Wanda Lau The Practice Innovation Lab held during the 2017 AIA Young Architects Forum was co-organized by the author and encouraged attendees to network and think beyond design as a business model.

Wanda Lau: The Practice Innovation Lab held during the 2017 AIA Young Architects Forum was co-organized by the author and encouraged attendees to network and think beyond design as a business model.

 

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point (Back Bay Books, 2002), I would be considered a “connector.” I’ve been in the industry nearly two decades, with about 15 years serving on different AIA committees at all levels. As a business school graduate and contributing writer to several publications, I seek out individuals and organizations thinking about the future of architecture and how practice needs to adapt. I enjoy connecting people within my network because, while the design profession is relatively small, the number of us thinking about the evolution of practice is even smaller. Relationship building has been critical to my own growth, professionally and personally. My best connections keep me excited about the industry, challenge my viewpoints, and have become incredible mentor and advocates—and I take pride in cultivating my network.

Which is why I was taken aback by the flurry of cold emails and messages I received from firm principals and senior designers almost immediately upon updating my LinkedIn profile with my new role as the inaugural senior experience designer at Slack, the fast-growing tech company in San Francisco. Since I had moved to the client side three years ago, my ability to hire architects was nothing new. So why the widespread attention? Perhaps it was Slack’s recent IPO?

The myriad mindless messages I received in response to my new position truly left a bad taste in my mouth. Business school graduates know that networking is fundamental: Universities want to promote what percentage of their alumni have gone on to find successful jobs, and building relationships enhances that stat. Literally, Networking 101 is built into B-school orientation.

But designers could certainly do much better when they reach out. To make the process more palatable to both you and your networking target, I offer five recommendations for developing professional relationships.