Doug Wignall never knows when inspiration may hit, so he keeps his iPhone handy to capture transient ideas via voice memo. Those brief audio thoughts serve as the foundation of posts he shares with the nearly 2,000 employees at HDR Architecture via an internal blog titled Aspici (Latin for “A look around.”)

Doug Wignall never knows when inspiration may hit, so he keeps his iPhone handy to capture transient ideas via voice memo. Those brief audio thoughts serve as the foundation of posts he shares with the nearly 2,000 employees at HDR Architecture via an internal blog titled Aspici (Latin for “A look around.”)

Shortly after he was appointed president of the global firm at the beginning of 2012, Wignall began thinking about ways to reach out to everyone, and Aspici became his platform of choice. The blog is divided into two sections: Prospeci (“Look forward”) and Respici (“Look backward”).

“It’s a super-practical way to communicate with a lot of people,” he says.

Wignall posts about every two weeks, and he describes his blogging style as part stream-of-consciousness and part deliberate. It suits his personality and lends credibility to the messages he shares, which encompass a range of topics about the profession and his priorities, as well as personal movie recommendations and a link to his Twitter feed (@DougWignall).

Aspici welcomes comments and feedback, and employees haven’t been shy about sharing their perspectives. Less than an hour after he posted a recent poll about sustainability, 100 responses had poured in.

Employee engagement is woven into the culture at HDR Architecture, according to Wignall, with nearly every employee owning a piece of the firm as a shareholder and a large percentage of them actively involved in the strategic planning process.

His 20-year tenure at the firm began as a designer, progressed into marketing, and evolved into leading the firm’s health care practice for the past six years.

One of Wignall’s passions is the education of architecture students, particularly the troubling trend of architecture graduates choosing not to practice architecture and current architects leaving the profession entirely.

“The architecture workforce is depleting,” he says. “One of the big things we need to be doing as a firm is to make sure we’re positioning ourselves to fill the gaps in the labor force. Also, to do our part to change the way education is delivered so the situation doesn’t get worse.”

Twitter brought him face-to-face with a recent architecture graduate in New York who commented on one of his tweets and made him aware of her challenges in finding employment.  He responded to the new grad, agreeing to help secure an interview for her.

“I can’t make any promises, but I’m going to see if we can make something work,” he says. “It’s all about timing.”

He admits the concept of Twitter is one he’s still learning to fathom. “I need to come to terms with the fact that people will actually care about what I say,” he admits. “I’m a farm kid from Iowa.”

Both through Twitter and the internal blog, Wignall’s goal is to ditch the ivory tower approach and come across as a human being, speaking to other human beings, with purpose and the desire to change the world. “I think that’s what architectural firms can and should stand for,” he says.

from @DougWignall:

Doug Wignall here, president of HDR Architecture. I’m a documentary watching, design appreciating, Yankee cheering, and fine-food consuming guy.


Mike Plotnick is a freelance writer and social media consultant. In his previous role as vice president and communications director at HOK, he led the communications team that developed and facilitated the firm’s Life at HOK blog and social media platform. He tweets as @SomeChum.