Product Literature

"Every building has an architect"

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has a campaign to encourage its members to send this postcard to editors and to urge the editors to identify the name of architects in photo credits. Several American Institute of Architect components have also endorsed the program.
This is a usually good advice for building product manufacturers to follow when using building photos in marketing literature. It makes the manufacturer seem more connected to the culture of architects. The architect will generally like the public exposure. And it may encourage other architects to think, "Well, if XYZ Architects used it, I guess I can too."

Criticism: The campaign may make members of the association feel good about themselves, but I  doubt the campaign will have much impact on editors already pressed for time.

  • Many buildings do not have architects.
  • For many buildings, the names of the architects is lost or would require extensive research.
  • Other buildings have been remodeled and enlarged; is the editor to list them all?
  • The developer, builder, engineer, and others contributed to the vision for the building. Shouldn't they be credited too. 
  • Photos of buildings are printed for all sorts of reasons not related to the architecture, making the name of the architect irrelevant to the article. And,
Finally, there are many times an architect would prefer to not have his or her name in the press:
Even if the architect is found to be not liable for the collapse of this balcony in Berkeley, would the firm want's its name here?

Double Talk about a Product

A website for a decorative tin ceiling tile manufacturer proudly proclaims,
NEW QUICKER INSTALLATION! No screws or plywood required, just use construction adhesive and an air stapler or air nailer to secure tiles and panels to drywall etc.
Six paragraphs later, however, it says, 

To ensure the most solid and stable installation, we feel that it is always better, and highly recommended, that you nail, screw or staple your tin ceiling up to 1/4" plywood or wood strapping. Therefore achieving a safe, as well as secure hold.

Safety is a serious issue with tin ceilings since tiles have sharp edges that could cause an injury if one fell. 

A more honest approach would be to publish instructions it like this:
We recommended that you nail, screw or staple your tin ceiling up to 1/4"minimum plywood or wood strapping.  While tin panels can be installed to gypsum board with construction adhesives and an air stapler or air nailer, this is not as safe, especially when installed overhead.
This would also reduce the manufacturer's exposure to product liability claims (at least in the US).

 (I added the bold highlighting to the quoted paragraphs.)

Marketing Value of MasterSpec

A building product rep addressed a question to specifiers on the LinkedIn CSI group:
I am interested to hear how much MasterSpec is relied upon in creating your specifications. Some of the products I represent are listed in MasterSpec. I am trying to gage the importance of having the products that are not in MasterSpec added to the service.
My reply:

MasterSpec. Buiding System Design, and other subscription specification services affect building product marketing strategy in two ways:

1. Visibility at the "Point of Specification"
For many types of products, product selection is not considered until someone starts writing a spec. If your product is listed in the master specification, it may stimulate someone to include your product in the specification. It can also be considered a type of very targeted advertisement and part of your media buy. The companies you represent should contact the subscription services and "sell" them on including your product in their documents.

1. Can the Subscription Specification Service Present your Product Property?
Subscription specifications have to treat all manufacturers fairly. This makes it difficult for them to include language necessary to specify the unique requirements about your product. More, the subscription specification will also name your competitors and could, in fact, lead your customer to go astray. For these reasons, manufacturers of proprietary products should also consider offering their own guide specification. It will be a valuable part of your product literature and good content for your website.

You can read my posts about guide specifications at Feel free to contact me directly if you want to discuss your unique situtaion.

Humor Educates... and Sells

A ceramic tile promotional group has, for years, been using a cartoon series to educate contractors and specifiers. It is model other building product manufacturers and promotional groups can emulate. The group's website explains:
"TileWise cartoons were developed under Donato Pompo's leadership for Club '84 (Ceramic Tile Action Group). Club '84 was a non-profit organization of accomplished individuals from all segments of the ceramic tile industry. The group's mission was to develop and distribute educational aids to educate, train and bring quality awareness to the distributors, specifiers, installers, and consumers of Ceramic Tile.
"The TileWise cartoons were created to communicate issuses and concerns in the business of using ceramic tile for all segments of the industry. The objective was to educate to promote the quality use of ceramic tile. In each cartoon the screen exagerates what you shouldn't do or emphasizes an issue or concern, then George the Bucket (named after CTI founder George Lavenberg) says what is correct. The cartoons ran for twelve years in each issue of the Tile Industry News, a major industry publication, published by the Ceramic Tile Institute until 1999 when it ceased
"Use these cartoons to educate your customers and employees to help avoid potential problems, and to promote a positive image of your company through newsletters, posters or mailings.
"We hope you can put these cartoons to good use to help your industry and your business, and we know you will certainly benefit from them if you do. Good Luck!"

Excellence in Construction Information Award won by Chusid Associates

Davis Colors, has won the 2012 Excellence in Construction Information Award (EICI) for a set of five guide specification sections written by Chusid Associates. Davis Colors offers the specifications to architects and engineers as an aid in writing of accurate and complete project specifications.

EICI is awarded jointly by the Construction Specifications Institute and Specification Consultants in Independent Practice to recognize excellence, originality or creativity in processes, tools, or documents used in development or construction of the built environment. Davis Colors was recognized in the Award's Product Documentation category.

