Finding my first job

Brian Henry (M.Arch, U of Idaho, 2011)



Sep '11 - Jan '13

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    If these are the best firm websites, we're in trouble

    Brian Henry
    Nov 8, '11 1:31 AM EST

    I caught a tweet linking to an article on today and because of my recent post I thought I'd share and critique: Ask the Jury: Which Architects Have the Best Web Sites?

    Personally, I think the jury got it all wrong ... well mostly. I liked what Enoch Sears had to say about knowing and targeting your audience, but I can't say I'm a huge fan of Modative's site, there is potential there, but they missed it on so many levels. You know you're in for a treat when they start off with this line, "Welcome to the easy-to-use Modative website." You shouldn't really have to convince your clients that your site is easy-to-use, it just should be (period).

    Rachoff Vella hits a nerve with the splash page that leaves you wondering if you are supposed to do anything ... you are. Anytime you see a splash page, hit the back button. If you do happen to click through, the all-caps and the completely different look for the projects page is enough to make me wonder if the juror even looked around for a good site or just clicked on any random site Google gave him. The second example, Oroszvary Architects, confirms the juror thought the task was a complete waste of time. The copyright says 2009 and the site is still unfinished for crying out loud. In case you're wondering, don't go live until your site is ready.

    Diamond+Schmitt have one of the better looking sites but they didn't get the memo on good website design. First of all, never use sounds or music. If you absolutely have to have the sound (and believe me, you don't), leave it as an option to turn ON, not the other way around. Secondly, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. The flash animation and such is impressive but it get's in the way of the content and navigation. I spend more time looking at the orange lines and the 'loading circle' than I do looking at the projects. Finally, build your website to be viewed at multiple resolutions without changing the experience. There are plenty of resources to find out what resolutions are common among web users; size images and your site so that on my 1680x1050 display I don't get sea-sick when I move my mouse and the background image reacts (again, just because you can do that with flash, doesn't mean you should).

    The only respectable website in the bunch is Build LLC's site but they could fix a few things:

    • The only 'real' drop-down menus are those for info and team, make this stuff work for your project lists as well.
    • Images for projects scroll the same direction whether you go forwards or back, the navigation should correspond intuitively.
    • Either do a reactive scroll to the mouse position or do an active scroll, but not both. Reactive like the image thumbnails on the left on any given project or active like on the press page (except do not use that scroll bar).

    Additionally, I think Build do a great job with their firm's online presence; The site is simple, navigable, straightforward and personal. Plus, I love their blog and the firm's willingness to share information about their techniques and process; it's something I wish all architects would aspire to. Without looking around, if I had to pick my favorite firm website, I'd go with Build ... and I'm not just saying this because I show up in a blog post from awhile back.


    • Brian, thanks for visiting my blog, and for your breakdown of each of the sites chosen. I actually think you're correct about several of the sites listed by the members of my "jury" (who are all just fellow members of the online AEC community who answered my open request for contributors, for what it's worth).

      I am a bit confused by your critique of the Modative firm site, however. I understand and agree that saying a site is easy to use is redundant when it actually is, and they probably shouldn't have added that. But other than that, where specifically do you think their site falls short? While I agree that most sites almost always have a little room for improvement, I think that Modative is quite a bit better than many of the other offerings out there.

      Nov 8, 11 12:53 pm

      pretty sure every firm needs a photo shoot gallery... when does modative's album come out?  we're going to take it to the next level though with a slow motion walk animation, with stuff blowing up in the background, or perhaps just a classic reservoir dogs intro.  although, i like the idea of adapting this scene from kung pow into our profile page...

      Nov 8, 11 2:59 pm

      As for my critique on Modative's site, this could probably constitute a post of its own. I do think there is a lot of potential. I haven't really looked into their resources they have for small lot subdivision, etc. (more on why later) but I do like the idea of giving clients information they need rather than just a list of pretty projects. The faster you can start creating a client relationship the better and Modative starts right away with valuable information at the clients' fingertips.

      Now for where they go wrong. The overall aesthetic and even some of the content of the site screams, "I'm a bad corporate training video, or business opportunity presentation." Maybe that's being overly dramatic but it really does feel like the firm is dumbing-it-down for the layperson. It starts with statements like, "Welcome to the easy-to-use Modative website," continues with "We're also easy to talk to ..." and culminates with the image below. Maybe they were trying to go with a humorous slant but it doesn't come across that way.

      Their project list leaves a lot to be desired. I don't necessarily agree with the organizational scheme of each column representing a different type of project. I'd rather see something more intuitive; at the very least, three tables, one for each type of project. The images in each row want to line up (same size, similar aesthetic) but when the caption fills more than one line, it tries to center the text and image within the row. Consequently, images rise up a little higher in the row and it just looks sloppy.

