The #1 tip to becoming a design superstar

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I sat there looking through Landscape Architecture Magazine thinking to myself “How do these firms get all the great jobs?” And, “how the hell are they always getting published”. I am sure you may have wondered the same thing and thought why the same firms are consistently getting all the great projects and getting published on a regular basis.

Then one day sitting in my office a set design plans came across my desk from an internationally renowned and highly regarded firm and I thought to myself “here is the chance, an opportunity to look at greatness, a peak behind the curtain, a chance to see what they do so much better that I do.” I enthusiastically opened the plans and was shocked at what I saw.  The plans were schlock, the design was sophomoric and the graphics downright sucked.  I was appalled and confused.

Then I thought how does this firm get so much work and is so acclaimed producing work like what was before me.  Granted it was not a high profile project and probably didn’t warrant a lot of attention but still each drawing and design should represent the best talent the firm has to offer.  This type of work will certainly not get them more design projects and did not make them a superstar in the industry.

I thought to myself there must be something more.  It can’t all be design talent, because there are certainly a ton of outstanding designers who aren’t international stars. It can’t be all graphics because there are plenty of Landscape Architects doing great graphics who aren’t in LA mag.  It can’t be luck or chance. Sure these do come into play. But there must be more.

I sat and thought about it for quite a while and the question stewed in my mind for several months.  How do you go from being a good, well regarded landscape architect or landscape architecture firm to being a superstar in the industry?  I studied many successful firms and they all have these few things in common.

  • Risk – The most successful firms are risk takers. They are the ones willing to push the envelope, try new things, think about things in a new different way, make bold statements and promote the new ideas.  This is where great ideas come from.  You need to have a great ideas not just good ideas.  There are a ton of great designers out there and many us have the ability to those generate great ideas.  You may already have what it takes
  • Story telling – The great firms can paint a picture through story that gets to the heart of a design in a way graphics cannot.  You need to be able to do more than communicate your ideas effectively.  You need to be able to sell your vision and get people to experience the same passion about the design that you do.
  • Passion – The most successful firms are passionate about what they do and work extremely hard to get where they are and are dedicated to their craft.  These are not the firms where people clock in at 9 and clock out at 5.  These are the firms that have maintained the energy from design studio. These are the firms that do what it takes and are passionate about the projects they work on. As I am sure many of you are passionate about your work.
  • Relationships – The most successful firms in the industry have strategically sought out and created relationships that will get them access to best new work and decision makers. They have created relationship to get access to the media and publishing locally, nationally and internationally. They have worked hard to create a network that supports their mission.  They don’t just casually meet people and hope for a good connection.  They go where the players are, they actively seek out to learn who they want to do work for and strategically work to get connected to them. There is no chance at play here it is all deliberate, well thought out and strategically acted upon.

To be a great Landscape Architecture firm you need to have these 4 things, most of which you can hire for or develop but without this last one you will never reach superstar status.  All of the superstar firms in the industry have this one thing in common.

Back in school there was always the one guy in studio who everyone gathered around, his ideas were good, some were great but what attracted us to him was his ability to sell his designs. He was always ready to talk up how great his designs were, he was passionate about them in a way no one else was. And we believed him. This guy wasn’t the smartest guy in the class but was usually the most charismatic and got the most attention.  This is where the superstar firms set themselves apart and it is all about this one last and crucial thing.

  1. Spin – The superstar firms are experts at self-promotion and spin.  Spin takes all of the risk, story-telling, and passion and leverages them through relationships to promote the firm and its projects in the most positive light.  The superstar firms talk up their projects like each one is a national award winner, they have professional photos taken at just the right times from just the right angles, they submit them for local and national awards, they work with a publicist to get local and national media attention and they use their relationships to pitch the portfolio to their target markets.  The superstar firms are very strategic and prolific about how they promote their work.

The firm that produced the drawings that came across my desk does do some great design work. It’s how they got where they are today.  They have had some great projects and some not so great projects as I am sure you have also.  But what sets them apart is that they are a master of the art of self-promotion and spin.

Getting more design projects and becoming a successful firm is not easy, it takes hard work.  Becoming a superstar in the industry takes more than chance and hard work it takes strategic thinking and mastery of the art of self-promotion and spin. This is the simple hard truth if you don’t give your work a voice no one else will.  Go out there give your work a voice, be a superstar and get more design projects.

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