The nomination submittal explains that:
Integral colorants for concrete can be specified in a single sentence: "Use pigments complying with ASTM C979 to match concrete color to [INSERT COLOR DESCRIPTOR]." Indeed, many project specifications and even some commercial master specifications have no more than this to say about integral coloring. This terse instruction may be suitable for outline or short form specification, but is silent about colors of cementitious materials and aggregates, uniformity of water to cementitious material ratio, curing and finishing techniques, mock‐ups and other administrative concerns, and other criteria that affect appearance of integrally colored concrete.

In the decade since Davis Colors first published guide specifications for integrally colored concrete, their documents became obsolete due to changes in CSI formats, revisions to industry standards, increased environmental concerns, new concrete finishing and curing techniques, changes in the manufacturer’s product line, and the constant evolution of construction practices. When Davis Colors decided to update their guide specs in 2011, the documents required complete rewriting and not just revision.

The company and its specifications consultant [Chusid Associates] determined that a single guide specification section would be impractical due to the complexities of different concrete work results; each required an individually considered approach to be of most benefit to specifiers. The following five sections have now been written and will soon be downloadable in word processing format at

SECTION 03 35 19 – INTEGRALLY COLORED CONCRETE FINISHING: This document can be used as a narrowscope section in conjunction with other sections specifying site‐cast concrete work and paving, or as a source of provisions that can be copied into broadscope sections.

SECTION 03 45 00 – COLORED ARCHITECTURAL PRECAST CONCRETE: This document suggests modifications that can be copied into Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute’s (PCI) Guide Specification for Architectural Precast Concrete if necessary to augment PCI’s standard language.

SECTION 03 47 13 – COLORED TILT‐UP CONCRETE: This document suggests modifications that can be copied into Tilt‐Up Concrete Association (TCA) Guideline Specifications, TCA Document 04‐02 if necessary to augment TCA’s standard language.

SECTION 04 05 13 – COLORS FOR MASONRY MORTARING: Mortar has a pronounced effect on the appearance of masonry as it forms as much as 20% of the surface of brick walls. Provisions from this guide specification can be copied into a masonry section as required.

SECTION 04 20 00 – COLORED CONCRETE MASONRY UNITS: In addition to language about colorants and color selection, this guide specification section calls attention to cleaning techniques and other requirements that are different for colored CMU than for uncolored CMU.

In each guide specification section, an effort was made to comply with CSI formats and principles, and to include specifier notes to support the specifier’s decision‐making process. The guide specifications supplement and are coordinated with the manufacturer’s existing data sheets, color cards, installation instructions, and other technical literature.
The award will be presented during the CSI convention at CONSTRUCT 2012 Expo in Phoenix this September. This is the third EICI Award received by Chusid Associates. Click here to read about previous awards.

In Praise of Printers

After the creative concept...
    after the copy writing...
        after the photography...
            after the graphic design...

...your new catalog, sales brochure, or other print collateral must still be printed. For anything more than a quick laser-printed pdf, this requires the cooperation and care of a talented printer.

Gutenberg's Printing PressThe Chusid Associates team has just completed a 150+ page product presentation. Without the help of our printer, our "masterpiece" could become a ruin.

This is not a simple project. Four types of paper or plastic sheets are to be printed upon and have to provide consistent color and saturation, and the bindery will receive inserts from multiple vendors. There are more than 100 color photos, and an even greater number of drawings. And, of course, the deadline is unreasonably short and we negotiated a price that left little fat.

Still, the printer took time to rework graphics to improve the publication's appearance, identify potential errors in the press-ready files and suggest remedial measure, and to carefully make all the changes requested after our client and staff reviewed the proofs. The printer even pointed out, to my embarrassment, that the name of the client was misspelled!

We typically conduct press checks as a project is printed to assure that the pages are in order and that the ink process colors are in balance. That isn't practical in this case since the printing is being done offshore.

But I am not worried about this lack of on-site observations: The printer has gone from being a vendor to being our collaborator.

I extend a hearty thank you to Thomas Hummel and his crew at Toppan Printing (

The Problem with Communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is 
the illusion that it has taken place.”

- George Bernard Shaw

Writing Captions

The Frank Gehry-designed bandshell in Chicago's Millennium Park provides an exciting visual anchor to the end of East Washington Street. Without this caption, however, you might not have recognized the view nor known what I felt about it. (©Michael Chusid 2011)
Writing captions for a magazine article or internet posting is an art. Here are some guidelines: 

Captions Sell the Article: The typical magazine reader flip through an issue to see what captures the eye. If a photo or illustration captures attention, the viewer is then likely to read the caption. If the caption conveys useful or intriguing information, the reader may decide to read the rest of article. 

Captions Summarize Article: Use illustrations and captions to summarize the article. That way, the reader gets useful information -- and you get your point across -- even if the reader does not read the body of the article.

Tell a Story with Captions: A caption should do more than just identify the content of an image. It has the opportunity to tell a story. Even a short caption can explain who, what, when, where, how, and why.

