Next Step to Entering the Architecture Profession

I recently took another step in the direction of becoming a licensed architect in the province of Ontario as I currently hold the title of Intern Architect at Salter Pilon Architecture Inc. I challenged the ExAC (Examination for Architects in Canada) professional exams testing intern architects on their competency with respect to the standards of the architectural profession. These exams assess the level of skills one possesses in regards to the delivery of architectural services in Ontario and to ensuring public safety. Four exams were written in Toronto over the course of two days.

While at the exams, I was accompanied by fellow classmates of mine from Carleton University.  It was rewarding to be there along with my classmates, to see they still have a belief in pursuing and receiving their professional licence. When we were in school it seemed like a long road ahead to get to the point where we would be challenging these exams and now that we have reached this point, we can reflect on the road each of us has taken to get to here.  While in school, we worked on projects to expand our skills in design and creativity, while developing an important mind-set and work ethic to produce the best possible projects.

Norm and Jessie Dysart Radiation Bunker design rendering

Norm and Jessie Dysart Radiation Bunker – My First Design Project

The projects we completed during school were extensions of our individuality. The idea of individuality is still present in the projects we work on in our firms today, but the element of a team’s vision is more predominant. The architectural design projects we work on in the profession differ from the school projects because of the reality of the changing circumstances specific to each project we work on. Projects during school progressed with a degree of fluidity, whereas professional projects introduce a level of constant adaptability, which shapes the project. Changing client needs, new building practices, the requirements of overseeing authorities and the physical delivery of a project are constant sources of influence, we didn’t deal with on a high level at school, but when handled appropriately, all contribute to creating the strongest project possible.  These possibilities of change in a project are what we were thoroughly tested on during our exams. The ability to create unique solutions to specific problems and to know where to find the right information is the basis of being a well-developed architect. These are the skills that allow for you and your team to deliver the best project possible.

We returned from the exams to our collective offices as intern architects and we now await the results with high expectations.  When the results are received, we all hope to be one step closer to gaining the recognition in our profession and receiving our architectural licenses.

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Ontario Architect’s Latest Sustainable Design Project – The Bradford West Gwillimbury Leisure Centre

Ontario Architecture and Interior Design Firm, Salter Pilon Architecture recently launched of its latest recreational complex project, the Bradford West Gwillimbury Leisure Centre.

The Leisure Centre is a $34.2 million project featuring two NHL-sized ice pads, a pool complex, a double gymnasium and ample community service spaces. The design provides fold-down seating within the rink areas for 900 and 300 spectators and includes 9 accessible change rooms, a larger home team room, public skate change area and associated officials’ rooms.

The Grand Opening Ceremony

Several hundred residents were on hand to witness the grand opening, including MP Peter Van Loan, MPP Julia Munro, Deputy Warden Harry Hughes and Mayor Doug White. The official opening ceremony included a ribbon cutting and donor wall unveiling.

Town Manager Jay Currier spoke about the professionals that worked on the project. “It took a phenomenal effort to do the design and construction within the time we had to complete the project in order to comply with the requirements of the grant funding and we appreciate your tremendous contributions.” said Currier.  “Gerry (Pilon), you and your team obviously take a great deal of pride in a facility that you can showcase along with the other great buildings that you design.  Many thanks.”

Sustainable Design Features

The Centre boasts many sustainable design features and has been submitted for LEED Silver certification. Both rinks take advantage of waste heat from the refrigeration system to provide hydronic in-floor heating. In addition, rainwater will be captured and stored in a cistern for use in the manufacturing of the arena ice. Secondary heat reclaim of grey-water from shower drains, which will run through a series of coils, will be used to preheat supply water to the showers, reducing the energy required to heat water throughout the building.

The Bradford West Gwillimbury Leisure Centre is now open to the public. For more information, visit the Bradford West Gwillimbury  or Salter Pilon Architecture websites.

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Salter Pilon Picks Up Green Project Award in Barrie

Barrie Business Award Recipients

2011 Barrie Business Award Recipients - Photo: Ian McInroy/Barrie Examiner/QMI Agency






Our architecture firm was honoured last night with the PowerStream Inc. Green Project Award at the 2011 Barrie Business Awards for our recent office renovation project. Details on the project to follow.

