Ah, the good old days...it seems like there was once a time when clients trusted their architect implicitly and accepted their design and recommendations with little pushback. It it just you imagination, or have things changed? If you feel like only a necessary evil on your projects, you're not alone and you're not paranoid either. Access to information has led to the rise of what has been called prosumerism, a term first introduced by futurist Alvin Toffler that implies that consumers are well informed, experienced and confident enough to challenge the producer of what they consume. There are many variations on the origins of this word, from professional consumer to producer-consumer. I like to think of it as proactive consumer, This merger of professional and consumer roles leads to marginalization of the corporate producer (in our world the architect) and threatens to reduce our services from value-added to commodities. Some prosumer trends that have arisen and thoughts on how to use them to the project's design advantage:
1. Hiring of in-house professionals like registered architects and engineers to oversee and manage the work of the contracted design team for a project. The in-house professionals often complete smaller projects without seeking to hire outside help.
TIP: The insider is your friend. They understand your point of view. Work with them and collaborate on strategies and they will be a trusted advocate at your next meeting with the rest of the team. Remember, part of their job is to make sure that you are doing yours, so including them in the process allows them to report back favorably while shutting them out leads to critical comments when they review the set at the end of a design phase.
2. Development of standards for room design and finish types/colors/materials. These prototypes are the result of considerable time and effort on the part of the owner and changing them is not usually welcomed.
TIP: There is no such thing as one size fits all and every prototype has some capacity for adjustment to project-specific needs. Having in-depth discussions on the rationale for each element in the prototype or standards can go a long way towards understanding where a proposed change makes sense and where it doesn't. Standards can help a client to establish a brand identity and level of quality without having to go through the process of reinventing the wheel for every project. Additionally, it can take certain sticky design issues off of the table with user groups. This is a case where the spirit of the law will trump the letter of the law, so do your homework before presenting different approaches and work within the framework.
3. Requirements that certain criteria or standards be incorporated into the design (like sustainabiity measures) in a defacto manner without acknowledging impacts on schedule, budget or fees.
TIP: For the most part, it's exciting not to have to sell a client on adopting a good practice, but boy are you both about to get some sticker shock if the right approach isn't followed. You are designing a building, not baking a layer cake. Before the first design meeting, maybe even in your proposal or the interview, you need to make it clear to your client that the old rules of project management and approach are out the window. The square peg will not fit in the round hole. Show them your true level of expertise by discussing precisely why these requirements will lead you to approach the project in a way that is smarter and better.
4. Rise of alternative project delivery methods to get things built faster.
TIP: Many architects bristle at the introduction of more chefs in the kitchen, from the Owner's Representative, to the Design Builder, to the increased legal implications. What actually happens, if you allow the process to work, is that we are making other parties more accountable, which takes some pressure off of us to spell out every little thing on drawings and develop painstaking details for every joint and drain. Have you ever looked at a set of drawings from 40 years ago and been surprised by how thin the set was? Go back 80 years and there is even less detailing of the functional stuff. Those old drawings showed design intent, not how to fasten screws. Means and methods is something that should be the contractor's problem. We had ourselves painted into a corner of over-detailing to avoid liability. See this as a liberation.
I think designers can welcome the emerging prosumer in their clients because we can also show them that their patients/users/customers are prosumers too. Everybody can use some good design to get a competitive edge.