Part Two: What Starbucks Gets that Architects Don’t

Or what architects and others think of the architecture profession.

Christine Outram
Jul 5, 2015 · 7 min read

How time flies.

More than a year ago I was lying in bed penning an article named What Starbucks Gets that Architects Don’t. I remember it took me a couple of hours to write. I didn’t overly think it. Just spilled some frustrations onto a page and hit publish.

And while I hadn’t intentionally set about to write a divisive article, the premise — should architects do more to understand the people they design for by harnessing new digital tools — hit a chord with architecture and design professionals: I got love letters and hate mail, was called names, and was given praise. It was a wild time (thanks for the ride).

But after I first hit publish, one of the things that became obvious was that I was just one voice and one opinion. And as many of you pointed out — I was no longer a practitioner of architecture, so who was I to comment!

That’s why, a couple of weeks after the article started to take off, I decided to turn it back to you. I created two surveys. The first was designed for architects and former architects and I invited you to comment on your own profession (1047 responses). The second was designed for those that had worked with an architect and I asked you to tell the world about your experience (198 responses).

What follows are the key findings to The Understanding Architecture Surveys. But (!) before you pen your hate-tweet, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. I’m not a survey designer and looking back on some of the questions I would add some, reword some, and remove some. Too late now?
  2. Because I believe in transparency, at the end of the article you’ll see links to the survey responses (with emails, names and twitter handles removed) so you can go through the results yourselves.

Now on to key findings!


27% of architects who answered the survey have never performed a post-occupancy evaluation, and 40% perform them, but don’t formally capture the findings.

These numbers didn’t surprise me. When I was working in architecture I had a hunch that we weren’t doing a very good job at this. But what did surprise me was the follow up question that tried to get to the bottom of why these surveys were not being performed.

While 49.1% of people surveyed felt that the evaluations got sidelined because the client wasn’t interested, 28.9% said it simply wasn’t a priority for their firm! (It should be noted that only 1.8% said it wasn’t relevant to the practice of architecture.) Meanwhile one third of respondents didn’t know or didn’t have access to the right tools. What I take away from this is three things:

  • It’s pretty difficult to change a building once it has been built, so it’s no wonder clients don’t want to pay for the survey. Therefore, architects need to build a budget for this in another way — feel free to insert here how this might be achieved or if you’ve had any success with this.
  • As a profession, we don’t have enough tools that allow us to easily perform and formally capture the results from Post Occupancy Evaluations in a cheap and effective way.
  • There’s an opportunity here to create a free open-source compendium of tools that will help the profession perform post-occupancy evaluations — please reach out to me through this link if you are interested in contributing to such a compendium, or if you want to help put it together for others to access.
When asked about Post Occupancy Evaluations, survey respondents said:
For those that never/rarely perform Post Occupancy Evaluations: why not?


An architect’s own intuition/experience and one-on-one conversations are the top ways that survey respondents said they understand user needs.

This is one of those survey questions that I wish I’d added more options to, including pattern books, and a space to add your own tools. The results are also a little, well, duh. But nevertheless, when I look at the results in the context of other answers, what I draw from it is:

  1. The architecture profession mostly relies on non-digital tools to derive an understanding of human needs. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. But I would argue that a suite of digital tools that are specifically designed to help architects understand future users (and the experiences of current users) could be an incredible complement to existing techniques.
When asked about the techniques that they regularly use to understand the people they are designing for, survey respondents said:


Only 2.6% of non-architects felt that the profession does an excellent job of understanding the needs and desires of present and potential building occupants.

See below for the full breakdown of the result. I also have to admit that this result might be a little skewed — 23% of the people surveyed were responding based on knowing an architect, not working directly with one and there were only 198 people surveyed. However, I think it’s safe to say, that true or not, the public’s perception of an architect’s ability to understand the human condition is not all that favorable.


IDEO, Gensler & B.I.G are some of the top firms that architects think have a good toolkit for understanding the people they design for.

Many of you responded with small firms who have a great toolkit (yay!), but I thought you might also be interested in names that appeared multiple times in the survey results (as well as separate emails, and tweets I received). This may be a result of these firms having a big marketing budget, or perhaps it’s because they really do have good tools. I think the next step would be to reach out to these firms to understand how they practice and whether they would be willing to share their knowledge as part of an open source library of tools — if anyone is interested in working with me on this outreach, please let me know.

In no particular order:

  • IDEO
  • Gensler
  • B.I.G
  • Gehl
  • SHoP
  • Architecture for Humanity
  • Project for Public Spaces
  • Frog Design

The full list can be found through the links at the bottom of this page.


49% of architects surveyed are dissatisfied with the tools at their fingertips and want to know more.

What’s interesting about this question is that even the respondents that were happy with the tools they currently use (32.8%), also wanted to know about other tools. These findings are part of the reason why I think it’s important to create an open source compendium of tools.

When asked if they were satisfied with the tools/methods that they use to understand the people they are designing for, survey respondents said:


This follow-up post has been a long time coming. And I’m the first to recognize that the original article, and also the surveys contains some flaws. But what I am excited about are the number of architects who wish to know more. Who want more tools at their fingertips. Who want to improve the profession as a whole. This is why I’d love the profession to step up and to create an open-source compendium of tools and training. But I’ll need your help. It’s your industry. You have the embodied knowledge, not me. So if you’re interested in contributing tools or building out the website that can house them, then reach out and I’ll help keep the ball rolling. For the good of the practice, we need you.


The original post can be read here.
The original survey for architects and former architects can be found here and the results can be found here.
The original survey for non-architects can be found here and the results can be found here.

If you want to contribute to the building of an open-source compendium of digital tools and training for architects, click here.

Note: Results were collated and printed on July 5, 2015. All personal details including emails, twitter handles, and names have been removed from the survey results.

A final special shout-out

Thanks to the survey respondent who called me a “dumb hoe”. I’m guessing you meant “ho”? Unless of course you meant to imply that I’m a thin metal blade, used mainly for weeding and breaking up soil. Either way, it made me laugh, and for that I thank you.

    Christine Outram

    Written by

    Building the future of education @everydae. Inventor of the electric bike @CPHWheel. Writing about #tech #cities #startups and #gamechangers

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