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Keeping Architects Organized with Project Information Management Software

Have you ever lost your keys? Better yet, have you ever worked on a project where you couldn’t find a document? Have you ever had the need to find an email sent to the one guy in your office who is on vacation? As daunting tasks as these may seem, they can be easily overcome by a new Project Information Management (PIM) software recently introduced into our office called Newforma Project Center.

But first, a bit about our firm. Our mid-sized Ontario architecture firm has always considered itself a leader when it comes to incorporating new technologies. We believe our vision was fully demonstrated in the most concrete of terms when, in late 1983, we ventured into the world of computer aided design, one of only seven architectural firms in Canada to adopt that pioneering role. Our firm was recognized internationally as a leader in the application of computer technology to the practice of architecture. That leadership role is maintained and nurtured to this day. In a fast paced world within which projects are delivered today, there is an inherent need for instant access to information. In a collaborative effort, such as architecture, the ability to instantly access and exchange information is crucial. We practice this daily within our office and with all of our consultants.

What does Project Information Management Software Do?

For the management of our documents, Salter Pilon has incorporated a project information management (PIM) software called Newforma Project Center. This software addresses the basic needs of organizing, finding, tracking, sharing, monitoring and reusing technical project information and communications in a way that is completely aligned with the people and processes which depend on that information. Newforma Project Center does not force drastic changes on team members’ work processes. It works together with most standard programs you would find in an architect’s office. Newforma manages project information and the processes involving that information. These processes and sources of information include project email, information searches, drawing review and markup, action items, BIM models, meeting minutes, project images, document control and transmittals, as well as secure, documented file transfers into and out of the firm via Newforma Info Exchange. Through Newforma, we are even able to access our project information while away from the office.

One of the many strengths of Newforma Project Center is the way it allows for seamless management of interrelated work processes. For example, an email may generate an action item which spawns markups related to the project timeline as discussed in a meeting. Capturing these relationships as work processes unfold is crucial to ensuring accountability and transparency, to avoid delays and to avoid claims. The software provides a means to capture and record these relationships. The resulting records facilitate management and provide an audit trail. The software even emails notifications alerting project team members to their responsibilities and commitments.

Newforma Project Center allows our firm to organize and manage internal project information, including project email, for all of our projects. It allows us to share and track published project information with external team members across all projects and it allows us to streamline project execution processes, including design review, contract administration and more…all resulting in more successful architectural project delivery.

From the outset, the main areas our office was looking to improve were email management, document administration and improved document sharing capabilities.

Email Management

Before Newforma, Outlook mailbox sizes in our office were limited. This approach works well when you are trying to get individuals to manage their email more frequently. The problem is that people get busy and before you know it your mailbox is full and you start getting phone calls about emails bouncing back. Newforma allows you to easily manage your emails by filing them as you send them. Incoming emails can be transferred, individually or in groups, by simply dragging and dropping.

In addition, searching for items within filed emails is easy with the built-in search engine. Have you ever wanted to find an email sent to the one team member that is away on vacation? Well now, with Newforma, that can be done as easily as 1-2-3. Not only are you able to search through your own sent/received email, but also that of other team members.

Document Administration

Like most other mid-sized architectural firms, our office used the “oldforma” method (as I like to call it) for the storage of our documents such as drawings, specs and administrative files. Our firm had set up a file organization structure for the storage of our documents. Email was always kept separate and was not easy to access. The key (and sometimes the inhibitor) to the success of such a system lies with the “users” and their ability/inability to file things properly. There were times when files were accidentally misfiled and finding them was not easy. For document sharing, such as issued sets of drawings, again it comes down to individuals to assemble and track the sets as well as keeping recorded copies of transmittals regarding those transfers.

First of all, Newforma allows you to amalgamate all project files under one source. It also allows you to keep whatever file structure you already have in place for your documents. And to keep our IT guy happy, Newforma does not replicate information being transferred. Attachments are linked to the outgoing transfers and are only available for a limited amount of time.

Then, Newforma allows you to index and search the contents of over 200 common file types used by architects today. Even documents within compressed file formats such as .zip files can be searched. And when I say search, I mean that you can actually search for keywords within those documents.

