50 Proverbs for Design
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Words of wisdom that get BUILD through the day.
We like a good proverb around the BUILD World Headquarters. The design world can be complicated and esoteric, often requiring narrative to communicate a point to clients, colleagues and the trades. When successful, a proverb takes a history of experiences and wraps them up into a brief but effective silver bullet. This list of 50 proverbs does an excellent job of taking a decade’s worth of learned lessons in architecture and design and conveying a timeless principle with each one. We’ve also included a quick blurb about why each one is significant to us.
It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.
Very few architects and designers get their projects as a result of their college transcripts, their knowledge of the building code or their math skills. They get their projects through their network, social gatherings, and word of mouth — in other words, their projects come from the people they’ve fostered relationships with.
It’s what you don’t see that matters.
A successful, tangible project is the direct result of intangible achievements; having great clients, hitting budgets, accomplishing schedules, and good relationships with the trades are among the most important.
A closed mouth gathers no food.
You can’t just sit in your office producing beautiful work and expect clients to find you, you’ve got to get out there and hustle.
A ditch digger on his legs is higher than a CEO on his knees.
Be proud of what you do and do it with integrity.
All that glitters is not gold.
The glossy pictures of design out there only tell part of the story — rarely do they address the project budget, the schedule, and whether or not the clients ended up happy with the project.
All things in moderation.
Architects and designers are prone to work too much. Get some exercise in the schedule, cook a beautiful meal, go check out the show at the museum. Well-rounded people are more enjoyable to be around.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Make sure that a potential client’s version of beauty is in line with yours prior to signing a contract.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
If the recession taught us architects and designers anything, it’s to be thankful for the work we’ve got.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Architects and designers are notorious for taking on the same problematic projects with budgets that are too low and expectations that are too high. The first one is a learning experience, the second one is a mistake.
Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
A project isn’t real until there is a deposit check in your hand.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
There is a thick red line between optimism and losing touch with reality in the design world.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Sometimes recessions affect the residential market, sometimes the commercial market. The hospitality and start-up industries go through all sorts of ups and downs. Spread your bets by being good at designing everything. Be a generalist.
Don’t put the cart before the horse.
Part of being a good architect or designer is keeping clients to a disciplined design process where decisions are made in a logicial sequence.
Experience is the best teacher.
If you want to start your own design firm, do it as soon as possible. You’ll have to go through all of the same lessons regardless of when you do it.
Fashions may come and fashions may go, but good manners never go out of style.
More often than not, clients choose architects and designers because of their reputation, how they conduct themselves and how they relate with people. The pattern on the wall paper will always be a moving target.
Garbage in — garbage out.
You can’t design a great project with a bad client and poor information.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.
Plus, catching a fish every time someone is hungry is a huge pain in the ass.
Go where the money is.
We’d all love to be designing world-class museums, but only so many people can get paid for them.
Idle hands are the devil’s tools.
Architects and designers need to keep designing, building, making and doing to keep the design muscles in good shape (even if it’s not billable work).
You learn from doing.
Get your hands dirty, get on site more, use the jobsite as a laboratory.
If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.
Use less emotion and more logic to make design decisions — even if you really love the hole you’re digging.
If YOU don’t say it, THEY can’t repeat it.
Being a wise architect or designer is just as much about what you don’t say.
You’ve got to give to get.
Probably the most squandered concept in all of the architecture and design world. Give and it will come back ten-fold.
A rising tide raises all boats.
Architects and designers all advance when they support each other.
It’s better to ask dumb questions, than to make dumb mistakes.
Questions are typically free. Changing drawings or buildings typically aren’t.
It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
There are style points in architecture and design; people notice your sportsmanship.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The golden rule of architecture, design, and life.
Money can’t buy happiness.
Some wealthy clients are happy, some wealthy clients are miserable. Money has almost nothing to do with the formula.
Kill them with kindness.
It’s difficult to negotiate with the miserable ones — especially when you’re happy. Excessive kindness is to a miserable person what water is to a witch.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
The departure point for architecture and design’s best ideas.
Numbers don’t lie.
A little bit of math goes a long way in architecture and design.
Opportunity usually comes disguised as hard work.
When you’re diligently working hard all the time, you’re typically ready to pounce when the window of opportunity opens.
Pardoning the bad, is injuring the good.
People who continue to make harmful decisions need to be held accountable for their actions.
Pick your battles carefully.
There are battles to fight on any project, knowing which ones are important is the difference between a wise architect and an inexperienced one.
Put your money where your mouth is.
It’s important for architects and designers to understand the responsibilities of spending other people’s money.
Storms make trees take deeper root.
Challenges, recessions, and hurdles are excellent opportunities to learn from and act on.
To truly commit, you have to burn the boats.
The only way to really dedicate yourself to something is to eliminate all other options.
The master’s eye will do more work than both his hands.
It never hurts to use your eyes and your hands, though.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Architects and designers too often think that they’re making forward progress simply because they’re operating under the belief that design makes things better. Now and again, it’s necessary to stand back and review the roadmap.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
An architect or designer who isn’t thinking about five other ways to accomplish a design has never submitted a set of plans for permit review.
Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
Post modernism pretty much says it all.
Time is money.
Given that most architecture and design curriculums stem from the faculty of arts (rather than the business school), most of us don’t learn this until we’re practicing professionals — usually right around the time our first student loan repayment is due.
Troubles come in threes.
It’s hard to determine why this is, but when two bad things happen, we’re usually on high alert for the triple play.
Trust only those who stand to lose as much as you when things go wrong.
Clients can sense this on an architect or designer. Put your skin in the game.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
We could tell you some stories …
Water takes the easiest path.
There is no better strategy for dealing with building departments. Make it easier for the building reviewer to give you a permit than to send you another list of permit corrections.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The architects and designers that made it through the recession are all the better for it.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
Vet out potential clients before you sign a contract with them and make sure they’re interested in drinking the water you’re leading them to in the first place.
You can’t fool Mother Nature.
Architects and designers who don’t have a good handle on structural engineering should go do something else.
You can’t push a rope.
It’s useful to understand what people and things are capable of doing, and more importantly what they’re not.
A huge thanks to Confucius, Plato, Baltasar Gracián, and Benjamin Franklin. Further resources on proverbs can be found in Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1001 Truisms and The Dutch Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel.
Cheers from Team BUILD