Caption Stands Alone: To the extent practical, a caption should be able to stand alone so the meaning of the photo is understood even before someone reads the article. This means, for example, that abbreviations and jargon should avoided in the caption, or at least succinctly explained.

Search Engines Like Captions: When writing for the internet, captions help search engines find your illustrations.

Editors like Captions: Editors hold the key to getting your message out. So anything you can do to make the editor's job easier will help you get exposure. I found this to be the case when Carolyn Schierhorn, the former editor of Masonry Construction, expressed her appreciation for an article I contributed: “It was a pleasure to receive an article so well-organized and mechanically flawless that almost no editing was required. That you included detailed, beautifully written captions as well is nothing short of miraculous.”

Finally, remember to include copyright notices and other identifying information required for use of the photo or artwork.

Metrication Update

Two examples of metrication crossed my desk recently, demonstrating opposing approaches to implementing metric units in the building products industry.

1. One of my clients is converting its sales literature from inch-pound to metric (with inch-pound units also shown in parentheses).

#11 1-3/8" dia.
2. The Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI), reversing its decade-old endorsement of a soft-conversion to metric, now urges its members to use inch-denominated size markings.

The various approaches represent the different market conditions confronting each organization.

In the first instance, the US-based firm is aggressively moving into international markets and needs to speak the lingua franca used for most of the world's construction. The change will not harm domestic sales, since the company uses digital-fabrication to make bespoke parts without regard for the designer's system of measurement.

CRSI, on the other hand, focuses on regional and national promotion. As a commodity product, little quantities of rebar is exported. The industry began marking its product in nominal metric sizes when it looked like the Federal government was serious about enforcing a 1991 Presidential Executive Order mandating metrication. However, the Federal Highway Administration (FWA) retracted the requirement in 2008, and most building construction in the US remains firmly inch-pound. (The primary exceptions Government agencies such as the Department of Defense.)

Traditional rebar diameters are stated in 1/8 inch increments; #3 = 3/8 in. diameter, #12 = 12/8 in. = 1.5 in. These units just make sense when constructing a 1 ft. thick wall with 3/4 inch concrete coverage over rebar that must be spaced to allow passage of 1-1/2 in. dia. coarse aggregate. In CRSI's soft conversion, these correspond to #10 (9.525 mm) and #40 (38.1 mm) respectively. Soft conversion reduce the cost of producers, but frustrated everyone else. Builders using inch-pound had to convert sizes to traditional nomenclature to calculate positioning. And fractions of a millimeter confounded those used to using real metric sizes, where #30 bars have 30 mm dia.

Many US industry sectors are now firmly metricated. (When was the last time you bought a fifth of whiskey?) Yet it is unlikely that there will be a comprehensive countrywide construction conversion anytime in the foreseeable future.

Until then, each building product manufacturer will have to "weigh and measure" whether and when to embrace metric based on their unique marketing "metrics."

By the way:

"Metrication" is term for adopting metric measurements.
"Metrification" is term for using poetic meter.

Proofread or Perish

Your 2nd grade teacher was right: proofreading your stuff is an absolute must.  Othawise, your risk having you’re busness appear solppy an unresponsible, or worse, even ignorent.

Which stuff am I talking about?  Every single thing you publish.  Your product literature, your ads, your catalogs, your website, even your material safety data sheet (MSDS).

I was recently reading a web page about a coloring product.  The manufacturer was boasting that the product “is available in a full pallet of pigments.”  Which is good, I suppose, if you’re a volume user who buys pigments by the pallet.

But if you’re an artist who likes many color choices, you might prefer a full palette of pigments.

I thought to myself, "the code monkey who put together this website isn’t very literate."  Then I pulled up the technical data sheet for the product, and found the same language there.  It wasn’t that feckless web designer after all, it was the manufacturer!

Another technical data sheet I recently downloaded was simply incomplete.  Two sections were blank except for notes in red, notes asking if this info should be a copied from the sheet for a related product.  Nobody had checked the file that went online.

To be fair, the file was dated several years ago and nobody had ever said a word about it, so we might conclude it wasn’t getting read very much anyway.  Maybe this slip-up hadn’t impacted their reputation heavily.  But it easily could have.

I see typos and grammatical mistakes every day on manufacturer’s websites and in their product literature.  It makes a bad impression on me, but it could have a more serious impact on architectural outreach.  Specifiers depend on the accuracy of product information when they select products for a project.   Do you really want to shake their confidence in your information?

Now that you’ve seen the light and are determined to proofread everything, a hint: it is very difficult for the writer of a piece to proofread it well.  She knows what it should say, which makes it easy for her to miss what is actually printed.  Somebody else should proof it.  Ideally, the writer should read it aloud to somebody else who follows on a printed copy and proofs it.

Specifying Nothing

"We...have actually found the majority of the known objects,"
This linguistic gem was part of an NPR newscast about the potential for a collision between earth and a a "near earth object" such as an asteroid.

Eros Asteroid, Photo by JPL/JHUAPL
It should come as a relief that we have already found what is known.

