The ArchVIZ BIZ – Growing a Studio : The Culture

We covered Art & Technology and now it’s time to grow your business too! First and foremost you need to decide whether or not you want to grow and then make a plan for it. Maybe you’ve been freelancing a while and you have now decided to add some help. Or maybe, after a decade or more of flying by the seat of your pants, you see some areas that need fixing and are looking for a way to get things back on track. Whatever the case, the solutions to your issues will likely lie in three main competencies: Culture, Finance, and Client Management. Today I cover Culture.

Although wrapping your head around these subject can involve a huge learning curve, it doesn’t mean you should give up and cast these competencies aside.

These are important areas for a successful business, and here’s a little secret or tip for you… You don’t have to be the one with these skills. Hiring individuals that excel in these skills could be a great option too. No one is Superman! You can’t be good at all things all the time and do everything.

Just look below and think what if?


The Culture

Culture is the cornerstone of every organization.

Deep down, it stems from the organization’s “Why?”.

It’s not something we creative types like to talk about that often. We like to just let everything “be cool” and “happen naturally”. That can work for a while. When you’re a small tight knit crew, I’d say up to 6 people, it’s easy. You’ll all know each other intimately and likely be spending countless hours together. If someone doesn’t fit in, you will know right away. Once you get beyond that, you need to start actively defining and managing your culture.

Your culture will dictate the stories that people tell about your organization throughout the industry. If you don’t define and promote it, others will do it for you – whether their version is accurate or not!

On the flip side, by defining your culture, not only do you strengthen your existing organization, you also start attracting like-minded people who will seek you out. Talent will naturally seek you out because your values align with theirs. It will also help to attract clients who see the world through a similar lens.

Need a good example?


I guesstimate most of you know who they are without a mention.

Internally, culture can drive progress in your studio. By actively promoting attributes like accountability and learning, you can create a self-directed and progressive team that grows organically. By promoting values like openness and transparency, you will be able to communicate more easily with your team and clients alike, driving better results.

In our case at Norm Li, we live by the motto “Always Better”. That’s not to say that we are the best; it means that no matter how good we are today, there is always room for improvement in some area of our process.


How you define your culture is up to you. At the very least, you should be aware of your culture even if you don’t want to take the time to define and shape it. The first place to look is the leadership team. A studio will model the behavior and actions of its leadership not necessarily because they agree, but because they see it as the accepted practice.

But just as people can change, so can a studio’s culture. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, or can’t see it at all, I’d highly recommend picking up “Change The Culture, Change The Game” or “HBR 10 Best – Teams”. They are but 2 of many books written on the subject; they are pretty easy reads even for a guy like me (it takes me 2 years on average to read a book).

Ronen highly recommends you watch this TED video by Simon Sinek

Culture is a major driver of longevity for any organization. Ignore it, and it may eat you alive. But if you take the time to shape and build it, you can have a self-manged studio that grows on its own.

A great way to accelerate the implementation of your culture is to make it visible; for longer term viability, publishing a strategic plan for your team is important. By writing down your charter, you can refer to it when you feel like you’re heading down the wrong path. And by publishing a strategic plan, you can make decisions based on where you want to be headed.

This higher level of thinking will give your team a much clearer path as they go about their daily tasks.

Cultural development is largely focused on your team and their needs. However, what many may fail to realize is the need for founders to work on their own development. Making decisions in a vacuum is not very productive.

Think of how your team operates – They get to bounce ideas off you and their peers all day long. But founders often have no one to bounce their ideas off of.


Yes, a good founder will always be open to communicating and collaborating with their team, but let’s face it: some of the business decisions and initiatives they deal with may not be intended for the ears of their team.

A great option for founders is joining a peer to peer entrepreneur organization. I personally belong to TEC (aka Vistage), but there are plenty of other options out there. These types of organizations give business owners from different industries a platform to gather monthly and learn from each other. I can’t say enough about being a member of TEC/Vistage.

Culture is a major driver of longevity for any organization. Ignore it, and it may eat you alive. But if you take the time to shape and build it, your team will have the confidence and knowledge to manage the day to day operations, leaving you with more time to plan the future of your business.

If this all sounds a bit over the top, that’s OK. It’s not for everyone. It all depends on where you want to take your team in the future. If this is outside your comfort zone but is something you want for your team, there are plenty of organizational and leadership consultants out there that can help you through it.


A quick search on the web for “leadership consulting” will yield many results. Find the one that’s right for you.

Norm Li.

Part 1 - Starting a Studio : Art
Part 2 - Starting a Studio : Technology
Part 3 - Growing a Studio : Culture
Part 4 - Growing a Studio : Finance
Part 5 - Growing a Studio : Client Management


9 thoughts on “The ArchVIZ BIZ – Growing a Studio : The Culture

  1. Tom on Reply

    Anyone else wondering if that airplane overhead at 10:23 in the Simon Sinek TED Talk was planned or if the talk took place near an airport?

