When working with a client we will meet in person multiple times to bring drawings and plans of a space and also material finish samples for what will go in the space: carpets, ceramic tiles, paint chips, grout colors, fabric swatches, wood samples, laminate chips, the list goes on and on. I like to bring loose samples, sometimes with pictures of how a large piece will look in a space, especially with carpet. But at some point the we go from making decisions to giving a sense of what the final product will be. With drawings the final product is still represented in a drawing, either printed, digital or both. But with materials there’s a choice: Sample (or presentation) board or Renderings. (Or both, but that’s a rarity in our office)
A sample board is a foam core board with actual physical samples used in the space tacked to it. Many clients use these in combination with drawings for showing final selections of Board members or teammates who weren’t involved in our meetings and to give other stakeholders an idea of what is coming soon. This post was inspired by my colleague snapping a picture with his phone of me standing on a chair to take a picture of a presentation board before giving it to the client.
On the plus side here, you have the actual sample of the materials to know how they will feel and the exact color that they are for the space. It’s also a little less time consuming so it can be done more quickly. On the down side, while we often label what materials will be located where, it may be hard to visualize how the space will look for some people. There’s usually only one copy as well. This is a good solution for more simple work and small spaces where 3D images are hard to create effectively.
Renderings are the other option. Instead of mounting all the materials on a physical board of materials, the selected finishes are grafted into the space in a drawing. This can be done on a plan, an elevation of a wall, or a 3D drawing for the space. Before computer rendering this would be done by hand. Now it’s more often done in programs like SketchUp, 3DMax or Photoshop. With these programs digital images of materials can be uploaded and fit into their locations at the proper size. Shadows and light can be added with algorithms that will correctly interpret how light will bounce off different material types and reflect in the space. The result is a very strong impression of what the final space will look like. This is a great option for large projects, clients who have trouble with visualization, or who are spread out over large distances, since computer files can easily be shared.
The down sides are that these are generally more time consuming and therefore more costly to produce and the color may not be perfectly correct for what will be the final space, depending on printer, monitor, and other color corrections.
If you are the recipient of one of these tools, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First, this is a step that’s best taken when most decisions have been made or are very close to be final. Redrawing takes time and rendering multiple times is also time consuming. On the flip side, these tools are a snapshot in time and you still can make changes after they are delivered. Treat them like a final check that this is indeed what you want. Finally, enjoy your tool. These are definitely one of the fun take aways from working with design professionals.
I will freely admit I am a designer who was educated on the inside of the technology curve. My education was heavily colored by learning AutoCAD (also known as CAD, the most prevalent of the Computer Assisted Drafting programs available) and not just AutoCAD but a host of other computer programs. Google SketchUp, 3DMax, Revit, Photoshop, Rhino, 2020 Technologies, and oodles and oodles of plugins to the aforementioned programs all are part of the conversation. I would also suggest that services like Pinterest are more and more a part of the conversation. I learned working knowledge of several computer programs in school or had the opportunity to learn. To anyone who ever thought a design degree (of any type) is a bird course here is your education right now: If you have ever learned Adobe Photoshop, you have an idea of the difficulty of the learning curve on most programs that designers use. If you have not, I challenge you to open Photoshop (Or YouTube a tutorial) and look at all the tools, buttons, filters and options that are available to manipulate an image.
I strongly believe that to be a viable designer in today’s market you need to have at minimum working knowledge of a few of these programs (although I love to think that hand drafting and sketching still has a place). These are not programs that can be learned overnight or in one class, but a certain mastery is necessary. Mastery that is only developed over time and with experimentation with these programs (I personally keep on my desk a little stock of notebooks at my desk, each dedicated to a different programs’ tricks, tool and shortcuts). I also think a certain cross section of these programs are needed, and would suggest at least one from each of 3, perhaps 4 categories are necessary. Bird course no longer when competency in at least 3 difficult software programs is basic entry-level knowledge.
First, A CAD program is a must to prepare professional construction documentation. Many design business are starting to move on to building information modeling or BIM programs like Revit. This has become base line requirement in most design firms, even sole proprietor businesses in Architecture & Design usually have AutoCAD. It’s just too labor intensive in today’s world to have you construction documents done by hand drafting.
Next, to relieve some of the load in creating visual images for clients (so they can “see” what the final result will look like) a 3D rendering program is needed. These run from things as simple as Google’s SketchUp or to photo-realistic programs like 3D Max with rich lighting and robust textural data (and take hours and hours to render). We tend to use a mix from the 3D line drawings developed in the CAD plugin 2020 Technologies, and exporting CAD drawings to renders in Sketchup and its suite of plugins for the most detailed renderings.
Finally, I believe an image editor like Photoshop is the final piece of the puzzle to make adjustments and tweaks as needed. I’m in Photoshop all the time to expand the limitations of my other digital programs, make small corrections and rework information from one format to another.
Additional tools, like Pinterest, Designerpages or Palette App that collect data on possible products, manufacturers, inspirations and organize it are also a fourth group of software that could be and is becoming an important technology asset to designers.
This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination; just some of what I would suggest have become basic to design in the digital age. A few in our office have become intimate with database software used to help our Facilities teams (who we support as a contractor) manage their space more effectively. We all also use the standard programs Word, Excel, Powerpoint, ect just like every other business out there. Other firms use software that helps write specifications, order products, and streamline other areas of their design processes.
I’m sure in the next 5 years this list will grow and change. Like many industries, keeping abreast of the latest technology available to make workflow easier and faster is and will continue to be an important part of the design industry.