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The Art of Balance

Our Tagline is our How


In the last post, we looked at our why—our firm purpose—illustrated in Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” concept. Now we move on to our how, which we have also used as our tagline. I have been contemplating for a long time how to best express what we, as an architecture firm, provide our clients, trying to capture the essence of what we do in just a few words–in other words, our tagline. Consider some of the world’s best taglines–Apple’s “Think Different,” and Levi’s “Quality never goes out of style.” The best taglines are memorable and all communicate efficiently with few words.

One of the hardest marketing strategies is coming up with a memorable and creative slogan that properly represents your company or brand. A slogan stays with the consumers—it is how they think of the product. A slogan is only worthwhile if people remember it.

Great slogans must be easily identifiable and be consistent with the brand, memorable, beneficial and create positive feelings for the consumer. They should set your company apart from its competitors, but they have to be simple. That sounds pretty simple to do right? (Courtesy of the Uberbuttons Blog)


I have always been intrigued by business stories where people figure out a clever way to express their business that resonates with customers. I recall reading about the manager of a baseball stadium trying to inspire his employees to treat the spectators in a way that would keep them coming back to more and more of the 82 home games. He asked them what business they thought they were in, and of course, they said the baseball business. He astutely suggested instead that they were in the memory business–that if the fans had a memorable experience, they would come back. Suddenly the ushers and cotton candy salesmen saw their interactions with fans in a different light and tried, now, to make the experience memorable for their customers. Think of the creative peanut vendor throwing his bags right on target to customers from the middle aisle.

Recently I had purchased Katy Perry tickets for my daughter and a friend to attend a concert at the TD Boston Garden. They were going on Saturday night but arrived with Friday night tickets. My daughter called me from the venue and said, “Dad, you made a mistake.” I suggested they go to the box office, purchase the cheapest tickets and just go in. What’s another $100 when you already spent $250 and your daughter’s dream is on the line? Fortunately, the guy at the box office realized he was in the memory business and gave them upgraded seats beside the stage for no cost. He is my hero, even though I don’t know who he is. He made Dad look real good to his daughter and gave me a story to tell that reflects well on the Boston Garden.

Now let’s relate this concept to architecture. Most architects will tell you they are in the design business, but we feel it’s a bit more creative than that. There is a common understanding of the usual project trio of quality, schedule, and budget—that you can pick one or maybe two of these issues to address, and the third one is usually just the consequence or fallout of focusing on the other priorities. A more detailed understanding of this concept is that there are far more than three things to be balanced, and potentially hundreds or even thousands of decisions to be made in bringing a project to fruition. Most architects will tell you they design projects. If I stop and think about what we do daily, it is all about making balanced decisions through the study and refinement that make up our design process. It is through this process that we reach our conclusions about how to balance the appropriate emphasis of aesthetics, function, efficiency, quality, craft, budget and the schedule to deliver compelling projects. We are actually in the business of artfully balancing the project criteria.

These project criteria are not all equal, but they need to work in equilibrium so the project succeeds by responding appropriately to the needs of the various project stakeholders. Think about the balance achieved in a Calder mobile. Unlike a scale, which balances two things, a mobile is made of various sized pieces representing project decisions all rotating on arms around the suspension point. The many parts of the mobile/project are in balance, but they are not all the same weight nor command the same emphasis in the composition.


Triple Gong, 1948 Photo courtesy of Calder Foundation.


So who makes the choice about the composition of the decisions and the weight of the various pieces of a project?

We do as the architects. A client gives us a program and we listen to their goals and aspirations. We add our experience, tackle regulatory requirements, assess function, select materials, balance costs, decide how to build it and how sustainable to make it. We test our hypotheses in the schematic design process telling the client what we heard and how we chose to respond to their vision and achieve the right balance. Did we get it right? They, in turn, respond with yes, no, or sort of; perhaps recommending more emphasis be placed on the function of the space or indicating that the budget is not negotiable, etc.

We enter the next phase of design development and refine the balance of the elements and then ask again how close we are. Then we proceed to construction documents where much of the balance involves our internal process about the technical aspects of defining what will be built.

Lastly, we perform construction administration services where there is a daily reconciliation of schedule, cost, and field conditions that require a refined sense of balance to fully implement the client’s vision in the built project.

I think we all understand that each aspect is important, on some level, in each project. That is why we talk about the “art” of balance at DiMella Shaffer. We like to organize ourselves around the client’s priorities for schedule, quality, and budget for the project. No two projects are ever the same and the balance cannot be expressed as a number or percentage. It is a combination of what we are told by the client and what we learn from their decision-making throughout the project. The firm benefits from a high number of repeat clients that we come to know quite well. This long-term work with major clients doesn’t happen if our team fails to achieve the right balance of a client’s project factors and priorities.

In this age of extremes, we believe “The Art of Balance” is even more critical in achieving the aspirational goals of our clients. Given that major achievements like building projects are the result of team collaboration rather than individual success, the ability to determine and communicate the appropriate balance of project factors is a key factor in all our work. Achieving this balance is our process; it defines how we help our clients to make the world more beautiful, functional, and sustainable.

I was in Ben and Jerry’s in Burlington, Vermont a few weeks ago and while waiting in line, I saw on the wall a drawing of a cow, the earth and a sun underlined by the phrase, “Balance is everything.”

It certainly is!