Newforma now has an add-in for AutoDesk Revit which allows it to work together with the Building Information Modeling software. You can link related information such as RFI’s or other action items directly to the building elements. The model can be configured to show colour codes for various action items. For example, action items could be red and rooms with open punch list items could be shown as green.

Improved Document Sharing Capabilities

Back in 1999, our office used a new outsourced computer technology, namely an Extranet, during the construction of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. The ‘Extranet’ system was a technological tool that provided total access to project information by all team members. The allocation of a web-based secure server allowed for the dynamic exchange and distribution of information. All members of the project team had secure access to project information, as necessary. All relevant project information was readily available and always current. The effectiveness of this tool was further enhanced during construction, where we were able to manage over 60 sequential tenders complete with a digital archive of each package. One problem, however, was that all documents were copies. Another problem with the ‘Extranet’ model is that documents are external to our standard filing system and structured differently. So generally when a project is completed you end up with a record set of documents that don’t match your internal file structure.

Since that period, most architectural firms, ourselves included, have embraced technology and host their own FTP sites. However, using FTP servers as a means to sharing documents, does not guarantee improved collaboration. Problems include; the hassle of repeatedly setting up a shared access, availability of obsolete files and the need for constant administration of the site. All of this on a non-user-friendly platform…

Enter Newforma Info Exchange. Having the ability to easily setup and administer document exchange was very important to us. This PIM software allows for the easy setup of project sharing without the assistance of the IT guy. In addition, all transfers incoming/outgoing are logged and available information is time censored. You choose the length of time documents are available for download. Out-of-date documents being mistakenly downloaded by consultants is a thing of the past. You also have access to logs, which confirm all file transfers by individual team members to ensure all parties have the latest files. No more excuses by team members claiming not to have the latest background drawings.


Although there are other ‘Activity Centres’ within Newforma that we haven’t fully incorporated as yet, such as the Newforma Viewer and Mark-Up enhancements, what we have seen so far is very promising. Newforma Project Center gives our firm an easy-to-use tool, which keeps us organized and cuts down on time required to administrate our projects. And best of all, this was accomplished with little training and little to no effect on our existing filing and project administration procedures in the office. I believe this is a great tool for keeping architects organized…now if only they could develop something to keep my desk organized!

Photo Credits

Dog with lost keys taken from

Name of the lost file photo taken from

Square peg in a round hole taken from

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O’ Happy Day! Finally an Electronic Bid Submission Opportunity

A few weeks ago, I posted on a “Standard RFP Process”, which covered my thoughts around standardizing the RFP submission process.  I wished that building owners with sustainability in mind would start allowing us to submit our RFP responses electronically. Well my wish has finally come true!  Laurentian University in Sudbury is currently seeking architectural services for the rehabilitation of a student residence and get this, all responses are to be submitted through the use of the MERX Canadian Public Tenders Electronic Bid Submission system.  This provides us with a fast, secure and fully automated process to submit our bids without the hassle of printing, binding and arranging substantial documents for delivery either by our own personnel or a courier.  For yours truly, it takes the worry out of having the RFP delivered to the right spot at the right time out of the equation.

All a proponent needs to do is obtain an Authorized Signer PIN through (preferably more than one day before the submission is due).  Then MERX suggests that you submit a minimum of four hours ahead of the deadline, to cover the possibility of any problems with the submission. The submission process seems easy enough and they even allow you to make revisions to your submission right up to the deadline.  Once you have submitted you are given a confirmation of both date and time to keep your mind at ease about the delivery. MERX has even created a short RFP response submission video, which has been posted on YouTube, as well as a PDF guide document to walk you through the entire process.

I believe there is a $25 fee for utilizing this process, if you are not a subscriber to MERX, but to me the cost is certainly worth it versus having to print, bind and deliver multiple paper copies from Barrie to Sudbury.

So hats off to both Laurentian University and MERX for making my dream come true.  Hopefully, some other owners out there will start using this or similar methods for electronic submission.


Photo (simply because it’s Halloween today!) taken from

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Recipe for a Good Architect

My youngest son recently brought a writing exercise home from school which involved him creating a recipe. I thought that it would be fun to come up with a recipe for what it takes to be a good architect in Ontario or anywhere for that matter. So here we go.