It would be shocking to know objects that had not been found. Or if we failed to know objects that had been found.

Yet figures of speech like this abound in building product technical literature. I once wrote that a water repellent "penetrates up to a quarter inch or more." While it sounds good as a marketing claim, it actually means nothing, since a material that lays on the surface would also satisfy this claim.

Recently, I saw a product claim that "our material meets ASTM E84." This says nothing, because a test conducted according to the standard (for surface burning characteristics of a material) yields a numeric value, not a pass/fail criterion that can be met.

Send me your favorite example of a product claim that doesn't say anything.


Post Script:

A comment on the NPR site refers to the title of the news segment:

"Asteroids Pose Less Risk To Earth Than Thought"

The commentator says, "I completely agree!!! Thought poses a huge amount of risk to the earth. Way more than asteroids."

I was taught that construction specifications must be written not only to say what was meant, but in a way that can not be misinterpreted.

"Excellence in Construction Information" Awards Won By Two Chusid Associates Clients

Two clients of Chusid Associates have won this year's Excellence in Construction Information Awards, jointly sponsored by CSI and Specification Consultants in Independent Practice (SCIP). Ceilings Plus was recognized for its Idea Box, an innovative presentation of product data and samples. American Decorative Concrete Supply Company (ADC) was awarded for their sales collateral and product documentation. The EICI Award was created to recognize excellence, originality or creativity in processes, tools, or documents used in development or construction of the built environment.
Michael Chusid accepts awards for two clients during 2011 CSI Convention.
ADC embarked on an extended communications project in 2010, revamping all their product literature to make it more useful to architects and specifiers and well as contractors and concrete artists. The campaign includes sales sheets, technical data sheets, and guide specifications, as well as a redesign of their website. Their new technical data sheets follow Construction Specifications Canada ProductFormat, currently the only published standard for building product data sheets. All the pieces were designed and coordinated for greater consistency of information, more consistent branding, and better accessibility of data. All of the sales collateral recognized by the award was created by Chusid Associates.

Ceilings Plus produced a highly innovative way to present their product data and samples. The Idea Box is a formed aluminum box decorated by precision perforation, made in the Ceilings Plus factory. Inside it are elaborate samples of the company's finishes and forming abilities, as well as the Idea Pad, a handbook-sized product catalog full of surprises. The cover of the Idea Pad is a steel sheet with magnetized sample-chips of wood and metal finishes on it. The chips are cut into unusual geometric shapes that can be arranged in patterns including complex tessellations, inviting architects to play with designs and turn loose their imaginations.  The book includes not only product and company information, but suggested tessellation patterns, luscious project shots, and space to sketch designs. The Idea Box and its contents were conceived and designed by Chusid Associates, with art direction by Vladimir Paperny and copy by Michael Chusid.

How do Spec Writers Decide?

The following is from the blog of Liz O'Sullivan, AIA, CSI, CCS, LEED AP, NCARB, a Denver architectural specifications writer.

One for Construction Product Manufacturers: How do Spec Writers Decide What Products to Specify?

Maybe in a perfect world, spec writers would research ALL the available products, and specify ALL of the products that meet the project requirements.  Think of the competition that would create, and the potential cost savings to the Owner because of that competition… and think of the additional costs to the Owner for the time the specifier would have to spend on all that research!

The construction industry generally seems to agree that having 3 competitors provides enough competition to get a fair price for a product.  I believe that the law of diminishing returns would apply to a practice of researching and specifying any more than 3 comparable products, or “equals”.

So how do spec writers select those three products?  Sometimes the Owner tells the design team what they want us to specify.1  If an Owner doesn’t have a preference, the Architect often makes selections based on aesthetic requirements.2  And, if neither the Owner nor the Architect has a preference, the specifier makes product selections.

Last night, I got a comment from Kirk Wood about the third situation.  Kirk was wondering if it’s a case of “who you know” rather than “what you have to offer” that determines which manufacturers’ products get specified by spec writers.

First, I have to mention that the manufacturers’ reps that spec writers know best are those whose products we have researched and have had questions about; the reps we know best are those whose products we know best.  We know these reps through the process of researching the products we were specifying, NOT the other way around.  It’s NOT that we know them, so we spec their products; it’s that they rep products that we spec, so we turn to them when we have questions about the products (compatibility, pricing, product options, availability, et cetera).

So how do specifiers know about these products or manufacturers in the first place? 
When preparing specification sections for a project, many of us start with commercially available master specifications.  (I use MasterSpec, by ARCOM.)  These master specifications usually list available manufacturers for the products we’re specifying, and many of us start the selection process there.3

Moving ahead from the master is where, due to time and budget constraints, the process of product selection has the capacity to get random…

When possible, we select products and manufacturers that we are familiar with, and we do research to make sure that these familiar products work for the specific project.  If we haven’t ever researched any of these products before, they’re unfamiliar, so we start from the list provided by the master specification, and research those.  It’s a very rare situation when all the products listed in a master specification will meet the project requirements.  So, I research the listed products until I get three that meet the project requirements.

