Category Archives: Technology

What will the workplace look like in an automated world?

How will automation impact upon the design of our workplaces?  Is it really likely that our workplaces will cease to exist?

2016 became the year that automation of the workforce went mainstream, with the question “Will a Robot take my job?” becoming common across a wide swath of media and the internet, no longer the subject of only futurism and innovation blogs.  In fact, the changing nature of work, automation and the possible significant job losses associated with it are now considered one of the biggest challenges facing us globally in the next 10 years.  So how will this impact on the workplace and interior design?

For a seriously dystopian view, this video from the Guardian, paints a very different picture from the world we inhabit now – somewhat 1984 meets the Jetson’s – and like both of these, it’s probably a bit too far fetched to be real.  Whilst its true that many jobs or parts of jobs could be automated, the reality is that automation is likely to be slower to take over than we imagine, and that a world without work (and the workplace) isn’t likely to be coming any time soon.  There are a number of reasons for this, reasons that are less about technology than they are social, political and psychological.  We just don’t trust machines.  Our societies are not set up to function in a world of no work – we need to get paid to live.  Its likely that ‘busy work’ will continue for some time after many jobs could have been automated.  Already we see this in architecture, interior design and engineering.  We have students, but not the latest software.  Possibly no-one in the office even knows what the latest software can do, or maybe no-one has had time to learn it yet. Perhaps managers insist that it needs to be done the way it always was, the other way won’t work (or they are scared it will and that they will become irrelevant).  So still the students do the manual repetitive tasks that could already be done by software.  I imagine its the same to some extent in all industries – although construction is one of the worst (see my posts on disruptive innovation and the future of architecture).   Linked to the Guardian video is a great article about how we need to change society before we can get rid of work.  My belief then, is that the workplace will continue to exist for some time to come.

Perhaps it is more likely we will see more co-working spaces to provide both individual and corporate tenants flexibility to cater for the changing nature of work. We are already seeing the idea of the freelance ‘gig economy’ (although in Australia at least casual employment has apparently remained at a steady percentage since the nineties). The accompanying growth in co-working spaces caters for both these freelancers and smaller startups.  However it’s unlikely we will all become freelance entrepreneurs. But that’s not to say there won’t be more of us using co-working spaces.

While some predictions suggest that automation could take 30-50% of jobs, more likely scenario is that automation takes parts of jobs – many jobs are a mix of repetitive and non-repetitive cognitive tasks. My job as an interior designer still exists, but certain tasks won’t.  The choices will be to either have less staff or retain a similar numbers of staff but everyone becomes part time (and we all supplement our incomes selling stuff on Etsy…)  Possibly different organisations may make different choices – but with more and more staff sick of working long hours and wanting better work life balance (or perhaps time to make money online) the chances of a larger part time workforce would seem to be high.  Perhaps we won’t just work in one job or place but in several.  Either way we would see workplaces either shrinking or more people working out of co-working spaces part or all of the time.  To some extent, this would mean that current trends of activity based working with its more flexible approach to space per person and co-working will continue.

The very development of co-working spaces highlights the reason why the workplace will continue to exist. It’s social. From my own experience I’ve always found one of the biggest barriers to a remotely distributed team is the random connections and conversations, often referred to these days as the ‘bump’ factor (although they happen just as much sitting at a desk as at a corridor). Neil Usher sums it up really well in this blog “Only when technology begins to absorb unscheduled, occasional, distracted, interrupted and uninvited multi-participant conversation will it begin to scratch the surface. In this respect, forget the cloud, technology needs to be in the crowd.”

Neil also talks about the change in the design of what we consider to be a workplace and the influence of other spheres of design. Our offices are already starting to merge into spaces less dominated by cubicles and computers, with more in common with residential or hospitality spaces. The co-working and activity based working models also bring to this the concept of office-as-a-service, with ideas of hotel style concierges, retail style IT genius bars and perhaps food and beverage options. I agree with Neil, that this trend will continue (although maybe the Genius Bar will be staffed by robots?), and this presents another challenge to those designing (and even more so paying) for the workplace – design trends in hospitality and retail change a lot faster than a traditional ten year commercial lease!

