Taking a Client Backstage

Presentations to clients are always stressful and tricky. When I worked in New York City and was preparing for a client presentation, we would always draw like crazy to the very last minute working on and refining final renderings and models. The final presentation was “on stage” and always a feast for the eyes. Inevitably, the client would listen, review the presentation and more often than not, want to make changes. Lots of changes.

I remember thinking, “how can the client want to make all these changes? They don’t know the ideas and logic behind the design!” As I returned to my desk, I would sift through sheet after sheet of sketches that showed the effort, process and logic of the design. At that moment, I understood: our clients typically only see the final renderings and models. They do not get to see the logic and rationale behind the design.

At JEMA, we present differently to our clients. We give them a backstage pass. Backstage is where the logic and rationale of a design lives. As architects, we spend the majority of our time backstage and we want the client to see “behind the scenes.”

The best way to show a client backstage is through the use of diagrams. Simple, clear diagrams are like the instruction manual for a design. Before getting to the final renderings and models, diagrams show the intent and process of our design thinking. The integration of the concept, site, and program all come to light in a well-conceived diagram.

Here’s a quick tour backstage for a recent project.

After a tour backstage, a client has a better understanding of the “why” behind a design. A shared understanding of the reason, logic, and processes that constitute a design is attained and a client is able to critique a project based on more than aesthetics or personal taste.