Prep time: 10 years +/-

Serves: several types of clients


1 cup artist

1 cup environmental/sustainability advocate

1 cup public speaker

1 cup author

1/2 cup planner

1/2 cup accountant

1 cup visionary

1 cup administrator

1 cup coordinator

1/4 cup engineer

1 cup mediator

1/4 cup photographer

1 cup counselor

1/2 cup trouble shooter

1/2 cup fortune teller

1/2 cup mind reader

3/4 cup magician

In a large bowl stir in artist, environmental/sustainability advocate, public speaker, author, planner, accountant and visionary until blended. Set aside.

In a blender combine administrator, coordinator, engineer, mediator, photographer and counselor. Cover and process for three years. Slowly (over a period of two years) mix in trouble shooter, fortune teller, mind reader and magician. Cover and blend on highest setting until smooth (in any situation). Add contents of bowl and blend on lowest setting for an additional four years.

Cover with one thick skin and let stand for one more year.

Top with a dash of charm, a bit of luck and just a sprinkle of “schmoozability.”

Garnish with a slice of tenacity and a pinch of BS. Serve immediately in a chilled glass with a pair of artsy dark-framed glasses.

I think I will call this concoction the Jack of All Trades.

Let me know if I missed any ingredients.

Photo credit

Blender photo taken from

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From Paper to the Construction Site

Why it’s important to have the drafter involved with the construction of a building, to help visualize what they draft into how it will be applied in the field.

When working on producing a set of drawings and details for a construction project, there is a multitude of information that needs to be collected, organized and incorporated into the documents, which will be used to price and ultimately construct a building.  Depending on the purpose and use of the building, these drawings may not require much detail or specialized instructions.  However, in multipurpose building projects, such as the ones our firm is involved in, the list of special requirements, instructions, materials and products can seem infinite and endless.

Whatever the level of detail required, I believe that if you’re drafting it, you should be knowledgeable as to how you would generally install it, as if you were constructing the building yourself!

From early on in the education of a drafter, you’re taught that “this line type represents this” and “that line style represents that”, but without the knowledge of what you’re actually drawing, it’s difficult to comprehend how it fits with other components being shown on the drawing.

Being given the opportunity to go out to the construction site and see how the products and materials are used together, it’s a huge eye-opening experience for the drafter as to what their drawing actually means to the person constructing the building.  Instilling this knowledge into the drafter is paramount in keeping up with the demands of today’s construction industry. We attempt, wherever possible, to do the same at our architectural firm.

It’s this general knowledge of building materials that can make or break the success of a project.  It’s the job of the drafter to “build” the building on paper.  The better the comprehension of construction products and construction techniques the drafter has, the better the quality of documentation the drafter will produce.  A good drafter should be able to recognize a problem between components of the proposed building and create a solution before the drawings even leave the office. The use of BIM software, like we use in our office, helps to catch some conflicts, but real world experience goes above and beyond that.

When the drawings, details and specifications leave the office for tender purposes, it’s not the end of the drafter’s involvement. The issuing of documents for tendering is only half the battle. The other half of the battle is contract administration.

With a good set of drawings, details and specifications, contract administration can be smooth and seamless and leave you with a full head of hair.  However, more often than not, changes need to be made and discrepancies do arise.  Drafters are human after all and things do get missed.  It’s at times like these that bringing the drafter out of the office and onto the construction site can benefit not only the project being constructed, but any future projects that may have similar conditions.  The construction industry is constantly evolving and educating the drafting staff on new and/or modified products and techniques will ensure that the architectural firm stays current and is kept up to date on the latest construction practices.

 Photo credits

Bad door location photo taken from

Pulling your hair out photo taken from


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One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Some say small architectural firms are the best places to work and provide the best client satisfaction. Others would suggest that larger firms with their high profile projects are where the action is. I disagree. I believe that while large and small firms have their advantages, both are limited by their size. Mid-sized firms, with 10-30 staff, have a lot to offer prospective clients. I work for a mid-sized Ontario architectural firm with a group of 20 talented individuals and we offer the best of both worlds.

This one is too small...

According to a recent posting by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, there are approximately 4,500 architectural firms in Canada employing approximately 14,000 workers. Of those firms, most are small to mid-sized. So why is that?

