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Marching Forward

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Cynthia Kracauer (Photo courtesy Archtober)

Welcome to March, which brings us unpredictable weather, a seemingly endless college basketball tournament, and Women’s History month. We’ve asked several luminaries in the AEC fields to share why they pursued a career in these industries. This week, we’re honored to feature Cynthia Kracauer, Managing Director of the Center for Architecture and the festival director for Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC.

What drew me to the practice of architecture?

“Flow” is the short answer.

My father was in the Navy and we moved every eighteen months until I was ten. From place to place I carried with me a pocket-sized cadre of fabric creatures, mice and squirrels, that I made by cutting fingers off my white gloves and snipping fluffs of aqua fur from Mother’s shearling bedroom slippers. I stuffed the fingers with cotton, made felt feet and ears and whiskered the faces with thread pulled through the pointed noses. Blanche, the white mouse, and Sibyll, the aqua squirrel, were my best friends and I created elaborate houses for them from cadged shirt cardboards and discarded packing boxes. Countless solitary hours were spent gluing, cutting, fitting, and fantasizing about the special tree dwelling that had an elevator with a pulley made from a wooden spool of Coats & Clark thread. When I was working in that fantasy world, I experienced joy.

I remembered that joy when I signed up for Architecture 101 in my first semester in college. Bob Geddes, FAIA, the Dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton, taught the course. It was very popular, perhaps because it had the reputation of being fun. Bob was a great lecturer, and there was a good bit of wandering around looking at buildings. Doodling was encouraged. The class also exposed students to life in the studio, which looked a whole lot like bunches of kids sitting around making mouse houses. I was hooked.

Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, has been the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture since 2006, and festival director for Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC, now in its sixth year. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989 to 2005 worked at Swanke Hayden Cornell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M. Arch 1979), she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater.

 

 

Drone Videos: Touring a Building Without Leaving Your Desk

The best way to capture the “feel” of a building is by experiencing it in person—stepping inside lets you appreciate the building’s size, as well as light, air movement, and other intangibles. But sometimes an in-person tour isn’t possible due to constraints of geography, budget, or time.

At Legacy Building Solutions, we have found drone videos to be an effective tool to help potential customers understand fabric structures. Drone video footage allows viewers to experience the reality of a building in a way that words and still photos can’t convey.

One advantage of drone video footage is the ability to depict scale with accuracy. Video of an aircraft assembly hangar quickly shows how people and vehicles are dwarfed by the fabric structure. The aerial footage also reveals a feature that an on-site visitor wouldn’t be able to see: the rooftop solar panels. And while at this shoot, falling snow posed some difficulties for the drone operator, it served to dramatically delineate the difference between the inside and outside environments.

Video of an indoor tennis center shows how the building’s design complements the existing outdoor tennis courts and the surrounding area. The interior footage captures the way lights inside the building reflect off the walls’ inside liner, a concept that’s difficult to explain without a visual aid. Tennis enthusiasts can see how six courts fit inside the structure with room to spare.

By capturing workers in a manufacturing environment as well as an office setting, the drone footage of Legacy’s headquarters shows the versatility of the buildings. This video also depicts heavy equipment, such as overhead cranes, and architectural features, such as the outside canopy, attached to the building frame.

When the potential client can’t come to the building, using a drone video might be the best way to bring the building to them. —Juliet Brambrink, MarComm Administrator, Legacy Building Solutions

Love Letters

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This month, taking a cue from St. Valentine, we’ll take a look at some communications tools we love, like very much, are strongly attached to, respect and admire. (We admit it, technology can make us a bit fickle.) We’ll also invite some outside experts to share their favorites.

As the senior content manager for Hausman LLC, I have opportunities to speak with amazing people representing all sectors of the A/E/C business, interviewing them about topics that reflect their particular expertise. While I usually rely on a paper and pen for taking notes, I’m also fond of a voice-to-text app called Dragon Dictation.

