Review: How Firms Succeed; A Field Guide to Design Management

by James P. Cramer and Scott Simpson

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Architects are notoriously poor business people. Design is seen as a high art that takes huge amounts of time and dedication. Architects continuously complain that their art is not valued by clients, but they fail to demonstrate that value.  How Firms Succeed: A Field Guide to Design Management, helps lay the foundation that a well designed business is essential for a firm to provide well designed buildings for its clients.

Cramer and Simpson claim that the four essential skills of a successful firm are marketing, operations, professional services, and finance. Notice that quality design is not an essential skill, but a part of professional services. The authors continuously point out the benefits of earning a profit, of marketing effectively, of operating efficiently, and of demonstrating value to clients.

While they provide the groundwork for how to run a successful firm, they are unable to provide specifics. They only touch on the different values that architects offer, without getting into much detail about how to educate clients on those values. This is understandable because every design firm provides value in a different way. However, they do provide excellent questions at the end of each chapter that help firms identify and act upon their specific strengths and weaknesses.

We believe that this book should be read by new architects and firm principals alike. It will help new architects understand how a firm operates and will lead the future leaders in architecture down a new path that avoids the mistakes that firms have been making for years. Firm principals will benefit from a book that will help them understand how to improve their business. Afterall, as the authors state, "essentially, we are in the leadership business, and design is our medium."

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Article Updated: January 14, 2022

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