Here’s how I go about this:  I start with the list, and delete those that don’t work.

A manufacturer’s website with too many barriers to entry will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer’s website with no information, just contact information for the manufacturer’s rep, will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer’s website that is running too slowly will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer that has NO WEBSITE is OFF THE LIST.

It’s not who you know.  I’m not saying that product selection isn’t a bit random at times, but generally, if a manufacturer has clear, easily accessible, easily navigable, correct, quickly available, concise, complete, and non-conflicting4, information on the internet, that manufacturer’s products are more likely to get specified.

Spec writers are a predictable breed of design professional.  We prefer to see things published, in print, rather than to listen to someone tell us about them.  We’re skeptics, and aren’t likely to blindly accept things that we can’t independently verify.  We are detail-oriented and generally are not interested in information beyond the technical.  Most of us are introverts, and a lot of us would rather write than talk (can you tell?).

So, my advice to manufacturers is the following:  Have a good website.  Have a good technical information department.  Have great manufacturer’s representatives!  Encourage your reps to join CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute.5

Being active in CSI is not about getting spec writers to know you so that they’ll spec your products; it truly does not work that way.  Being active in CSI is about getting spec writers to realize that you, a local manufacturer’s rep, are there to answer our questions, and to help educate us about your products, and about comparable products (your competitors’ products).

Reps should become resources for spec writers.  Specifiers aren’t really susceptible to old-style salesman techniques; we’re skeptics, remember?  Don’t go to CSI meetings and try to “sell.”  Go to CSI meetings and let design professionals know that you’re there, and when you’re given the opportunity, educate us about your products (and about how they compare to your competitors’ products.)

We’re all in this construction industry together.  The primary goal that all of us have is to get a building built for an Owner, and to make a living doing it.  When one manufacturer’s product is more appropriate for a project than another’s, that’s the one that should be used in the project.  I think that, objectively, we can all agree on that.  The best way to make sure that the most appropriate products are being incorporated into the project is for manufacturers and their reps to make their best efforts to educate spec writers.  And if there are a bunch of equally appropriate products, then specifying 3 of them is a good way to get a fair price for the Owner’s project.
  1. Ah, yes – the natural question is, “How does the Owner pick the products that they want us to spec?”  Well, that’s always a bit perplexing.  Many of the products that Owners require in their technical guidelines aren’t actually comparable, but are written as if they are.  Many of the products in the Owners’ technical guides have been discontinued, and listed manufacturers have gone out of business.  Some of the products and manufacturers never existed – curious typos and misspellings have created shadowy products or manufacturers that somehow get repeated, project after project…  Truly, a mystery.
  2. When the Architect makes product selections, the spec writer researches the Architect’s desired products, and if they meet the project requirements, and are compatible with other specified products, the spec writer specs the product or products selected by the Architect.  If there are comparable products, or “equals”, selected by the Architect, the specifier will include those.  If there really aren’t exact equals, the specifier will usually indicate that the Architect’s selected product is the “Basis of Design,” and will allow substitution requests for products that almost meet the specifications.  The Architect will decide if proposed substitutions are acceptable.
  3. More than once, I have suggested to a manufacturer’s rep that they should contact ARCOM, MasterSpec’s publisher, to see if they can get their products listed.  If spec writers don’t know you exist, we can’t specify your products…
  4. Yes, I have reported conflicts between different bits of technical information on a manufacturer’s website.  Come on, people!
  5. CSI’s website:
Thank you, Liz.
COMMENTS David Stutzman posted the following comment on Liz's post:
I might add one more thing for manufacturers to do. When called or emailed, please respond promptly. I cannot tell you how many times I have filled out the contact form on a manufacturer’s website because the architect selected their product and then waited and waited. I recall one that did follow up by phone several months later. I asked what project the call was about. The caller had no idea. Neither did I. That ended the conversation and left an impression that will not be forgotten.

Life-cycle assessments of products

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote 20 years ago. To a limited extent, increased attention to environmental sustainability have increased focus on life cycle performance of buildings. LEED, for example, requires buildings to be commissioned to ascertain that mechanical systems perform as required. Also, the "cradle-to-cradle" concept encourages examination of the flow of materials from extraction to re-purposing.

Operational costs typically, 
exceed construction costs.

Tools that can help architects make life-cycle assessments of products

The architectural community too often disregards the life-cycle costs and operation of buildings. This attitude is not expressed overtly but nonetheless permeates architectural practice:
  • We grovel before a project's bid price and all but disregard a building's cash flow, the streams of operational and maintenance expenses, financing, revenue and tax consequences, which spell economic success or failure to a building owner. 
  • When designing an addition or renovation, we too often fail to involve the building's maintenance staff in a serious discussion about their resources, schedules, and experience with the building's existing materials and systems.
  • We rarely retain qualified building maintenance consultants on our design teams.
  • And frequently, we pass along a hodgepodge of submittals and call it an Operation and Maintenance Manual without considering whether the accumulation really communicates.
Over the economic life of a building, operation and maintenance costs will typically equal or exceed first costs. And when we consider how a maintenance program can affect a building's resale or salvage value, the importance of building maintainability becomes even more apparent.