      My final big critique of the Modative site is that it is just too complex. In architecture terms, you're forcing me to go through the vestibule, entry hall, living room, dining room, kitchen, den, family room, master bedroom, and walk-in closet just to get to the bathroom. I just wanted to sit down and answer nature's call. In the site if I want to read the firm's philosophy I have to visit the homepage, the 'what is modative page', the initial firm philosophy page (which would be good enough), but instead if I want to read all of it I have to dig deeper and visit at the very least two more firm philosophy pages. I can't just look at their free 'Architecture Process Guide', I have to click through multiple pages and then fill out the form in order to download it. If I'm only somewhat looking at what the firm offers I may not want to initiate the entire process yet, and so I just leave. Enoch Sears claims that they saw a 6x increase in traffic and leads and I'm beginning to wonder if the increased traffic is just from a few people having to click through so many pages.

      Other points that I won't elaborate on here include:

      • The use of 'no-caps' in their titles but not following through with the other text that stands out on the page, hyperlinks.
      • The mixture of stylized images to link to their firm resources, but non-stylized or just different styles on other thumbnail images
      • Multiple blogs for different topics all under the same firm. You have tags, use them appropriately and sparingly.
      • Email addresses written out in anti-spam-bot text. That stuff's for craigslist, not a professional website.
      Nov 8, 11 3:13 pm


      Thanks for your critique of our website - Although my first reaction was to become defensive towards your comments, I realized that you have helped prove that our website philosophy is spot on! Our entire goal when creating our site was to not be like other architects websites, which are often designed to appeal to other architects. Fancy graphics, big words, look at me attitude - you get the picture. Most architects are too obsessed with this notion of fitting in with their architecture peers and not breaking away from the norm. 

      We decided instead to try to appeal to our potential clients. I don't care to get into the numbers with you, but it has worked for us. Many of the things you criticize (multiple clicks and giving your email to download something) are the things that are most successful about our website. You deciding to leave before downloading something is irrelevant to us. Why? Because you'll never hire Modative. Those that really want our information (hint: those that might hire us) do go through the process to download something. Speaking of which, about half a dozen or so people downloaded stuff from our site yesterday that came via this post. I guess they managed all the difficult navigation.

      A few other things to touch on:

      •  " it really does feel like the firm is dumbing-it-down for the layperson."  Thanks, that's the point.
      • The multiple specific blogs are very intentional as they cater to very specific audiences.
      • Anti spam bot text - has dramatically reduced our junk mail.
      • Traffic (visitors) vs. page visits - I think you were joking, but if not, I encourage you to research how web site analytics work.

      Just remember that an architect's website is really an extension of their business, not just an online art gallery. I know the thought of business and marketing are painful for most architecture students and young professionals, but without these skills your architecture career is likely to just be a hobby. Unless of course you want to become an architecture (website) critic.

      - Derek...


      P.S. @postal - Modative's debut album will be out in Spring 2012. Look for us on iTunes.

      Nov 9, 11 12:17 pm


      Thanks for taking the time to respond and explain your goals with the site. I've said it before and I'm saying it again, I think your site shows a lot of potential. It seems to be working for you, and I can't necessarily comment on that. I guess the main point I was trying to get across is that your philosophy of tailoring the site to your potential clients is the way architecture firms should be going, but as far your site is concerned, I feel that there are things you could change and still meet your business and website goals. I suppose that just comes with the territory. How many of us have looked at a "starchitect's" work, or anybody's work, and thought we would have done something differently? 

      To explain a little more of what I meant when I said it felt like you were dumbing-it-down for the layperson, I think in the world of archispeak you're right on to 'dumb-it-down'. My comment is that it feels like you have. We, as members of the AEC community, should be capable of talking about and explaining things in a way that other people (not forced to sit through years of schooling where professors have said architectonic so many times it loses its meaning) should be able to understand. The point being that it shouldn't make that person feel inferior because we know bigger words but are smart enough to choose not to use them. It should just feel natural. My critique is that the language on your site doesn't feel natural to me. As for the 'layperson,' I've been force fed the Kool-aid for too long now, you'd have to ask one of them. If you think the language is working for you, that's great. I only mention it again as a point of clarification and possibly further discussion.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment and I hope to see you around Archinect.

      Nov 9, 11 1:42 pm

      Thanks Brian! We all have room for improvement and our site is constantly evolving.

      Keep up the blog and the critical thinking. 


      Nov 9, 11 2:48 pm

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