The system was originally designed to serve the medical community, allowing physicians to speak, rather than write, their patient reports. Boasting a 99% spelling accuracy level and a speed that’s three times faster than typing, the program has been expanded beyond the doctor’s office, with customized variants now available for small businesses, education, legal, and public service sectors now offered. Loaded onto a smartphone, it makes incredibly short work of transcribing conversations, and when used on a desktop computer, can cut the time consumed by manually entering data down to the bone. —Leslie Clagett

(Very) Moving Pictures

We’ve seen image-based digital content evolve from heavy-handed clip “art” to nearly theater-quality movie files. Video has become the essential story-telling tool for all manner of brands. It is available in an increasingly wide variety of structured formats, as well as standard point-and-shoot films. Hardware needs can be as basic as a tablet, smartphone, or camera, along with a tripod and lavalier mic; when not bundled into an app, intuitive editing software is easily mastered.

 

From straightforward demonstration videos to interviews with thought-leaders, videos bring viewers into the message. More than 50% of marketing professionals single out the medium as having the best ROI of all content types; Forrester Research reports that the chances of getting a page-one listing on Google increase 53 times with a video asset.

 

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Vine is a short-form, video sharing service; the app produces six-second video loops that can be oddly mesmerizing. Owned by Twitter, Vine (supported by iOS/OSX, Android, and Windows operating systems) currently has 200 million users, making it an appealing vehicle for mobile marketing. Think of Vine as the video equivalent of “Headline News”; its abbreviated length is compatible with too-busy viewers—not to mention short attention spans.

 

Even the humble GIF (Graphic Interface Format) can tell a story. Firmly grounded in pop culture, it’s essentially a visual one-liner. Its simple, low-tech animation quality makes it suitable for humorous, ironic, or satirical subject matter. But in the hands of architect Axel de Stampa, whose Architecture Animée project is excerpted in the above clip, the format offers a thought-provoking way of looking at space, time, and form.

Many cameras feature GIF-creating modes. Online generators abound; one of the best is Giphy, which also offers creative content services to clients.

 

 

 

Writing for the Web

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Once upon a time, basic writing skills centered on spelling and syntax. Now, for web-focused writing, a facility with algorithms can be added to that list. Of course, that expertise is actually the dominion of search engines, which filter and favor content that best conforms to their models. ¶ Three tools have emerged as effective readership boosters for online messaging and communications.

 

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Hashtags

Since 2007, the punctuation mark formerly known as “pound sign” has been utilized as a label for themes or topics appearing in social media content. Placed in front of a word or phrase, hashtags are often used to tag special events (#usopen2016), people (#georgewashington), or simple ideas (#happy).

Tweets with hashtags receive more than twice the reader engagement than hashtag-less comments. But—of course—there is a limit to that logic. Tweets that include more than two hashtags see a 17% drop in engagement.

Care should be taken to ensure using a hashtag doesn’t backfire, transforming into a “bashtag”. A prime example of this occurred when investment bank J.P. Morgan invited the Twitterverse to converse with its new incoming president. Instead of polite queries about fiduciary matters, #AskJPM attracted a tidal wave of comments like “Would you say that your absurd disregard for long-term profits in favor of short-term illusory growth is evil, or just stupid? #AskJPM”. The moral of this story: Control the conversation.

 

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Keywords

Carefully chosen keywords, seeded throughout your online content, work to attract search engines—and, in turn, readers. Being both strategic and specific with the words delivers the best results.

Include terms or phrases that your customers would use to describe your products or services, and group them into themes. For instance, an architecture firm looking to build its reputation as a specialist in designing contemporary art museums might designate the three phrases—“modern architecture”, “museum design”, and “cultural buildings”—as keywords on its website and social media programming. Such verbal reinforcement would be more effective than just “art museum”.

 

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Links

One of the ways that search engines measure a website’s value—and its all-important position in search results—is by algorithmically evaluating the quantity, quality, and relevance of links to the site from other websites.

Down-and-somewhat-dirty ways to increase the link traffic to and from a site abound (and often involve payment), but these spammish practices are detected by major search engines relatively easily. Being exposed for using such unscrupulous techniques can result in being penalized with temporary suspensions by, for instance, Google. It’s best to build links organically, through offering content and services with integrity.