A few years ago, I read a study prepared for the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) called “Succeeding by Design,” which was produced as an outside-in perspective regarding architecture in Ontario and Canada. They found that one of the main factors that clients deemed as important in their choice of a proponent is firm size. The perceived quality of service they get from mid-sized firms was more favourable to them. Clients felt that both small and mid-sized firms were more committed to their projects, but the mid-sized firms had the “horsepower” to undertake more projects.

Part of that quality of service can be seen from an organizational standpoint. Our firm uses the principal-in-charge approach to project management. Our principal, Gerry Pilon, has specifically kept the office staff number at the under-20 mark so that he can be involved with every project that comes through the firm. In our firm, the principal is not seen as a figurehead, but rather he remains a meaningful and accessible participant throughout the project. Also, in a firm of this size, all employees are required to wear more than one hat. This is one of the strengths of our office as we are able to quickly create a design team by drawing personnel from the studio for any number of roles on any given project.

Our firm is large enough to deal with major project workloads and tight schedules. However, we are also small enough to be able to respond quickly and enthusiastically to carry out smaller projects with the same commitment that we apply to larger work. Our firm leverages architectural innovation and technology to meet any “horsepower” requirements on all of our projects. We have incorporated a project information management (PIM) software called Newforma Project Center to address all basic needs of organizing, finding, tracking, sharing, monitoring and reusing technical project information and communications for all our projects. Our firm uses AutoDesk Revit, a state-of-the-art building information modeling (BIM) system that works the way you think. With its parametric change technology, the design and documentation is automatically coordinated, consistent and complete.

Our mid-sized architectural firm attracts talented young and middle-aged professionals who are seeking the opportunity to become involved with all aspects of a project; from beginning to end. While some tend to think that you have to be employed by larger firms to work on larger commissions, that is not always the case. As a mid-sized office, we have completed several large-scale, high-profile projects with construction values of over $200 million. We compete with bigger companies for new employees by offering the advantage of working in a smaller, family-like environment. Staff work on a variety of elements on our projects without becoming the “go to guy” for door schedules or window details. Work roles in mid-sized companies are less specialized than in larger firms. This allows employees to gain multiple skills and valuable experience in different areas of expertise. Having a smaller core group also maintains the quality of our work being produced.

This one is too big...

Our newest intern architect, Ryan Stitt, admits that having the ability to work on every component of a job was a big factor in coming to our firm. “I know other interns working at both ends of the spectrum, from 2-3 man offices to large mega-sized corporations. The ones in the smaller studios experience all aspects of the project, but their projects are limited in size and complexity. Friends within larger companies seem to be bound to certain roles and are restricted in their experiences.” He went on to say that from the view of an intern architect, working in a mid-sized architectural firm seems to offer the best of both worlds. Being a jack-of-all trades also helps when it comes to completing his OAA intern hours across the broad spectrum of required work.

Are you stuck in a rut?

Another advantage of our mid-sized firm, is that we are able to work on a variety of project types and scales, while most small firms are limited to smaller focused projects. Being able to produce projects ranging in size from $200.000 up to designs such as the $206 million Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre or the $258 million Royal Victoria Hospital Redevelopment project gives us an edge over smaller companies, but still maintain a hands-on approach for our clients that larger firms can’t duplicate. We are well suited to pursue work of any size and we are the perfect fit for most clients out there.

To me, a mid-sized architectural firm is “just right” for clients, interns and more experienced personnel alike. Clients are able to receive the best services with a personal touch. Interns can broaden their experience in all facets of architecture. Looking back over my career at this firm, I have drafted, worked directly with clients and sub-consultants, dealt with municipalities and authorities, performed contract administration duties, have been involved with Web site management and company branding, written proposals, prepared office marketing and learned a variety of computer programs to accomplish many of these tasks. All of this would not have been possible in a small or large firm. The idea of working out of someone’s basement on small additions or low profile projects would become stale pretty quickly. The thought of sitting in a cubicle somewhere drawing wall details for the last 20 years would drive me up one. The ability to be able to work on high profile jobs in a capacity that I have is the best fit for me and many others. However, as with most things in life, to each his own…

This one is just right...(My Desk!)

 Photo Credits

“This one is too small…” photo taken from

“This one is too big…” photo taken from

“Are you stuck in a rut?” photo taken from

“This one is just right…” photo taken from Right Beside My Desk!