To me though, one of the most exciting trends in workplace design will be the ability to create simulations during the design stages and post occupancy evaluations in real time. The ability to test our designs and how people interact with them creates an opportunity for architects and designers never seen before. Particularly as the workplace becomes a consumer choice (as we can work from anywhere), the ability to create evidence based designs that we can prove are attracting people to use the workplace gives workplace designers so much more relevance than being seen as someone who pretties up the space. Not only that, we can start to generate evidence as to how workplace design contributes to productivity, teamwork, collaboration and wellbeing. I wrote an article on this use of simulations and data several years ago, and now the idea is starting to go mainstream – co-working space WeWork are starting to actually do it, and software giant Autodesk are predicting it to be one of the big industry changing trends.

None of this means that the workplace will look so different after all – except maybe a robot will deliver your coffee. Trends in design and furniture will continue to come and go. Wellbeing, biophilla and plants might still be important design criteria – maybe you might kneel instead of standing or sitting – but probably you will still go to work in an office that has some kind of work surface (I’m hoping for the giant tablet bringing a return to the drawing board), coffee (maybe your coffee robot is not just bringing it, but also the barista) and at least some co-workers.  Maybe some of you would rather Alice’s world…

Ceilidh Higgins

Ps. In my own future of work, next week I am looking forwards to joining the team at Futurespace!

Where to From Here: Embracing technological change

la libertad tiene un precio. by ... marta ... maduixaaaa, on FlickrIs architecture on the verge of the greatest change in centuries? Ceilidh Higgins looks to the future and predicts disruption of epic proportions. This is part of the ACA’s Where to From Here series, which invites reflections on the recent ACA – SA State of the Profession research.

The architectural profession could be sitting on the brink of the largest shift in how we practice since the Middle Ages and the time of the master builder. Alternatively, we could become totally irrelevant to anything except the boutique house. The scary thing is that much of our profession seems totally unaware this seismic shift could soon occur.

I really enjoyed writing this article for the ACA, it brings together a number of topics I have written about over the last few years.  To read the full article go to the ACA website here.  If you are interested in the ACA-SA State of the Profession research you can find a summary here.  I also recommend checking out the other articles in the series.

Ceilidh Higgins

Image credits:la libertad tiene un precio.” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  … marta … maduixaaaa 

Is Disruptive Innovation possible in the construction industry?

fishbowl jump by Kay Kim(김기웅), on Flickr
Lately I have been finding the term “disruptive innovation” everywhere.  From events about green buildings and BIM, to blogs and even the Australian Prime Minister – everyone is talking about disruptive innovation, what it means and how it is changing business and our lives.  Along with robots (see my post on robots here), the concept of disruptive innovation seems to have become one of the mainstream technology trends to talk about in 2015 –  replacing big data as the hot topic (and see my post on big data here).  But has disruptive innovation yet impacted on the construction industry? And if it hasn’t yet, will it? I worry that sadly the answer might be no.

The construction industry is one of the least efficient industries – and this is a worldwide issue. This year I heard someone describe the construction industry as ‘the last craft industry’ and this is certainly true.  Whilst so much of production and manufacturing has become rigidly process oriented and quality controlled, prototyped and tested – even in developed countries, almost every building that we build is still a one off design, constructed piece by piece on site.  The inefficiencies of all phases of building – from procurement through to design and construction are outstanding.  Even when a building is not designed by an architect, if it’s larger than a house, it’s almost certainly a one off design.  Even in Australia, where site labour is a significant expense, prefabrication is the exception and not the norm.  We actually have less standardisation than in the larger American and European markets! As architects and designers in Australia we expect to be able to customise almost any product, and often at no extra cost because so much is custom manufactured for each and every project. All of this results in additional costs, both to those supplying services and products related to buildings which are then passed onto those purchasing buildings.  I have seen estimates suggest that the construction industry wastes a mind boggling 20-30% of building costs  – possibly equating to somewhere around $1.7 trillion (USD) worldwide each year! I found one estimate that 50-68% of time on site is wasted!!! Just google construction industry waste and you will find heaps of articles from around the world in relation to both time and materials.

All this would suggest, that buildings and construction should therefore be ripe for disruptive innovations – there is clearly a massive problem here.  BIM, prefabrication and robots have been seen as possible saviours of the industry, that would increase efficiencies but are they effective and are they disruptive innovation?  In the UK, the government determined in 2011 that BIM would generate savings and efficiency for government projects, and they have mandated its use on all government projects over 5 million pounds.  There is plenty of evidence from the UK and also from around the world that is demonstrating that BIM is reducing construction costs (for example refer to this series of articles by David Mitchell on ROI of BIM) – and one assumes without reducing quality of outcomes.  The UK mandate targets that by 2016 all projects will be what is defined as “Level 2 BIM”, but there is no date yet set for “Level 3 BIM”.  So BIM has already been around for easily 10 years already now, and still with no end date for this higher level uptake by industry – 15 years of change seems to slow to me to be defined as disruptive innovation. I’m not so sure that BIM is “our Facebook revolution” (see this article on Digital Built Britain)