Building Economics
Building design and product selection decisions should be made with benefit of life-cycle cost analysis. Recently issued ASTM standards provide the building industry with clear guidelines for performing an economic analysis of building designs and components. In a life-cycle cost study, each future cash flow must be adjusted for anticipated inflation and escalation and then discounted to a present value. When performed manually, these time-consuming calculations limit the use of life-cycle cost analysis. New computer-based programs, however, make it much easier to conduct life-cycle installations.

Even though calculations have been simplified, a building life-cycle cost investigation still remains difficult because reliable data on product longevity, maintenance schedules, and operation and maintenance expenses are difficult to obtain. How soon will a roof really be repaired or replaced? How frequently will various types of door operators require servicing? How will the selection of a sealant or weatherstripping affect energy use? Such information is not contained in the typical references found in an architectural office, but a new family of facility management publications and references is beginning to fill this gap. For example, Means Facilities Maintenance Standards [now out of date] discusses the mechanisms that contribute to building deterioration, and building maintenance scheduling and management.

Architects must also take more initiative to discuss maintenance issues with their clients and consultants and to collect and analyze the maintenance history of their buildings. This information must then be transmitted to the drafters and specifiers who actually make product decisions.

Product Data
Although building product manufacturers and trade associations are a primary source of product information, few offer well documented data on their product's life-cycle performance, offering only inconclusive laboratory testing or anecdotal case studies to document their claims. They claim they are unable to predict a product's life-cycle because of conditions beyond a manufacturer's control, such as environmental conditions or maintenance procedures. Yet these variables can be quantified and applied to a sampling of historic product performance data. The resulting analysis could be used as a valid basis for predicting product performance and comparing product alternatives.

Some manufacturers have responded to the need for better information about product life-cycle costs. USG Interiors, Inc., for example, offers a computerized comparison of relocatable partitions and drywall partitions. called DesignAid for Walls, the program enables a designer to consider the economic impact of partition relocation, financing alternatives, tax benefits and accelerated depreciation, and the escalation of waste disposal costs associated with drywall partition remodeling. A similar USG DesignAid program compares several floor construction and wire distribution systems to determine life-cycle costs vis-a-vis workstation relocation. [Chusid Associates wrote both DesignAid programs.]

Building productivity is
also a life cycle factor.

Operational Assurance
Since many architects assume "building maintenance" means "janitorial services" or occasional redecorating, it would be useful to introduce a new term into our professional patois. "Operational assurance" is a concept more familiar to industrial engineers who must assure that manufacturing equipment is kept at optimum operating capacity. An operational assurance approach to buildings must consider the building operational goals and specify systems and products in view of their longevity and the ease and cost of their maintenance, repair, and replacement. Operational assurance can be applied not just to mechanical and electrical systems, but to the building envelope, finishes, and other architectural components as well.

Capability in operational assurance planning would enable an architectural or engineering firm to differentiate itself from its competitors and position itself for growth in industrial, commercial, or institutional markets. Maintenance programming, value engineering, training of the building staff, and post-occupancy evaluation also could be lucrative extended services and could lead to a continuing relationship with a client.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Progressive Architecture, ©1991.

How to use white papers effectively

White papers used correctly
are powerful marketing tools
White papers have emerged as a powerful marketing tool in recent years. Existing somewhere between sales literature and article, a well-done white paper provides useful background information on vital topics in an objective voice, creating an air of expertise, while allowing you to control the conversation and increase web traffic through viral distribution; packaging the information in pdf form, instead of incorporating it into your website, makes it easier to share and distribute.

I recently received a very effective white paper from ASI Sign Systems; their email caught my eye as I was cleaning out my inbox, itself no mean feat. The subject line was: "White Paper: The Benefits of Campus-Wide Wayfinding". Short, eye-catching, and effective for reaching people interested in wayfinding or educational design. The email was attractive and well-crafted:

ASI then took the most important step in white paper marketing - gathering contact information:

In addition to getting my name and email address they request company name and title, incorporating a level of prospect pre-qualification. Leads that do not match their profile can be ignored or de-prioritized. I have personal dislike for any use of Captcha, but this was at least easy to use and non-intrusive. Beyond that, my only concern is that there is not a box to opt-in to their e-newsletter, which means they either missed the opportunity to subscribe me, or they will auto-subscribe everyone. That course of action could alienate potential prospects, and get them in trouble.

The white paper itself was simple and attractive. At 6 pages, and most of that graphics, it was a quick read. The information was very top-level, making it useful for people just getting into the field. It defined key terms and issues in wayfinding. Reading between the lines, I am sure every topic relates directly to an ASI product offering. Despite that, it is presented in an objective, non-proprietary manner so I did not feel I was reading sales literature. The tone could be slightly more informational, but is within the correct range for this target audience.

The layout and graphic design reinforced the company's branding. It is clear this is an ASI document. And, crucially, at the end is an invitation to contact a representative for more in-depth training and information. 

