Architecture is a profession everyone fantasizes about. Like George on Seinfeld; he’d always say he was an architect. But people who can’t keep fighting in the storm get weeded out early. When I started architecture school, one of the professors said only 25% of us would make it. Of those, many drop out of the field by age 40. I did that in 2002. I closed my practice in Chicago and moved to Minneapolis to devote myself full time to Blu Dot, which I helped found in 1996.
Architecture is about keeping track of thousands of pieces of information and making sure they’re all covered in the design. The implications of failure are pretty high if you don’t: People could get hurt. Therefore, you learn that you must be very efficient with information and organization, which naturally translates to running the day-to-day operations of a company.
It’s funny how the word “sell” is never used in architecture school, but to me the critiques were kind of informal lessons in sales. For exams, you’d present your work to a jury–your professors, peers, local architects, and so forth. Their job is to shell you; your job is to defend yourself. It’s pretty brutal. Typically, you’ve pulled at least one all-nighter. Tears are not uncommon. But it taught me how to communicate ideas quickly and tailor information to an audience. When I show a coffee table, I’ll talk about the decisions we made, how we designed one part to hold magazines, or why having wheels makes it easy to move around. You can’t possibly cover every single aspect. You have to figure out what’s important and how your design solves their problems.
Architects say yes more often than they should, and I still do that at Blu Dot. It often brings about unexpected opportunities. Last year, a pharmaceutical company wanted us to make a custom bookend for a trade show within three months. It was an unusual project, but we figured out a way to do it–and discovered a whole new market that was perfect for one of our desk-accessories lines.”
That’s why I’m so glad I went to architecture school.