Contract - Technology Trends: Changing the Way Designers Work

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Technology Trends: Changing the Way Designers Work

02 April, 2010

-By Cathryn Barrett for Contract



Technology has come a long way since the first CAD programs of the 1980s when young designers often were hired simply to translate handmade drawings into bits and pixels, while the more experienced staff members clung to their pencils for the truly creative work. Today, technology has become much more pervasive at all levels of experience changing the way we approach the very practice of design.

Laser Cutters

Model-making laser cutters have been around for a long time as a tool of professional model makers who cranked out finished products rather than design studies. With the introduction of laser cutters into design schools, recent graduates are as facile using them as my generation was with an X-Acto knife. Today, if you can draw a planar construct in CAD, you can cut it nearly as fast as you can plot it. We now have the luxury of developing multiple design iterations in-house before committing to a solution. One also can take a form modeled in a 3-D program and with unfolding tools, flatten it into a 2-D drawing that can be cut by the laser cutter, and then folded like origami to create an actual model. We use the laser on a variety of tasks, from investigating patterns of openings to creating full-scale mock-ups of components like signage or making color and material boards with beautifully engraved labels.

Smartphones

While mobile phones are ubiquitous, not everyone takes full advantage of the smartphone. With the iPhone, I can navigate (to Web sites or job sites), calculate (fees, hours, area, or costs), translate (dimensions or languages), investigate (products and services), and coordinate (meetings and drawings) on the _ y. Many apps recapture time for design by supporting mundane office drudgery regarding travel, expense reports, timesheets, and invoicing. We now can leave the tape measure, camera, video camera, voice recorder, calculator, GPS, pocket dictionary, laser pointer, and appointment book at the office. The phone allows us to talk while accessing other information, which avoids those “let me get back to you” delays.

When encountering an issue on the job site that needs quick resolution, designers can photograph issues, immediately e-mail or text the photos, and conference call multiple parties to resolve the issue. “I’m not a frequent user of computer technologies, but I’m a complete convert to the Motorola Droid smartphone,” says Mark Harbick, AIA, Contract‘s 2006 Designer of the Year and now an independent design consultant in Manhattan. “I use it to stay in touch with clients and team members while I’m on the road—sending e-mails, answering calls, taking photos, and figuring out where I am with Google maps.” In the future he’ll be probably be able to Web conference from his phone.

Video Conferencing

Video teleconferencing improves teaming and coordination while saving time, money, and carbon emissions. Now Web-based systems like Skype and iChat have brought this formerly expensive propriety technology to the masses. Since designers and architects tend to be visual communicators, the ability to screen-share is key. These conferences are even more effective with new viewer software that allows parties to view and spin 3-D models without requiring an expensive license. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some firms are making use of very high-tech solutions. “HOK has invested in PolyVision’s Thunder technology, which allows people in multiple locations to see and work on the same design or technical documents or a simple flip chart at the same time,” says Clark Davis, vice chairman of HOK. “We have coupled that with the Cisco TelePresence videoconferencing system in rooms that we call ‘Advanced Collaboration Rooms’ in many of HOK’s office locations. That saves a lot of trouble, costs, and carbon.”

Google Products

When I participated in the Pilot Phase of LEED-CI, I actually had to send staff into the field to document the heights of adjacent buildings to calculate the obvious—that our project was in a dense urban environment. With the aid of Google Earth and Google Street View, this previously time-consuming documentation now can happen almost instantaneously from one’s computer. Likewise, many LEED sustainable site or regional material points can be documented using Google Earth features. SketchUp is another Google product that has dramatically changed our work practice, enabling quick 3-D visualization of concepts that clients can move through.

Building Information Modeling

Three-dimensional modeling once was discrete from documentation. Now, early adopters of BIM are reaping the rewards, and those late to convert likely are feeling the pressure to move to an integrated 3-D design and documentation tool. “It has transformed the way we work,” says Robin Donaldson, AIA, principal of Shubin + Donaldson Architects. “It forces you to make decisions earlier in the design process. If you use it in schematic design, you need to make critical decisions about the materials, mechanical systems, and structural systems. That’s good, because you can’t delay critical decisions—BIM forces you to conceptualize more rigorously.”

De-silo-izing the tools

Beyond the discrete tools, tremendous power lies in knowing how to integrate them, and this is what really defines the cutting edge. Once, there were distinct tools for designing work (trace and AutoCAD) and others for presenting work (models, perspective renderings, or a computer model), and they would be executed sequentially in isolation using an analog interface. These days, interiors projects often begin with an AutoCAD file of the building supplied by the owner. One designer might use it to create a Revit base model. Another designer might be using the same AutoCAD file in SketchUp to generate conceptual ideas. These ideas would be incorporated into the Revit model to make them more precise and to interface with other disciplines. If a study model is needed, the Revit files are saved to use as plot files for the laser cutter. For a quick progress presentation, the Revit model could be imported back to SketchUp to apply materials, add furniture from Google 3-D Warehouse or manufacturers, study daylighting, or add Google Earth views for context. Illustrator, Photoshop, and PowerPoint help with the creation and presentation of the product. Without clear lines between where one technology stops and the next begins, this kind of “digital collage” is perhaps the model of 21st-century design.