Perhaps before we go much further, we need to define – what is disruptive innovation anyway?If I ask google the answer (via wikipedia) is ” A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analysed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995.”  The frequent examples we are all familiar with include Airbnb, Uber, iTunes and Facebook.  To me, I’m not quite sure that all of these actually meet the requirement for a ‘new market’ – how is the Uber market different from the taxi market? But the key point is that they create a new way of service or product delivery that is completely different from what has come before rather than just being a little bit different – cheaper, easier or more competitive.  For example Amazon is not usually viewed as disruptive innovation, its just a slightly different way of providing goods, at a conceptual level it’s basically the same as the very old fashioned mail order catalouge.

So is BIM a disruptive innovation? I think not. When I first attended RTC back in 2009, and really started to see the possibilities of BIM beyond just 3D modelling and how we could move towards buildings being built from models not documents, and I was seeing all the resultant changes this would bring to our contractual and teaming arrangements, I think I would have considered that BIM would be a disruption to our industry.  But now 6 years later, how much has really changed?  Buildings built from models are still very much the exception rather than the rule, as are alternative procurement and contracting arrangements.  In the same time, Airbnb (started 2008) and Uber (started 2009) have taken over and are serious dominators in their respective markets.  I think there are a few reasons for this slow uptake of change in the construction industry.  One is that with BIM, we still have the option to do things the old way.  We can combine a bit of BIM with traditional paper documents and contracts.  It’s not an all or nothing alternative.  The other is the scale and structure of the market purchasers.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what these kinds of disruptive innovations have in common and how they differ from architecture and construction.  The key issue to me, is that almost all of these commonly discussed disruptive innovators rely on the power of individual consumers and not government and big business.  Can you think of any disruptive innovations that have been driven by or even embraced by Government? Or even big business? (A related question to ponder another day – is activity based working a disruptive innovation?)  If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them – I can’t think of even one.  So recently when I came across on article on crowd funding for the property industry, I wondered – could this be the driver for disruptive innovation in construction?  Crowdfunding brings in the individual consumer, could this be the missing link?

However upon reading the article, I don’t think so.  Whilst the project funding might be obtained from smaller individual consumers, the project is still run by a larger developer –  it’s just a new way for them to get their start-up capital, like the idea of off the plan apartments really.  Whilst the smaller investors may start putting the pressure on for greater efficiency this is more likely to push incremental improvements rather than disruptive innovation.  The article concludes with the suggestion that within 6 years these crowd funding ventures might be owned by banks, so disruptive innovation seems highly unlikely!

What about other aspects of technology?  Could robots and prefabrication cause disruptive innovation in construction?  Again these are technologies that have been developing for some time – prefabrication for probably over 100 years now! Whilst both offer opportunities for efficiency gains in design and construction, like BIM, they also offer us the opportunity to take small parts and combine prefabricated or robot built items alongside traditional methods.  Robots might be laying bricks, but did they pour the concrete slab yet?

So far, the best opportunity I have seen for disruptive innovation in design and construction is going to come from algorithms rather than robots, through the form of software like Google Flux.  Flux automates the building design based upon site conditions.  (You can find out more about Flux in this video from my presentation and blog on Will a Robot take my job or here on Randy Deutsch’s blog ) There is no reason why either much of the model or the documentation would not be largely automated out of this software as well.  Whilst I believe humans (as architects) will always be involved in designing high quality buildings, much of the work we do as architects could be automated.  I have recently heard said “the computers don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be better than us”.  Why should a human spend time drawing up all the details and layout of a toilet when a computer could do it faster and make sure it meet the building code? The parts could then be prefabricated or assembled on site by robots increasing construction efficiencies.  Developed outside the traditional markets, could Google displace Autodesk as the primary software provider for building design and the disruptive innovator that changes the traditional delivery of architecture? I think it’s possible.

I think it’s also possible, that architects won’t see the potential of these tools, they will see the admittedly ugly buildings that the beta version of the software produces, and believe it’s just a tool for developers to quickly design and build boxy buildings.  If architects don’t engage with these technologies, that is probably what they will become.  But what proportion of our clients are coming to us for high end design? If developers, governments and big business don’t need architects any more what happens to our industry? What happens if construction innovates but architecture doesn’t?  If construction innovates and becomes more efficient, will that leave architecture behind? Does architecture become even more of a boutique industry catering to rich people’s houses?

