Product specification report

Building Boardroom surveyed more than 300 architects to find out how approaches to product specification are changing. This part of the report examines architects’ levels of knowledge and how they share information among themselves

How knowledgeable are architects about product specification for the main building sectors?

Of all the industry professions, architects in particular require wide-ranging general knowledge of the sectors in which they specialise. Architects are primarily responsible for functional design issues such as space, circulation and layout, natural light and the physical appearance of a building. They need good knowledge of building regulations and sector-specific requirements including building bulletins for education and building notes for healthcare. In turn, architects must have a good understanding of the products needed to meet design and regulatory needs and what is available on the market.

How knowledgeable are architects perceived to be by the profession about product specification for the main building sectors?

We asked architects to rank the degree of knowledge they consider the profession to have about product specification for the main construction sectors. Architects are considered to be the most knowledgeable about housing product specification. Most of the architects who responded to our survey undertake housing work, and many of them would have started their careers working on housing schemes. Offices come second to housing, again as many architects work in this sector, followed by education. Healthcare comes in at sixth place, as it requires specialised knowledge. This means clients are more inclined to give healthcare work to practices known for that knowledge. Industrial and repair and maintenance sits near the bottom of the rankings with infrastructure in last place, as these are sectors that tend to feature little architectural input. Like healthcare, some practices specialise in infrastructure work, with this making up a large part of their workload.

What are the issues that architects are sharing knowledge about?

Architects tend to share knowledge about current issues affecting building design, although there is no clear relationship between the two. This may be down to architects citing issues that they are reasonably knowledgeable about, which means they are not seeking further information. Some 47% cite sustainability as the key issue impacting building design, but just 27% of respondents say they are sharing information on this topic. Conversely, fire safety is flagged as an issue by just 6% of architects, but our survey reveals 16% are sharing knowledge on this topic. Just 6% of respondents say they do not share any information.

What channels are architects using to share knowledge?

Much has been made of collaboration tools such as BIM and dedicated project collaboration platforms for sharing knowledge on projects. We asked what channels architects are using to share specification and product knowledge when working on projects.

Which channels do architects use to share specification and product knowledge when working on a project?

Despite all the talk of the benefits of collaboration tools, architects have a resounding preference for good old-fashioned face-to-face meetings when it comes to sharing specification and product knowledge, with 68% saying these are “very useful”, and a further 30% that they are “moderately useful”. While email is also used by 97% of respondents, only 60% say it is very rather than moderately useful. Telephone and video conferencing is the next most preferred, with 45% describing this as very useful although a further 48% say it is moderately so. By contrast, 50% of respondents do not use BIM and 46% do not use dedicated collaboration platforms, with only a quarter describing BIM as very useful and 20% saying the same for collaboration platforms. Social media channels languish in last place, with 64% not using them and just 5% describing them as very useful.

What would help improve levels of knowledge among architects and how could manufacturers help?

Responses to an open question asking what else would help further improve knowledge were very varied. More and improved CPDs is a popular option, with 19% mentioning this. Several architects said they would like CPDs to contain more robust technical information with less focus on sales or ones hosted by universities. Others would prefer CPDs to be held during working hours rather than at lunchtime or in the evenings, and some want CPDs that respond to building regulations changes. Some respondents think a searchable database of CPDs would be useful; given the wide of availability of CPDs from multiple sources this would make it easier for architects to find what they are looking for. Respondents also like the idea of opportunities to gain more technical and practical experience, including architects spending time working on site in different sectors and more technical education at university. More transparent, independent information including peer review and case studies was also a popular response.

Key factors influencing product specification

There are a variety of reasons for specifying specific products, including performance, appearance and cost. We asked architects to rank six different product specification factors to establish which ones were the most critical.

What are the drivers for choosing one product over another?

Predictably, performance comes top of the priority list with durability in second place and appearance just behind. Cost comes in at fourth place, with lead time and supply chain preference trailing behind.

We also asked what other reasons architects have for specifying certain products in an open question. Once again, sustainability tops the list with 22% mentioning embodied carbon, energy use and other environmental impacts. Other respondents express a preference for locally sourced products and those with good ethical credentials. Prior experience of a product is cited by 12% of respondents, with architects saying that if a product has been successfully used on a project it tends to get specified again unless there is a good reason not to. Some say specification choices are influenced by prior experience of the product by contractors or other members of the team. A further 5% of respondents specifically mention the manufacturer’s reputation as a reason for selecting its products.

Good customer support clearly pays off, as 12% of architects say good technical information and backup is a key factor determining product choice. And for 5% their choices are determined by the client.