Compromise: The Key to Strong Consulting

Compromise: The Key to Strong Consulting

How important is it to be ‘in control?

Photo by Anton Ponomarev on Unsplash

Architect Louis Henri Sullivan once said, “Form ever follows function.” The importance of one over the other has been contemplated for centuries by artists and designers alike. Typically, “form” refers to those aspects of a system that relate to aesthetics and grandeur, while “function” generally refers more to the ergonomics and mechanics of a system. Both aspects are present in every design, and every design team tends to have members who favor one more heavily than the other. The more artistic and creative members typically view form most passionately, while function tends to be the primary focus of the technical members. For this reason, there are many times throughout the course of a typical project that the two aspects come into direct competition with each other. Hence, compromise which is the key to strong consulting.

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion in the AV industry regarding form vs. function. I continue to hear many argue that function must never follow form, and as technology zealots we are quick to applaud that approach. Our technology often has very strict guidelines that must be followed for ideal performance. For example, there are many critical design parameters that affect such things as loudspeaker coverage, microphone pickup, image brightness, cable interference, etc. Even the slightest variations in room designs can have a dramatic impact on the performance of some AV equipment.

Responsibility for technical performance of the systems

In the same way that an architect must answer to the client for the aesthetics of the space, we ultimately are held responsible for the technical performance of the systems. If we don’t fight for what we need to make our systems work, we often don’t get it. In the end, we are the ones who must answer if the system fails to perform at the level the client had anticipated. Of course, the natural response is to insist that all necessary room design parameters get followed to the letter. We all know, however, that, although this sounds like a good plan, making it happen is another story. It is not uncommon to experience a fair amount of resistance from other members of the design team.

The challenge for us lies in being able to ascertain which of those design parameters are absolutely critical and which can be conceded without a significant impact on the end product. Therein lies the compromise. Too often we get trapped by being too rigid in our quest for the best possible environment for our equipment. After all, we have our reputations riding on the integrity of our designs.

Photo by Florian Pircher on Unsplash

Many architects, however, become frustrated by some designers’ unwillingness to participate in a practical way to the overall project design. As technologists, our work typically represents a flea on the overall elephant of the big project. We must respect that role and understand there are many other conditions that have to be met for other systems to function properly as well as our own.

Let’s face it. Although as techies we think huge loudspeaker clusters and big projectors are great to look at, many would argue that they typically detract more than they add to the aesthetics of a room. The interior architecture and design ARE the first thing people see when they enter a space. The general public is much more apt to base its opinion of a space on the aesthetics than the technology in it. Yes, there are exceptions, but more times than not that’s the case. For this reason, the architect has a strong vested interest in the “form” of a space. It is absolutely critical that every single person on the design team acknowledges and respects that.

Just as we feel strongly about such things as loudspeaker placement, in the same way the mechanical engineer feels strongly about proper device placement to achieve efficient airflow. Every single trade feels a passion about its specialty. Any architect facing multiple trades all insisting that their needs be met will become frustrated quickly at the impossibility of satisfying everyone. It is for this very reason that the chemistry of a strong design team has at its nucleus the ability to compromise.

Compromise: The Key to Strong Consulting

The architectural process is an amalgamation of many specialized disciplines. Each specialty would like to believe that it is the single most important part of a design. As we all know, however, in reality the final design of a space typically happens at the point where all disciplines compromise into a space that will function acceptably for everyone. Because the whole nature of a compromise is give and take, we as designers must know which issues are absolutely critical and which can be flexed without grave consequences. As with all relationships, if we expect others to negotiate with us, we must be willing to give up some things as well.

In no way am I suggesting that we abandon best practices of the industry and allow our designs to become sloppy. I am saying, however, that at times we insist certain things are more important than they really are. Learning to ascertain what’s worth fighting for and what won’t matter in the end is the key to strong consulting. So yes, in an ideal AV world, form would always follow function. But in reality, the majority of systems are most practical and designed at some point in between. As technologists, we must accept this and be able to recognize where the limit of that compromise must be.

Written by Tony Warner, President of Phase Shift Consulting
Originally Published in Sound & Communication