What is the point of an Architect's website?

Really? What's the point?

We have been thinking a lot about our website. The venerable baumgartclark.com.au is pretty rudimentary, although it has served us reasonably well and doesn't owe us any favours. What we have been particularly interested in is a broader question about the purpose of architect's websites, and how they serve the businesses they represent. I am interested in coming to terms with what the websites actually do, as opposed to what their owners assume/hope they will do.

Most architect's websites are about one or two things: the product (a 'gallery' or folio of goodies  - what the architect has done) or themselves (who they are and why they're good). Most architect's websites do not have much to say about the customer (let's not call them clients for a moment), or what they can expect when working with the business. Such sites tend not to discuss the client's businesses, worlds or challenges, and as such offer no insights to the visitor.

This customer/client-ignoring approach is as much about nuance as it is about overt orientation: the whole perspective of most architect's websites is 'let's talk about me/us', and 'what we/us can do' for you. You will notice that 'you' is the last word in that sentence.

What is the result of publishing such a site? What does it achieve? I would argue that it might achieve, at most, a mildly positive impression in the reader's/vistor's mind about the architect and their architecture, particularly if they like the work. That is, if the visitor can get over the impression of the site being like that bore at a party who spends all of his time talking about himself and how great he is. ('He' simply because they are almost always male.)

In the world of web communication analysis, this makes for a very poor 'exchange of value'; which is to say that IF you expect the visitor to spend time at your website, they should be offered something of comparable and reasonable value in exchange for that attention, or at least a seeming acknowledgement of their spending of valuable time. And make no mistake: your customer's attention ('eyeballs and clicks') is of real value in the current economy: actual money.

So what?

Well, we rethought the entire purpose of the architectural website, and built a speculative new one around the concept of the fair exchange of value between our business, and the visitor. Importantly, we also acknowledged that it is not wrong to include the 'folio' function - obviously - which remains important: only that it shouldn't be the principal focus of the website. Part of the package; not the point.

So our new website puts the customer front and centre. When you land on the site, the homepage asks in bold text: "Tell us about you." Below this are a range of links (to complete the phrase: I am from...) which encourage the visitor to identify themselves through selecting the appropriate line/link. This takes them to a page that offers the initial exchange of value: reflections on the customer's world (from our perspective), their businesses and their challenges, and how their concerns can potentially be addressed by our processes.

From this client/customer orientation starting point ('TELL US ABOUT YOU'), the site navigation moves left-to-right through the headings 'SERVICE' and 'DESIGN', and only then 'WHO WE ARE', 'TECHNICAL' and finally, after all other categories of information, the folio: 'PROJECTS'. 

So that's it: an experiment in resetting the orientation of the architect's website, while maintaining the 'architect's perspective'. It's not about changing what architects are, or what they represent: it's about swinging their point of view around onto the subject, the customer.

Keep an eye on baumgartclark.com.au, we go live in the near future.