What about disruptive innovation in construction itself? If not robots or prefab, what could it be?  Is disrupting design sufficient to disrupt construction? Or are there other disruptive innovations out there on the horizon?

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Kay Kim(김기웅) 

Will Architectural Technology Create the Next Generation Gender Divide?

Women in BIM copy

It’s been a while since I have posted to this blog – there have been quite a few things keeping me busy lately.  One of which was this article that I was commissioned to write for Parlour.  Parlour is an Australian website dedicated to promoting gender equity and diversity in architecture.

In my writing and research I have questioned if architects will be replaced by robots or computers, and come to the conclusion that while computers are taking over the architectural office, we still have humans to tell them what to do. As Achim Menges, professor at Stuttgart Institute of Computational Design, comments, “this process can bring out the best in both humans and computers”. But is this going to be humans or is this going to be men?

Why are more women in our professions not embracing the possibilities technology can offer architectural (or interior design, or engineering) practice today? With rapid advances in technology and their increasing importance across the industry, it’s a question worth pondering.

Read the full article on Parlour’s website.

Ceilidh Higgins

Photo courtesty of BrisBIM

Will a Robot take my job?

If I am an architect, a designer, an engineer or even BIM manager – Will a Robot take my job? This is the big question I recently presented in my talk at RTC Australia as part of the session BIMx: Big Ideas around Big Data.  Open up my slideshare presentation above that accompanies this blog post.

NESTA, a UK innovation charity has a quiz you can take to see if a robot is likely to take your job.  The quiz asks a series of 6 questions around skills and ongoing learning, if you manage complex real world tasks, work with, teach and manage people, or design and manage technology, machines and systems. It uses your answers to determine how likely it is a robot would take your job.

The answer is that an architect is “Robot Proof” with a low probability of a robot taking our job.  BUT does this match with our experience? Are architects, engineers, or designers really likely to be robot proof?

Whilst we think a robot won’t take our job – what about a computer?

Many of us would agree that BIM has already resulted in smaller project teams. Computers have long been a part of the design process.  Whilst we often forget CAD standards for ‘computer aided design’, computers can now aid the design process in much more significant ways than back when AutoCAD was released. Its interesting though that today a google search of computer generated architecture still mostly generates links related to rendering and imagery, rather than designs produced by computers.

If you think that BIM won’t take your job – what about Big Data?  We are already using data to check, verify and evaluate options within our designs. As the scale of the data available gets ever bigger these processes become more complex and more powerful. Right now google searching for data generated architecture won’t get you many hits related to buildings, but this is sure to soon change.

Rules based checking might not yet be big data. But it is about using data sources to validate designs or documentation. Examples include checking codes or standards using software such as solibri.

Again data analysis doesn’t necessarily mean big data yet.  Analysis began as something that architects did using pen and paper, a site analysis diagram for example. Data analysis is starting to become more computer driven which allows for much more significant analysis to take place.  Examples include environmental or performance analysis of buildings, or analysis on a larger city scale looking at land use and traffic patterns. This kind of analysis is very much in the realm of current uses for big data.

Data is also the basis of simulations. For example fire or traffic simulation modelling is based upon creating algorithms from data. Currently the simulations used within the AEC industry are relatively simple algorithims.
Big data gives the potential for developing significantly more complex simulations. Last year at RTC in Chicago I discussed the potential for big data to allow us to simulate human behaviour in complex building types such as workspaces with the potential of increasing a companies productivity. (see blog post here)

So, data can evaluate design – but could big data actually drive design? Is it already happening?  As with data based checking, its certainly true that data driven design exists already – and has for some time, although generally not yet into the possibilities of big data. Computational and generative design is data based upon algorithms and therefore data based design. Algorithms are already being used for design in many different ways.

The use of formulas to create design is an example of data driven design.
An example is the façade of the Auckland Savings Bank by BVN and Jasmax which was designed using Microsoft Excel and the Chaos formula.

The structure of the Watercube by PTW and Arup was designed using an algorithm to determine structural steel member sizes.

A simulation is just another kind of algorithm. Rather than just using simulations to test current design proposals, the simulation algorithims can be part of the design software and the design options can be based upon the outcomes of the simulations.  This bandstand by UK architects Flanagan Lawrence was designed using Dynamo and an acoustic simulation algorithm called acoustamo.

