret missing out on.
    – Not making a decision IS a decision.

    • those are all good – I am particularly fond of learning your lessons and moving on

      • lardavis1951

        still haven’t got that one down.

  • Greg Swedberg

    I enjoyed this, especially the face tattoo…I guess I’ll take that off my to-do list for the week.

  • Robert Moore

    I don’t believe I would disagree with anything on the list. Good advise.

    • Thanks Robert – there are a couple I left off (like don’t use black tar heroin) because they seemed fairly obvious. This list represents only what I could remember at the time of writing which seemed to mean that they had the most value (as evidenced by the fact that I remembered them).


  • architectrunnerguy

    Great list Bob. Nice way to start the week! And coincidentially I just wrote a couple of recent college graduates my parents helped through school with this list (copy and pasted directly from my letter):

    -Don’t waste your breath proclaiming what’s really important to you. How you spend your time says it all

    -Keeping perspective is the greatest key to happiness. Look at the big picture. From a distance, even a bumpy road looks smooth

    -Promptness shows respect. Be on time and expect others to be also. Unless it’s a party then it’s ok to be 30 minutes late. (Straight from my Dad here. Except for the “party” thing. He’d want promptness there too. Party starts at 7, he’d be there at 6:45 But you don’t need to do that. Don’t worry. It’s ok).

    -When driving, don’t text or talk on a cell phone. As much as you’d like to think so, you’re not indispensable. And the cemeteries are filled with indispensable people.

    -The first person to use the expression “Get a life!” in any dispute is the loser.

    -Fear of failure is a ticket to mediocrity. If you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not pushing yourself. And if you’re not pushing yourself, you’re coasting.

    -If you’re in a conversation and you’re not asking questions, then it’s not a conversation, it’s a monologue. The art of both listening and conversation is undervalued. Learn how to do both well. (Again, straight from my parents).

    -Don’t put anything on the internet you wouldn’t want your Mother to see.

    -Two cheap, easy, self-improvement projects: Have a strong handshake and smile when you answer the phone.

    -Never send an email when angry. Always save the draft and wait until the next morning for review. And in the morning, if you still like what you’re saying, then you’re likely on solid ground.

    -In everyday life, most “talent” is simply hard work in disguise.

    • Good to see you back Doug! Nice way to return as well – those are all solid pieces of advice, worthy or repeating and being added to this list.


      • architectrunnerguy

        Thanks. And I love “When someone asks you what you think of their house, tell them that you love it”. Do that always. And then with some houses, while driving away, my wife and I are looking at each other and saying “What were they thinking???”

    • Mark Mc Swain

      Left one off there–always bring something usedful to the party–even when told not to.
      Also, always offer to help–there is always “one more thing” . . .