Cathryn Barrett, AIA, LEED AP, is designer for WRNS Studio, San Francisco



Technology Trends: Changing the Way Designers Work

02 April, 2010


Technology has come a long way since the first CAD programs of the 1980s when young designers often were hired simply to translate handmade drawings into bits and pixels, while the more experienced staff members clung to their pencils for the truly creative work. Today, technology has become much more pervasive at all levels of experience changing the way we approach the very practice of design.

Laser Cutters

Model-making laser cutters have been around for a long time as a tool of professional model makers who cranked out finished products rather than design studies. With the introduction of laser cutters into design schools, recent graduates are as facile using them as my generation was with an X-Acto knife. Today, if you can draw a planar construct in CAD, you can cut it nearly as fast as you can plot it. We now have the luxury of developing multiple design iterations in-house before committing to a solution. One also can take a form modeled in a 3-D program and with unfolding tools, flatten it into a 2-D drawing that can be cut by the laser cutter, and then folded like origami to create an actual model. We use the laser on a variety of tasks, from investigating patterns of openings to creating full-scale mock-ups of components like signage or making color and material boards with beautifully engraved labels.

Smartphones

While mobile phones are ubiquitous, not everyone takes full advantage of the smartphone. With the iPhone, I can navigate (to Web sites or job sites), calculate (fees, hours, area, or costs), translate (dimensions or languages), investigate (products and services), and coordinate (meetings and drawings) on the _ y. Many apps recapture time for design by supporting mundane office drudgery regarding travel, expense reports, timesheets, and invoicing. We now can leave the tape measure, camera, video camera, voice recorder, calculator, GPS, pocket dictionary, laser pointer, and appointment book at the office. The phone allows us to talk while accessing other information, which avoids those “let me get back to you” delays.

When encountering an issue on the job site that needs quick resolution, designers can photograph issues, immediately e-mail or text the photos, and conference call multiple parties to resolve the issue. “I’m not a frequent user of computer technologies, but I’m a complete convert to the Motorola Droid smartphone,” says Mark Harbick, AIA, Contract‘s 2006 Designer of the Year and now an independent design consultant in Manhattan. “I use it to stay in touch with clients and team members while I’m on the road—sending e-mails, answering calls, taking photos, and figuring out where I am with Google maps.” In the future he’ll be probably be able to Web conference from his phone.

Video Conferencing

Video teleconferencing improves teaming and coordination while saving time, money, and carbon emissions. Now Web-based systems like Skype and iChat have brought this formerly expensive propriety technology to the masses. Since designers and architects tend to be visual communicators, the ability to screen-share is key. These conferences are even more effective with new viewer software that allows parties to view and spin 3-D models without requiring an expensive license. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some firms are making use of very high-tech solutions. “HOK has invested in PolyVision’s Thunder technology, which allows people in multiple locations to see and work on the same design or technical documents or a simple flip chart at the same time,” says Clark Davis, vice chairman of HOK. “We have coupled that with the Cisco TelePresence videoconferencing system in rooms that we call ‘Advanced Collaboration Rooms’ in many of HOK’s office locations. That saves a lot of trouble, costs, and carbon.”

Google Products

When I participated in the Pilot Phase of LEED-CI, I actually had to send staff into the field to document the heights of adjacent buildings to calculate the obvious—that our project was in a dense urban environment. With the aid of Google Earth and Google Street View, this previously time-consuming documentation now can happen almost instantaneously from one’s computer. Likewise, many LEED sustainable site or regional material points can be documented using Google Earth features. SketchUp is another Google product that has dramatically changed our work practice, enabling quick 3-D visualization of concepts that clients can move through.

Building Information Modeling

Three-dimensional modeling once was discrete from documentation. Now, early adopters of BIM are reaping the rewards, and those late to convert likely are feeling the pressure to move to an integrated 3-D design and documentation tool. “It has transformed the way we work,” says Robin Donaldson, AIA, principal of Shubin + Donaldson Architects. “It forces you to make decisions earlier in the design process. If you use it in schematic design, you need to make critical decisions about the materials, mechanical systems, and structural systems. That’s good, because you can’t delay critical decisions—BIM forces you to conceptualize more rigorously.”

De-silo-izing the tools

Beyond the discrete tools, tremendous power lies in knowing how to integrate them, and this is what really defines the cutting edge. Once, there were distinct tools for designing work (trace and AutoCAD) and others for presenting work (models, perspective renderings, or a computer model), and they would be executed sequentially in isolation using an analog interface. These days, interiors projects often begin with an AutoCAD file of the building supplied by the owner. One designer might use it to create a Revit base model. Another designer might be using the same AutoCAD file in SketchUp to generate conceptual ideas. These ideas would be incorporated into the Revit model to make them more precise and to interface with other disciplines. If a study model is needed, the Revit files are saved to use as plot files for the laser cutter. For a quick progress presentation, the Revit model could be imported back to SketchUp to apply materials, add furniture from Google 3-D Warehouse or manufacturers, study daylighting, or add Google Earth views for context. Illustrator, Photoshop, and PowerPoint help with the creation and presentation of the product. Without clear lines between where one technology stops and the next begins, this kind of “digital collage” is perhaps the model of 21st-century design.

Cathryn Barrett, AIA, LEED AP, is designer for WRNS Studio, San Francisco
 


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