Decoding Design

Demand for design services on the upswing, new survey shows

Demand for design services on the upswing, new survey shows

Posting in Architecture

The latest data from the American Institute of Architects, in the form of a trusted economic indicator known as the Architecture Billings Index, suggest that companies are seeking to hire designers and construction firms after months of stagnation.

After months of low demand for design services in the United States, there is at least one surprisingly optimistic economic indicator pointing to a potential upswing. The Architecture Billings Index (ABI), considered a reliable reflection of building-design and construction activity, showed growth in August, after four straight months of decline. This suggests that businesses and individuals are spending on architecture and related design--and contemplating spending even more on it.

The ABI is based on the results of a national survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a professional organization.  The monthly survey asks AIA-member firms whether their billings have gone up, down, or stayed even compared to the previous month. In-house economists at the AIA then score the responses to create the index. Any score above 50 reflects an increase in billings. The latest ABI (for August, which was released on September 21) is 51.4--that's up from a very poor score of 45.1 in July.

Perhaps most striking is that the ABI score for "project inquiries" is 56.9,  up from 53.7 in July. This suggests that architects are getting significantly more requests from clients gearing up to spend on design.

In terms of regions that are seeing more architectural billings than others: the Midwest leads the nation, with a regional ABI score of 49.0, followed by the South and the West, which both have a regional score of 47.4. The Northeast reports the lowest billings, with a score of 46.5.

The sector of architects who work on many types of projects (in other words, "mixed practice" architects) collectively have an ABI score of 50.9, showing growth, unlike other sectors. Those designers who specialize in institutional buildings scored 48.5; commercial/industrial architects scored 46.0; and those who work on multi-family residential projects only scored 44.8, collectively.

Analyzing the figures, it would seem that firms who are flexible in the types of projects they take on are faring better than others. While no region saw an increase in billings, the overall national increase in reported inquiries is surely an encouraging sign--although whether they translate into actual work will have to be seen in future data from the AIA.

Photo: Son of Groucho/Flickr

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure