Do not call your practice Donald

18 July, 2018

Over the years I’ve written a fair amount about practice names and what it’s taught me is there’s no hard and fast rules for choosing one that works.

At the recent Identi-kucha event about practice names, Argent partner Nick Searl said: “When it comes to choosing an architect, the name doesn’t matter.”

But he went on to explain that the Argent name came about because the founders Michael and Peter Freeman wanted a name that started with an ‘A’, with two syllables and was generic enough to work across different sectors. Antler and Anvil made the shortlist but finally they settled for Argent because it sounds like ‘urgent’ – and it’s also the French for money.

If only life was that easy for architects!

One of the speakers, Al Scott from If-_Do admitted it took the three founders many months before it came up with its unusual practice name.

The ‘If’ part represents “questioning, testing, pushing … and the ‘Do’ is the realisation and go-getting required to deliver this,”Scott said, adding that “the underscore is everything that happens in between.”

Just a quick note on underscores that have started creeping in to practice names, kicked off by Amanda Levete’s practice A_LA. While designers are always searching for new ways to join words, the underscore is hugely annoying for anyone who writes because the symbol on a querky keyboard requires using the shift key.

But the fashion for arty names that started in the Sixties with firms like Morphosis in the USA and Archigram in the UK has never gone away. Equally, there are still a lot of young practices that still favour using their own names.

Duggan Morris has just rebranded as Morris+Company recognising that if had gone down a more fanciful route it could take ages for people and Google to know who they were.

And the Google point is a serious one. When Development Securities took over Cathedral and rebranded as U+I, Google struggled to find them and for some time directed you to various departments of Indiana University.

One of the golden rules of choosing a new name is that it must work for Google and in this respect people’s own names often work well.

Phil Coffey told the LFA audience he never thought about Coffey Architects as his name – ‘it’s like Foster and Partners”, while Haptic partner Timo Haedrich said it chose its name precisely because it wasn’t about the founders “its about the people who work for us”. This is a nice sentiment but also pragmatic given the name of the practice founder is Nikki Butenschøn.

Claire Bennie from Municipal raised some pertinent questions such as what happens when the name has to include new members or partners retire or die?

RSHP’s Steven Barrett admitted that bedding in the name RSHP after years of being Richard Rogers Partnership hadn’t been easy and still isn’t. Initials get confused and nor does it roll off the tongue but the main problem is people still refer to it as “Rogers’.

What’s clear is the wrong name can scar for life.

Just as you might think twice before calling a child Donald or a name that is tricky to spell like Peregrine, your practice name needs to be one that’s both memorable, easy to say and spell and ideally tries to represent what your company stands for.

As much as I wince at IF_DO’s explanation of how it arrived at its name, it required a great deal of soul searching and thought and the founders have managed to run with it, creating a brand that is young, quirky and a bit cool. And if I was a client surely that’s a good enough reason to hire them?


Identi-kucha was organised by Emma Keyte and Rachel Birchmore