All in all, very nicely done. A good model for effectively creating and using white papers to market your products. 

Time to audit your guide specification?

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote 15 years ago. It is showing its age, especially in the "Delivery" discussion as computer technology and publishing have evolved rapidly. However it has stood the test of time. 

I need to update my company's guide specifications with new technical information. I want to use the opportunity to make sure they are as well written as possible. What should I look at? - C.T., product manager

Though primarily a technical document, a guide spec is also part of your sales literature. It must be written in a way that supports your overall marketing and builds customer commitment to your product. Before revising your existing guide spec or writing a new one, I suggest auditing your specification requirements according to the following criteria.

Consider the accuracy and completeness of your specification. Have your manufacturing standards and product features changed? Can you claim new performance levels? Have product testing standards changed? Review your product literature as you update your specification so your product claims are consistent.

Specifications are one of the first things attorneys look at in construction lawsuits, so write your guide spec in a way that minimizes product liability. I add a disclaimer to guide specifications I write: "This guide specification must be edited by a qualified design or construction professional to meet project requirements." But disclaimers are not enough. The specification also must be written so that it cannot be interpreted to say something you don't intend. Make sure it does not express any unintended warranties.

Remember that your guide specification will be part of a project specification. In addition to reducing your own liability, your goal should be to reduce everybody's risk, including the specifier, contractor, and building owner. Write the specification so that the responsibilities for and risks of using your product are realistically and fairly assigned.

Also, review your history of product failures and construction claims, and write your guide spec to help avoid predictable problems.

To communicate effectively, use standard formats and styles. Issuing a guide spec in a nonstandard format will make it appear that your company doesn't understand the construction industry, which could damage your credibility.

Construction Specifications Institute formats and principles are appropriate for most uses. But various government agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and some state and municipal agencies, have their own formats and spec writing styles. If these are important customers, you may need separate guide specifications for their projects.

Some building products, such as a roofing material, can be specified alone in a single narrow specification section. In other instances, you might want to include your entire product line in a single section so specifiers can evaluate options in the line. With windows, for example, the specifier can choose from various styles and glazing types.

Or your product may be one of many that are traditionally specified in a broad specification section. For example, concrete admixtures are specified along with the other ingredients in a concrete mix. Understanding the specification scope will help you determine how much guide spec detail to include.

Most specifiers today want to receive the specification in a word processing format. You might also want to consider providing expert system software to automate product selection and spec writing tasks, or creating links between your specifications and CAD, multimedia, cost estimating, and other applications.

It no longer makes sense to print guide specifications in Sweet's Catalog files, given the high per-page cost. Instead, consider putting your spec on an Internet site or a CDROM, like those published by  Sweet's, Arcat, or Spec-Data. Also decide if you want your product included in master specifications, such as those published by SpecText, Masterspec, and the Corps of Engineers.

While a guide spec is not a place for advertising hyperbole, it can communicate or reinforce your product positioning. Product features and benefits should be written into the guide specification to create a competitive advantage for you.

Some manufacturers fill their guide specs with proprietary features, hoping to make it difficult for competitors to break their spec. But this does not work unless the features truly add value, and not just differentiation. It may be beneficial to try another strategy, naming the firms and products you would prefer to compete against in your own guide specification.

Your specification does you no good if you don't tell anyone about it. In your architectural sales literature, tell readers to call or fax for a copy of the product guide specifications. Many trade journals will print news items announcing that you offer a guide specification, especially if it is on diskette, so send out press releases.

Your salespeople may want to customize the guide specification for use in their sales presentations for specific projects, or they may help specifiers edit it to meet project requirements. In either case, train salespeople to use the document effectively.

To work as a sales tool, a guide specification has to be easy to use, unambiguous, and flexible. It has to lead a specifier through a decision making process from general design concepts to specific product requirements.

Before writing a specification, look closely at project specs architects have written for your product to learn what information they consider important enough to specify. Interview several specifiers to find out how they make specification decisions. Then, after you have prepared a draft of your guide specification, ask several architects to critique it so you can revise it before you publish it.

The guide spec audit provides two benefits. First, it will help assure your guide specification will be one specifiers want to use, increasing your success in getting specified.

Secondly, it will improve the substitution resistance of the project specifications put out to bid. A well written guide spec improves the odds that the architect's project specifications will be written well and will show a strong preference for your product. This will make it less likely your competitors will be able to break the specifications with unequal products.
Chusid Associates offers a SpecAudit(tm) to help its clients take advantage of guide specifications.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright ©1996  SpecAudit is a trademark of Chusid Associates.

The Fifth "C" of Technical Literature

Marketing copy writers love literary flourishes -- a catchy headline, prose that elicits an emotional response, and even poetry. Yet building product literature is also a bastion for straight-forward technical elucidation.

Construction specification writers use a standard they call the "Four Cs" - a document should be:
  • Clear,
  • Concise,
  • Complete,
  • and Correct.
This is a good guideline to use when writing technical literature for building products. I would add, however, that sales collateral also needs a Fifth C:
  • Convincing.
I learned this from Bryan J. Varner, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP, an attorney in Santa Rosa, CA. Bryan says that his arguments in court, even on technical points of law or interpretation of documents, have to be convincing to win over a judge or jury. Similarly, the technical arguments in product literature have to be convincing if they are to win over a skeptical designer, builder, or building owner.

