ARCHITECT advertised the Architect 50 program in print and online, and also sent direct invitations to firms that either requested entry forms or that had participated in previous years. In all, 149 firms qualified. Data was from the 2016 fiscal year and was self-reported. Projects completed or in progress during the calendar year were included. Data was checked for consistency, and outliers were fact-checked. Karlin Research, a third-party research firm based in New York City, compiled the ranking and assured the confidentiality of the data.

The Architect 50 ranking is based on scores in three separate categories, with data weighted as follows:

58% Net revenue per employee
14% Profitability (positive change in net revenue from 2015)
13% Business practices, including the percentage of women and minority designers, percentage of new full-time positions, and voluntary staff turnover rate
15% Employee benefits, including ARE benefits, stock options, and the value and scope of other fringe benefits

33% 2030 Commitment: Participation in the AIA’s 2030 Commitment program, submittal of a report of predicted energy use of all active projects to the AIA in 2016, percentage of predicted energy use intensity reduction from the national average reported, and percentage of gross square footage of projects in design during calendar year 2016 that were demonstrated through energy modeling to meet or exceed 2030 energy targets
18% Energy and water metrics: the percentage of gross square footage of a firm’s projects that achieved a 20% reduction or greater in regulated potable water use than the standards of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992; that incorporated simulated energy modeling or daylighting studies; for which firms used a life-cycle assessment, calculated the embodied energy, and sourced material ingredient disclosure documents and environmental product declarations; for projects completed in 2015, the percentage for which firms collected at least one year of actual energy performance data; and finally, a firm’s approach towards resilient design
12% Employee certifications: The percentage of a firm’s design employees with Living Future, Certified Passive House, WELL, Green Globes, Green Roof Professional, or LEED AP or Green Associate credentials (and the specialty LEED credentials represented at the firm), as well as the percentage increase in salary given to employees who achieve LEED AP accreditation
24% Building certifications: Points awarded on a sliding scale for projects that were in design during 2016 and were registered to achieve LEED, Living Building Challenge, Green Globes, Net Zero, Green Guide for Health Care, Energy Star, Passive House, and other leading certifications
13% Green Project: A score for the green project that best demonstrated a firm’s commitment to sustainability (scoring by ARCHITECT editors)

72% A design portfolio, scored individually by three judges whose numbers were combined to create an overall score
14% Licensure, as measured by the percentage of designers licensed in their respective fields, the average percentage increase in salary upon licensure, and how the firm mentors young designers
7% Pro bono work, as measured by participation in Public Architecture’s 1+ program, the percentage of billable hours dedicated to pro bono, and the scope of the pro bono work
4% Design awards, including awards issued by ARCHITECT and prominent institutions such as the AIA and ASLA
3% Research, as measured by the percentage of profits invested in it and its scope and significance

The weight assigned to each data point was formulated after consulting with industry experts. Using the weights, scores were calculated and then normalized so the top scoring firm in each of the three categories would equal 100. The overall ranking was created by adding together the normalized scores from the three categories. Those scores were also then normalized, with the top firm given an overall total of 300.

Each firm’s performance was calculated relative to the performance of other firms. The firm with an overall score of 300, for example, did not necessarily top out on every indicator and category; it accumulated the highest composite score. Any ties in the overall list were broken using the scores ARCHITECT editors gave to the essays firms submitted about why they deserved to make the Top 50.