  2. Norm on Reply

    it would be interesting to hear how you guys feel about the culture in the places you currently work at … What works? What needs fixing? Let us know so we can all see what is happening out there!

  3. Norm on Reply

    And for all the founders out there – what have been your challenges when it comes to shaping and maintaining your culture?

  4. Tom on Reply

    <>I think reading this just made me feel crappy because I realized there is NO culture at the office I am at. We are a large international Engineering and Architecture firm and there is none of this that you are writing about. I couldn’t even get a summer sketch group started. People need to feel comfortable to talk/ discuss/ express in order to foster healthy culture. But, there has to be an initial desire within each individual to WANT to share. Those interactions help a group grow and once you start to grow, more and more paths reveal themselves, and allow you to be more flexible in terms of how you go about solving problems.

  5. Norm on Reply

    @tom – don’t despair. Culture takes time. Our team had to work really hard over the course of 3 years to get to where we are now. Prior to that we had a bit of culture but not like the way we do now. Growing a culture is hard work. It’s very difficult in the beginning. People will think you’re crazy. But if you keep at it, and do the right things along the way, you will eventually get the culture you want and deserve. Also remember that culture is not the product of any one individual’s efforts. Culture is about the team and is best created by a team. Get a group together. Define what it is you want to build. Visualize what that looks like one day to day basis. Look for opportunities to apply and reinforce those values on a daily basis. And just like a garden that you tend daily, you WILL begin to see results. If you want to discuss further, feel free to drop me a line at my email.

  6. Stefan Vittori on Reply

    Hi Norm,

    I really appreciate your write up on the “culture” and how important it is to have culture in your office, it’s the face of your company.
    You really covered it nicely and right on. It’s a good sign and speaks for you as the leader of your company since you write about it and make it an important part of your article.

    When I started Tangram 3DS in 2003, it was easy, I was all by myself with 1 freelancer ( cg student ) helping me with modeling tasks. The most important aspect for opening my own studio was to create inviting and healthy office space. When I was leading in-house departments and in the early years of CAD/3d and using computers in architectural firms, the 3d guys used to be put into dark corners, because the leadership thought, the 3d guys don’t need any “day light” to work …so making my own studio a great looking, healthy and creative work environment was #1.
    Later on when expanding and hiring people, the great looking office space and atmosphere we had was a drawing point for new employees. Employees felt very good and liked and loved to come to work. I am proud to say, that hasn’t changed at T3DS over the 12 years in business now.

    #2 our employees and my colleagues are the most valuable asset of my company. Everyone wants to be treated with respect, to gets acknowledged and credited for their work, input and contribution. As the business owner you want your employees feel like that we are 1 family and therefore an important member of the company. “We are the company, so I do my best to see the company grow and bloom” that is what you want everyone in your company to think and feel. I agree, it’s easier when you have 6 -10 employees to keep a great culture and if you have more people then you will have to be more inventive to keep the culture in your studio.

    #3 as the founder and business owner, I am lucky to have a good friend who started his business at the same time. We had countless nights and drinks while brainstorming, learning and listening to each other’s business startup ideas, problems, pains, joys…Joining organizations, like you mention in your article, is essential. Every person planning to start his/her own business should talk and meet with as many experienced, retired, or startup business owners as possible.
    Here again, people like you and Ronen are very helpful to startups and experienced business owners.
    I also wrote a business plan before opening the doors of my studio T3DS and that helped me very much. If you don’t’ have a business degree or background in business, which most of us usually don’t have since we started the business because we love creating great visualization work, then you will need to catch up with getting information on how to run a business. Writing a business plan is a great exercise with going over your business idea point by point while writing your plan about your new awesome studio. Today there is a ton of information on the internet on “how to start a business”
    I used this book which was and still is an incredible resource for me and very much usable and transferable to the “architectural visualization “field

    #4 As the founder one day you will realize that you are actually not doing anymore which was the reason that you started and opened your own studio and company…which was/is ”architectural visualization” …all of a sudden you are running a business and someone else and mostly better skilled is running the creative side and production side of your business…but that is also great and a sign that your business has been successful…I love every minute as the founder and owner of Tangram 3DS because I have the best team and people to work with…but I also experienced the down side when my team did not back me up any more and the culture seemed to disappear especially during the economic crisis and then everything seemed to fall apart…but with the right people on your side with keeping an open mind and lots of hard work and time involved things will always turn around.

    I know this is a lot…but you got me writing, Norm.

  7. Norm on Reply

    Thumbs up Stefan! … I think most newer studios see things similarly … hopefully we can create a massive change and create a more co operative community vs the old competitive ways that are so common in the architectural industry!

Leave a Reply