One does not need to resort to hyperbole or slogans to be convincing. Knowing what a designer or builder (or, a worst case scenario, a judge) needs to know, organizing your information thoughtfully, and using easy-to-understand prose can make a very convincing case. Good graphics - photos or technical illustrations that explain a technical point, can also help convince the skeptic.

If your literature does not satisfy these Five Cs - it makes your customer's job more difficult. This then, will require another C:
  • Caffine.
This point is made convincingly by a promotional mug used by Conspectus, an East-Coast construction consultant. I have another C to describe their mug:
  • Cute.

To go viral, online marketing also has to be
  • Contagious
if it is to achieve "word of mouse".

Samples on Beaded Chains

In an era of high tech marketing, remember that customers still want to see and touch samples.

An effective way to do this, especially for small samples, is on a beaded chain. The chain can be conveniently hung in a sample library in a designers office, or behind the counter in a distributor's showroom. They take up less room than a wall-hung display board. They are usually inexpensive to produce and ship in a compact package. Customers can readily remove a single piece if needed for further examination or a mock-up. And the chain keeps your samples together, so you can keep your act together.

How to make a great iPhone app: Bradley ColorSpec

Bathroom fixture manufacturer Bradley recently released the Bradley ColorSpec iPhone app, and it is impressively well done. Be sure to check it out as an example of what can - and should - be done with building product apps.

Guided Tour

The home page is very pretty and eye-catching. I was expecting a standard digital catalog, so this was a pleasant surprise. You can select a product line, get more information about Bradley, or choose from the bottom menu: Materials, Color, Gallery, Favorites, and Locator.

Selecting one of the product lines brings you to a page with tiles of the various options within that line.
You can then view a color in closer detail

Get information on complimentary colors and the relevant partitions.

And - best of all - email the color to a contact, or request more information from a rep.

You can also create a list of your favorites for later reference.
Or visit a project photo gallery.
These are not linked to the color samples, making it harder to find photos of your favorites, and there are very few images. I suspect they will expand this section in future revisions.

Other features help you select patterns using a color chart, and locate reps using Google maps. 

Bugs or features?

The front page is very attractive, but it was unclear until I played with it a bit which parts were clickable buttons, and what they would do. More importantly, when I tried to email a rep, nothing happened visibly. I can't tell if it sent an invisible message to a rep to contact me later, or if the button is broken. 

Other than that, the app works very well and was intuitive to learn. My only other comment - not a criticism, just an observation - is that it provides almost no functionality. In other words, it will be very useful to existing customers trying to select the right material, but does little to draw in new ones. Why should someone download an app that's little more than your - very nicely done - digital product literature? What's in it for them, and what would convince them, if they do, to make a purchase?

My observation is about how the program is used, though; not about its quality. It is important to start app design by deciding clearly what you are trying to accomplish, because it is impossible to make one app that does everything. Better to focus on doing one thing well than everything badly. 

The Bradley ColorSpec app does its one thing very well. It will be a useful tool for designers and installers in the field, or possibly even at their desks, that looks good and works reliably. 


CSI Awards for Building Product Manufacturers

Getting an award from a industry organization can be good for business. Awards draw attention to you or your firm and demonstrate your leadership. They are a way of recognizing the contributions of individuals and motivating them to continue to excel. And you can nominate a customer - a great way to build customer relations. Besides, getting an award just feels great!

The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) gives several awards annually that may apply to building product manufacturers and their employees. The deadline for submitting nominations is May 6, 2011, and awards will be presented at CSI Convention during the CONSTRUCT tradeshow in September. Consider the following:
  • Construction Technology Award
  • Excellence in Construction Information (EICI) Award
  • Technical Document Award
Construction Technology Award
This award is presented for:
a) Development or use of new materials, methods, technology or project delivery systems used in the building lifecycle; or
b) Development or use of existing materials, methods or technology in a new or innovative manner for the building lifecycle.

Excellence in Construction Information Award
In the Product Documentation Category, the award recognizes excellence, originality or creativity in processes, tools, or documents used in development or construction of the built environment. Nominations may be submitted for, but not limited to:
  • Manufacturers Website
  • Guide Specification
  • Or other Product Information that is used by a project team that contributes to a successful project.
Judging will be for adherence to:
  • CSI standards as outlined in The Project Resource Manual – CSI Manual of Practice.
  • CSI principle of the Four C’s in preparing written documentation: Clear, Concise, Complete, and Correct.
There is also an Innovation Category for forms of construction documentation and processes for presenting construction related information for which there is no established method, or for a modification to an established CSI standard that improves the presentation method, processes or allows for a response to a special project need.

Technical Document Award
Award is presented for a single outstanding accomplishment in technical writing other than project specifications.

Chusid Associates is available to help you take advantage of these or other award programs.