An Architect's Secret for Marketers

In “Learning from traditional architects,” Lorraine Johnston writes,

“History records the architect as being the original master-builder ….   During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the role of the architect changed, becoming less personal.  The builder now controlled the craftsmen, and the architect visited the building site less frequently ….  The period saw the divorce of design from construction ….  When the industrial revolution brought the need for different types of buildings, such as factories, mills and warehouses, architects tended to have little interest in coping with the construction needs of the industrial age.”1

Architects, who originally were responsible for synthesizing a solution that could resolve multiple requirements, became more interested in style.  The actual design choices for these business interests fell into the hands of the civil engineer, who inherently embraced a scientific approach to the new forms of buildings and materials.

Now, you’ve been reading me long enough, I hope, that by now your eyebrows should be wiggling.  You see the intriguing parallel?

I’m going to stick with the architectural metaphor here, but I want you to start thinking of the architect as a marketer responsible for the bottom line of the company’s Web site and the civil engineer as an ace technical programmer who has developed the site.

Ms. Johnston continues,

“While the architectural champions of Gothic and Classic were making the head-lines, hard-headed practical and industrious men were quietly changing the face of Britain with their railway stations and their viaducts, their mills factories and housing estates … architects followed classical design principles and left others to deal with the requirements resulting from the industrial revolution.”

In short, somewhere along the line, architects started to overlook “the real needs of users, and technologists took over during the industrial revolution.”  The result? The birth of the urban slum and a general decline in the quality of construction and usability.

By the early twentieth century, architects were growing familiar with the new materials and engineering techniques, and “realised they had a vital role to play in bringing order and humanity into an increasingly chaotic world.”

These days, the “new architect” approaches the task a bit differently.

“For a traditional architect called on to design a hospital, it is important that every detail of the working of the hospital is known early.  Space cannot be allocated or even the firm of the buildings conceived until the people responsible for wards, kitchens and operating theatres, say, have been able to explain their requirements. … Only after all the preliminary work is done for the hospital can an architect decide whether a small number of multi-storied buildings would suit better than a series of lower connected buildings. Up to this point there in no physical shape for the building nor any architectural character. … the visible form and the aesthetic quality for the building will emerge as part of the problem-solving, in contrast to the earlier approach of starting with a preconceived image and fixing the functionality to suit.”

Here’s the ethic of the modern architect in a nutshell:

“The way clients are looking to the future requires that we study our client’s situation more than we have ever done before.  If we are to succeed, we must learn a great deal about how clients are organized and what strategies underlie their way of doing business.”

So let me illuminate the comparison for you, the marketer:  when you are in charge of the bottom line, it is your necessary role to provide the order, the comprehensive vision and an understanding of the human dynamic during the development process of your Web site.

“…there is general agreement on the need to have an interactive process …”

The Lesson

Uncovery, Wireframing, Storyboarding, Prototyping, Development and Optimization.  These are the critical steps that make up MAP (the Minerva Architectural Process), our iterative process of creating Persuasive Architecture.

The design or redesign of a Web site requires the input of many specialists, including technical programmers, information architects, copywriters, designers, usability folks, marketers and people who understand the consumer psychology of selling and buying. But it also needs the synthetic, coordinating abilities of an architect.

No detail that affects customer response should be left to chance - from the integration of the marketing message into the Web site’s fabric, to email marketing campaigns, to sales, to CRM, to the minutiae of customer response communications. Every company could really benefit from is a Chief Persuasion Officer, a Persuasive Architect - someone who embraces the global perspective of a business' effort and integrates all the parts toward the creation and maintenance of an effective, holistic persuasive system.

I really can’t put this any better than the woman who posted to a discussion topic on the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture members-only mailing list.  She created a little seminar demonstration to explain to participants the value of a synthetic coordinator:

“I split the content developers up into 6 groups and had each group pick a room in a house and ‘design’ it. They picked the type of room, size, color, scheme, style and layout, and drew it on a piece of paper. I then had one representative from each group come up to the front and try to put a house together using those rooms. Needless to say, we ended up with no bathrooms and 3 living rooms and a huge mess. I explained that there needed to be someone ‘designing the house’ first - an architect, if you will … I’d never seen so many light bulbs go on.”2

You can see the value of someone like an architect, right?


1 “Learning from traditional architects.”  Lorraine Johnston. Swinburne University of Technology, School of Information Technology.  Hawthorn, Australia.

2 “IA & usability” topic. Cindy Pae. AIFIA Members-Only Discussion List 3 January 2003.

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