The ABCs of Design: Great Design Uses Great Tools

The ABCs of Design: Great Design Uses Great Tools

By: Jay Johnson This article is the third in a series of 26 related blogs that seek to answer the question, “What is Interior Design?” by exploring various terms associated with the profession. This entry, Great Design uses Great Tools, posits that technology has become necessary to accomplish great design. Indeed, some of the wonderful designs being created today could not have been envisioned without the use of modern tools and technology. When I started designing, the tools of the trade were parallel bars, triangles, erasing shields, Rapid-o-graph pens, and Pounce. Design drawings involved geometry, art and time. Lots of time. The design process was typically divided into three phases:

  1. Preliminary Design – usually free-hand sketches,
  2. Design Development – a scaled set of the basic drawing set, and finally…
  3. Construction Drawings – which added notes, sections, details, schedules, utilities, etc.

The cost of changes to the design increased greatly as the project moved through the three phases. It was cheap, fast and easy to change things early on; expensive, slow and challenging to change things later. Most often, mistakes in the field could be traced back to changes made late in the process. Design changes were regularly more expensive than anticipated. The Geico commercial that recently aired about the construction of the ancient Egyptian pyramids is humorously close to reality. In it, the construction foreman assesses the almost-finished pyramids before him, and then compares them to the construction drawings in his hands. The plans illustrate that they were supposed to be cubical structures, not triangular. “Uh-oh!” The developers of today’s design software hope to eliminate mistakes like that. One key principle is to ensure that clients and designers have a shared vision – often a 3D model – of the design from the onset of the project. Many tools are available to designers and architects to help accomplish this, and some newer tools go well beyond to truly help designers with the development of their designs. Even some inexpensive Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) tools allow for designs to be produced as photo-realistic images in a matter of minutes. These visualizations allow the project team to communicate design intent in 3D instead of a flat 2D plane. Real time walk-throughs and simulations can realistically convey the look and feel of the new facility before a shovel ever hits the ground. The designs can quickly be presented to the client as a slideshow, video or message attachment. This feat is accomplished in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost of the hand-drawn designs of the past. Virtual mock-ups are being used more and more across the industry to aid in coordination of plans between various disciplines – HVAC, equipment, case goods, electrical, plumbing, etc. These collaborative visualizations ensure that these various systems all work together. Their value is seen in a greater understanding the assembly sequence, knowledge of the relationship of the various components, and a better sense of the look and feel of the end product. Digital mock-ups streamline the review process and save time and money. Here’s your chance. What is your favorite design software tool? Why? If the client wants to adjust the design, most software allows for such changes to be made almost instantly. Today, instead of being a burden, changes are welcomed – even encouraged. Because of the use of design software, changes are more fluid and less expensive. One of my recent associates often said, “Changes can be made at any time until the project is built.” With the CADD tools we have available today, this has never been more true. Few in the industry question the power and benefit of good design software. It has revolutionized the profession by greatly reducing time and expense. It also allows for exponentially more design freedom throughout the process. But this article isn’t really about using tools to design things better; it’s about using tools to design better things. “Technology isn’t going to replace us, it’s going to help us design better things!” – Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk CTO, at Autodesk University 2015 The acronym, CADD, has been around since the inception of computer-aided drafting. But the “D” for drafting has been well ahead of the “D” for design from the beginning. Why is CADD software an excellent drafting tool and a poor design tool? What would the software look like if these were equally functional? What would change if design was the main emphasis? These are intriguing questions. The research department at Autodesk, the maker of AutoCAD, is attempting to answer them. They are working to develop tools that will bridge the gap between using software as a drafting tool and using software as a design tool. Their current effort, Dreamcatcher, allows the designer to input a set of design goals and have the computer create design solutions that meet those criteria. According to the Autodesk website, “Dreamcatcher is a goal-directed design system that enables designers to input specific design objectives, including functional requirements, material type, manufacturability, performance criteria, and cost restrictions.” Designers would use this software to generate and explore solutions, quite possibly finding some that were unexpected. With the power of computers put to the task, a huge number of possible outcomes could be produced and explored. “The resulting design alternatives are then presented back to the user, along with the performance data of each solution, in the context of the entire design solution space,” the web article (at link above) states. The Autodesk research team puts the emphasis on defining the design problem, generating solution alternatives, and finally, selecting or redefining them. It’s a revolutionary proposition that could have a huge impact on the way design is done. One blogger submitted that it “could be… like when we transitioned from paper documentation to computer documentation… we may wonder how we ever got anything done before.” Here’s your chance. Do you think that CADD programs help or hinder great design? Why? Regardless of the success of Dreamcatcher and other similar research efforts, it is clear that companies will continue to push the envelope on what software can do – in every industry. At IDO, our clients benefit from the use of technology in design by enhanced communication, faster processes, increased collaboration, and cost savings due to error reduction. As new design tools continue to be developed, IDO is committed to embrace them and make wise decisions about which tools will best serve our clients and accomplish our mission.  

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