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Barrie Fire and Emergency Services Station No. 1 Virtual Tour

Salter Pilon Architecture were proud to be part of an exciting new architectural design project in Barrie.  The Barrie Fire and Emergency Services Station No. 1 was officially dedicated on July 20, 2011.  As a LEED Silver certification pending building, Salter Pilon was able to bring its focus on sustainable architecture, functional interior design and solid project management to bear on a successful and fulfilling project.  The Station boasts many unique features blending new technology with remnants of Barrie and the Services’ storied past as an integral part of the community.

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Branding for Architects – Part 1 – The Logo Design

Up until a few weeks ago, for me, the term “branding” was reserved for cows and not companies. I realize now that both are equally painful. Our architectural firm is currently in the process of rebranding the company, which has been in business now for over 50 years. Included in our efforts to renew our image is a LEED CI interior office renovation (the first LEED CI project in the City of Barrie), web presence optimization (including the creation and maintenance of this blog) and producing a new corporate identity (which includes a new logo design and web site). For this post I will cover our first step towards establishing an updated visual identity – our logo.


What is a good logo design to us?

To start, we asked ourselves, “What is a logo supposed to do?”  Technically it should represent our company through the use of colour, fonts and shapes. As defined by Wikipedia, “A logo is a graphic mark or emblem commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition”.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But it’s not.

Our first step was to come up with what we thought a good logo design for us should be. Our first inclination was to follow the KISS (no not the rock band!) design rule of “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” A simple logo would be easier to incorporate across the broad spectrum of our work, especially where the size of the logo could be anywhere between 2 cm² and 10cm². We also felt that by keeping the logo design simple, it would be easier to remember. We liked the idea of keeping the elements of text and icon separate so that they could be used together or on their own.

Our current logo design uses a MetaPlus font type, which caused us a variety of problems as we attempted to use it in various media formats. As architects our logo is used in both digital and hard copy format on our drawings, correspondence, web site, business cards and promotional materials.  So in order to avoid the same issues, we decided that a good logo should use a standard font, which would be consistent across the board.

Similarly, we realized that some web colours are beyond the CMYK colour range making colour matching between the computer and printed hardcopy virtually impossible. So, we agreed that the colour of a good logo must be in the CMYK range in order to remain consistent across the spectrum of our media both printed and on the computer.

We also felt that a logo should not be too trendy; it should be timeless, if possible. Our current logo design, in a variety of forms, has now been used since the early 90’s, so we felt that our new logo should be able to be used for the next 20+ years.

So when we add it all up:

good logo = simple + easily recognizable + standard font + CMYK colour + timeless

Calling in the pros

With our preferences in hand we then enlisted the services of a graphic designer. At an initial sit down meeting we shared our thoughts as well as some company promotional material to give them a sense of who we are. A few days later a grouping of logo concepts were presented to us which, unfortunately, really missed the mark. As part of our feedback on the logos, we searched on the web for logos or portions of logos that we preferred and shared them with our graphic designer in hopes of inspiring them to come up with something more in-line with our architectural firm. Several other submissions/comments were made but each one seemed to be getting further from what we were looking for, so we started thinking that this particular approach was not working for us. Back to square one…

What about us?

Then someone (maybe it was me) had the bright idea that this could be done in-house. As architectural and interior designers, you would think it an easy task to create a company logo.  After all, we are paid to be creative people and we would presumably have the best sense of what our company is all about. However, I find that the most difficult people to design for is ourselves (architects and designers). We opened it up to the office and asked that any concepts be posted on one of the bulletin boards for all to see.  Few were willing or had the time to submit any concepts that they were pleased with for the scrutiny of the office.  Some of the concepts posted had some interest, but still no winners. Back to square one…again…

What now?

Because it has such a close attachment to the company’s identity, designing a good logo is definitely not an easy task and certainly one that takes some dedicated time commitment. Unfortunately, most people can’t afford the time so utilizing the services of a graphic designer would seem to be the best option.  Presently, we are in the process of hiring another graphic design firm to carry on with this endeavor. Hopefully, the next round will result in a winner. So stay tuned…

Photo credits

British White Cattle taken from

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