Getting Your Architecture Published with Aleesha Callahan
Architects, getting your architecture published is basically how you market your practice. So it’s vital to ensure it’s not just a “tactic” but rather a strategy, so I reached out to Aleesha Callahan, who is the Editor of Indesignlive.com, to ask a few questions. She knows a thing or two about writing and publishing, and she has some great advice.
Red Brick Media – You studied interior design at Queensland University of Technology, and worked as an interior designer for 1.5 years, how did you shift to digital media, writing, editor.....?
Aleesha Callahan – I studied design because I fell in love with the idea of crafting spaces that can evoke a feeling in someone. It’s funny though, looking back, I was never a particularly good designer. My top subjects were the writing and thesis parts. So I think I was always destined to use design as a point of inspiration for the words. The progression happened quite naturally. I moved to Berlin and there wasn’t much design work around but I ended up landing a job with an open source architecture platform (English speaking!) and it just took off from there. Since then, I have done a few stints working outside of the design industry but quickly realised that without the passion and invested interest, I just didn’t feel motivated or fulfilled in the work I was doing.
RBM – What article are you most proud of?
AC – Such a hard one. I think like most creative stuff, it can be really cringey to go back and read your work. One story that I remember very well is interviewing William McDonough, who is the founder/father of cradle-to-cradle. I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been and the call was at 6.30am because he is based in the US. In the end, it was a very inspirational interview and I came away in awe of the work he is doing. I’m also fond of a story I did with Caroline Bos of UNStudio. She was so poise and easy to speak to and is just an inspirational figure in general.
RBM – In your current position as Editor of Indesignlive.com you would get your fair share of project pitches. What advice do you have for architects wanting to get their project published?
AC – It is true that editor’s get sent quite a lot of pitches, but not as many as you would expect – most of them come from PR companies. At Indesign we’re very focused on relationships. My advice would be to just reach out to the editor of the publication you would like to work with, even try LinkedIn if you can’t find an email address, and invite them out for a coffee. If you don’t have time to get out of the office, send through a brief outline of the project and a selection of images (say 5-6) and don’t be afraid to follow up. Sometimes emails get missed so a follow up is all it takes. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear back or if you get knocked back, there are often things going on behind the scenes that would mean a project gets turned down. And also, do genuinely consider if the story is right for the publication you’re going out to. If you’re a regular reader then you should know whether it’s the right kind of project. Oh, and a personal touch always helps (that’s also where the relationship building comes back in). Editors want exclusives, we want the new, never-before-seen things so don’t do a machine gun drop to every person you can think of as a first approach. Target particular publications first and you will more than likely get a better result.
RBM – What makes a great project story which just entices you to publish it?
AC – There are a lot of factors at play. When working in print the project selection is very particular – making sure there is a balance of typologies, scales, practices – while also taking into account what was run in the issue before it. So it can genuinely come back to very particular things that are out of your control. Online is a different story, there is a lot more opportunity to cover lots of things. But it does often come back to what is the story behind the project. For example, if I had to choose between two school projects and one was beautifully designed but was a bit shallow in what it does and there was another project that completely changed behaviour, or tested or experimented with a new design methodology – then the latter would be what I would go for. So my advice for architects would be to consider how your project is different and really communicate that when approaching the media. Did you achieve a lot with a small budget, did you implement a new idea through design, did you work exclusively with local artisans – use whatever is the core concept of your project to your advantage.
RBM – How do you see social media, namely Instagram, affecting print and digital publications moving forward?
AC – Social media, and Instagram and Pinterest in particular, are no doubt changing the way people consume media. I feel like what you look at on social media is quite fleeting, whereas publications have the ability to unpack and tell the story in a more in-depth way. A lot of research has found that long form articles (ie. 2k-5k+) are the most popular and engaging, which might come as a surprise to some people.
I remember the headlines years ago about the Internet being the death of print. And although it has been the death of the newspaper, it’s not the death of the magazine. And there’s a logical reason for that. It’s more convenient to read news on your phone than going to a kiosk and buying a paper. If you’re buying and reading a magazine though, it’s because you have found something that resonates with you and you’re actively choosing to engage with it – whether that’s the content, the visuals, the storytelling or even what it says about you (like the minimalist Kinfolk readers out there, who then Instagram it). I definitely believe that true journalism will always have a place, it’s just shifting and the landscape is now very fragmented. I think it will continue to fragment as publications pop-up that appeal to evermore tiny niches.
RBM – Hanging on to social media for a second, what is one thing you see architects doing which drives you crazy? What's one thing architects should look at doing?
AC – I think most architects have cottoned on to the power of social media but I think the one question I would ask is – what is the purpose that social media is serving my practice? I think too many studio’s out there post for the sake of posting, and don’t stop to consider if having 50,000 followers is even contributing to your bottom line. Who are those followers? Are you getting enquiries for new work? If it works for you then put the energy into it. But if you’re only doing it because everyone else is then I think you need to spend some time working out your why. And if it happens to simply be that it’s a brand awareness exercise and that’s all you hope to achieve then that’s also fine, as long as that’s the goal. I also think not enough architects show their personality on social media. It’s a bit of missed opportunity in my eyes.
RBM – As we both know, good photographs are vital in getting published. Are there any secret photographic details you look for which favours those photos over others?
AC – Something I’ve noticed happening more with design and architecture photography is that shots are becoming quite tight and will often have a simple, styled vignette. These kinds of images work for lifestyle publications but for us at Indesign we want to see more of the entire space. We want to really illustrate to the reader what the space is and how it works through the images, which can be really hard to do if it’s a picture of a shelf with some vases. I do think it’s a bit of an Instagram phenomenon, as these would work very well on a platform like Instagram. To avoid that I would make sure that when briefing a photographer, you discuss with them where you plan on using the images as this will influence how they shoot your project. Another thing we always look for is a feeling of life. It’s definitely more common now to have people and I will always opt for a shot with people over an empty space.
I hope you gained a thing or two from Aleesha, and I want to thank her for sharing some great insight and advice. You can follow her on Instagram, @aleeshacallahan.