The ideal length for an effective hyperlink is between one and five words; place the link anchor on the word or phrase that best describes the content to which you are linking (put another way, do not link the generic, meaningless phrase “click here”.)

Express Yourself

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Filled with optimism and resolve, at the start of this new year we’re looking at ways to take communicating—both verbally and visually—to the next level.

Writing is a stressful experience. Here’s a few tips to keep you on track and fresh.

Think long, write short

If you have a tendency to ramble in your writing, or if sequencing information in a logical way is a perpetual challenge, make an outline. It will not only organize your composition, it will organize your thinking—and that’s the key to clarity. To quote revered adman George Lois: “It’s not how short you make it, it’s how you make it short.”

 

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Watch your language

Just because we live in a soundbite world doesn’t mean your writing has to be rote. If it is, your message will be absorbed into the media echo chamber that rings with clichés, jargon, and slang. Adding dimension and color to your writing will take time, but it will set you—and what you have to say—apart from the cacophony.

 

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Solicit comments, not corrections

By asking a colleague or friend to edit your writing, you put them on the spot to deliver a line-by-line critique of your document. Instead, try giving them a more general prompt, like “Is there anything in this presentation that’s hard to understand?” or “Do you think I’ve left out anything important?”

 

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Go off script

Writing for pleasure—as opposed to work-related assignments—can be a tonic. Without the pressure of a deadline, words and thoughts often flow more freely, and then the writing process becomes a pleasure instead of a grind. A private journal, a public blog, even crossword puzzles can help keep your mind nimble.

 

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To be a better writer, be a better reader

The best way to nourish your inner wordsmith is to read. It’s like taking a master class in vocabulary improvement. Spend time with a newspaper, magazine, or a novel and you’ll come away enriched.

Presents with Presence

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Nine shopping days ’til Christmas—it’s time to get serious. If you’re intimidated by choosing the perfect present for the discerning (aren’t they all?) architect or designer in your life, never fear. We’ve compiled the best of the many gift guides for the season, drawn from some of our favorite magazines and websites. Here’s a sampling.

 

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Among the offerings suggested by Architect magazine is the Broken Ornament, designed by Brooklyn-based Snaritecture.

 

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Endorsed by the ever-dapper crew at Monocle, these eco-friendly, waxed paper totes have leather handles.

 

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Dezeen gives a caffeine-fueled nod to Alessi’s new Pulcina espresso maker by Michele De Lucchi.

 

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Frequent and/or disorganized travelers will appreciate this everything-in-its-place leather carryall for digital devices and accessories, tipped by The Architect’s Newspaper.

 

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From Architectural Record‘s recommended reading list, this look at the career of architect/engineer Frei Otto was published just months after the Pritzker Prize winner’s death.

 

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ArchDaily gets into the seasonal spirit with its own Corbusier tee-shirt, available with or without the master puffing on a pipe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season's Greetings

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Especially in the end-of-year rush, contacting an already-busy person can be frustrating. It’s important to keep in mind that communication is a process, not an instantaneous event. Now as always, reaching out to an influential individual requires equal parts tact, savvy, and persistence.

 

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1. Lay the Groundwork for Connecting

Check your networks to see if your target busy person (TBP) is a friend-of-a-friend, a boss of a former colleague, or belongs to a professional organization through which you can culture a contact. Asking a mutual acquaintance for an introduction to your TBP can help pave the way for you.

Don’t ever, ever, ever use the phrase “pick your brain”. Not only does it sound like DIY neurosurgery, it telegraphs that you haven’t clearly defined your request for information—and will waste your TPB’s time.

 

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2. Craft the Communication

In a digital variation on the classic KISS acronym, remember SIPS when drafting your email to your TBP: keep it Short, Intriguing, Professional, and Smart.

A study conducted by students at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University examined how “inbox-level information”—aka, the subject line—impacts how people prioritize their email. Findings suggest that mail with subject lines that provoke a work-oriented curiosity are most likely to be opened. And the simple inclusion of punctuation—particularly a question mark—in the subject line increases the open rate by nine percent.

Don’t ever, ever, ever begin an email with “Hey”. It’s the electronic equivalent of addressing snail-mail to “Occupant.”

 

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3. Be Patient

Today, everyone is overloaded with unsolicited input. On average, a businessperson receives 122 emails each and every day. Then consider the text messages, voice mail, and social media conduits also competing for attention, and it becomes understandable why you didn’t hear back from your TBP right after you hit “send”. You should be expecting to write a follow up note a week or two after your initial inquiry.

Don’t ever, ever, ever send an email without thanking the recipient for their time and assistance.

 

List Wish

1 santalistDecember. During this last month of the year, it’s natural to look back and reflect on what we can improve upon in our lives and work. One item that frequently pops up is time management. Over the next few weeks we’ll look at ways to become more efficient and organized.

 

It’s something we all confront during this busy, commitment-filled time of year: trying to fit a seemingly infinite number of tasks into an uncompromisingly finite calendar. To the rescue comes the list, the perennially powerful yet simple organizational tool that allows us to break down large, complex processes into doable steps.

 

While the season’s most renowned list-maker—a certain Mr. Claus, who famously checks his work not once, but twice—may rely on the traditional paper and pen to keep track of his appointments, there are plenty of higher-tech methods to manage schedules and projects. Each uses a different approach to creating content.

 

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1. Write a List

This collection of Moleskine notebooks bridges the analog and digital worlds. Using a Livescribe3 smartpen and the Livescribe+ app, handwritten notes—printed or cursive—are transmitted to tablets and smartphones, where they can be transformed into editable text simply by tapping on the screen of the device.

 

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2. Picture a List

Architects, designers, and others who work in visually-oriented fields might find the ultra-intuitive Trello a particularly helpful tool. Photos and drawings are easily incorporated into decks of digital cards that can be stacked, shifted, and shared among team members.

 

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3. Type a List

Wunderlist, the organizer of choice for Hausman LLC, is a nimble, communication-centric platform that can schedule reminders, set deadlines, coordinate actions, and more across all operating systems, for mobile and desktop environments.

 

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4. Dictate a List

Too busy to put pencil to paper or finger to keyboard? The speech-recognition Dragon Dictation app enables fast, hands-free text input. Transcriptions can be posted to social media, sent as text messages or email, or pasted into editing software.

Type Casting

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With typography, as in architecture, every detail makes a difference. One of the first steps in constructing your firm’s graphic identity will likely be developing an appropriate logo.

 

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1. First Impressions

It makes sense to select a typeface that reflects your firm’s outlook and positioning. To communicate expertise and capability, classic yet versatile fonts like Times New Roman, Palatino, Helvetica, and Futura can convey your get-down-to-business attitude.

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If your organization cultivates a creative image—like the Victoria and Albert Museum—there’s plenty of opportunity to put that idea across with a more disruptive design.

 

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2. Ready for Digital

When letterpress ruled the world, ornate and finely-delineated fonts could make a singularly artistic impact. Today, such typefaces would be blurred and pixelated beyond recognition when viewed on a computer screen. Branding fail! It’s critical to work with fonts that are optimized for digital use.

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Your graphic designer will—or should—completely understand this concern. Lucida and Verdana are among fonts that have been designed exclusively for on-screen reading.

 

 

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3. Think Ahead

Before committing to a font, think of the future. Will your graphic identity be able to age gracefully over time? Of course, it’s hard to anticipate if such a transition should be gradual and nuanced, or, in light of yet-undiscovered opportunities and events, it may need to make a big break from the past.

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4. Think Even Farther Ahead

There’s an interesting new class of typefaces—let’s call them fonts with a conscience—that organizations which are serious about saving the world and/or saving a dollar might want to investigate.

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Ecofonts are designed with tiny holes in the letter forms; virtually invisible, the little voids reduce the amount of ink needed for printing. (Full disclosure: Hausman LLC uses Garamond, a font which an intrepid young student has determined has both bottom-line and environmental benefits.)

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