Algorithms can be used to optimise an existing design. At the Barclays Centre by ShoP – detailed design of the steel panels was undertaken using CATIA to generate options which allowed a reduction from 230,000 sqm of steel to 150,000sqm. No two of the 12,000 panels are the same.

This exhibition hall building was designed by the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for computational design.

The question – How can you create a resilient timber structure with as little material as possible? This is a simple example of applying one rule to a simple building type. Using an algorithm inspired by a sand dollar one of natures most efficient structures, this building was designed by computer. The human input to the design is the initial idea and the design of the algorithms. (Read more)
As a side note, it was built by robots too.

What about more complexity? The complexity of trees growing in nature? There is actually already an algorithm for that.  The programming to create suburban housing exists too (its initial use is for generating realistic houses for 3d gaming environments). Using rules based criteria such as number of rooms, adjacencies and architectural style, a suburb of varied housing can be produced.

With big data the questions and the building programs can get more complex. And these kinds of design tools are not as far away as you might think.  Autodesk has a lab project in development called Dreamcatcher. “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. The infinite computing power of the cloud then takes over.” The publicity for Autodesk’s Project Dreamcatcher suggests it is for industrial design – the same could potential apply to create rules based design solutions for buildings.

Autodesk are not the only company investing in this technology. Google has setup a spinoff called Flux to explore how data will shape our future. Right now Flux software and much of the media is focused on the metro scale data analysis but the future of Flux is about buildings.

Flux asks “What would happen if we stopped designing individual buildings and started designing building seeds” It is based upon the idea that the data will form seeds.

The information would include the codes, standards, weather conditions, occupant data, building product data and other information available about a building, its site, its occupants and client requirements as well as industry data such as materials, systems and construction methods and costs.

Just as each seed grows up to be a different tree, the building data seeds will grow to be different buildings depending upon the site and its constraints, the client requirements and other project specific inputs.
This kind of design will have a significant impact upon the way our industry operates.  (See post by Randy Deutsch)

This is a clip from a talk by Jen Carlilse co-founder of Flux. (Embeded in slide share or at youtube)

We probably all agree that the building examples in the Flux video are somewhat lacking in the architectural beauty department.  If nature could be an algorithm – could beauty also be an algorithm? Is there the possibility that in the future we could use data analysis to design beauty into our buildings, to use data to design buildings like the Sydney Opera House?

So what will my job be? It won’t be drafting disabled toilets anymore that’s for sure.

I’d like to think that the data will allow us to get rid of the drudgery. It will allow us to focus on the best parts of our jobs. It will allow us to realise the true value of design.

We will still evaluate the computer options and talk to the clients. Whilst data can assist us to make decisions, the human race is not about to let everything be decided purely on the basis of data – if we did we would be doing it already. Human nature is that we still want humans involved in decision making. We still need to tell the computers what to do at some level. Does it mean we all become programmers rather than architects and engineers? Could this process can bring out the best in both humans and computers?

What do you think your job could be?

Ceilidh Higgins

 Imaged Credits:
See slideshare presentation for full image credits.


Revit for Interiors – its not perfect

receptionThis post is a follow up to my last post – Do Revit and Interior Design go together? Whilst I totally believe the answer is a resounding yes, and I am a big fan of using Revit for Interior design, there are certainly a few areas where it could be improved.  In my last post I wrote about the benefits you can gain understanding your outputs and from setting up your standards and libraries – both families and materials.  Whilst these will help you make the most of Revit, there is one particular area we can’t completely fix by setup, standards or processes.  This is the way that Revit understands  materials and finishes, and in my view is one of the most significant of Revit’s limitations. I think this is what has hampered its uptake by interior designers.  However, if you understand how Revit ‘thinks’ and you organise your office documentation – you can work around this.  (Autodesk I hope you are reading…improvements for Revit 2017?)

Revit is pretty crude in its understanding of material versus finish. When I talk about material versus finish, I mean a wall is made of plasterboard, but it’s finish is a certain type and colour paint. A material is a piece of stainless steel, it’s finish could be brushed or linished.  Most of the time Revit can’t differentiate between these two concepts. In the materials library, each ‘material’ is both material and finish (or can be). This lack of differentiation is one of the reasons why implementing Revit for interiors can be a challenge – because it simply makes no sense! (And so does not align with how most firms would document)

Why would you have a wall type for every paint colour – well of course you wouldn’t! Revit sort of gets it, this is why the paint tool exists – however it’s a slow and only partial solution.  One of the key things to understand about the paint tool is that it only works for system families – that is walls, floors, ceilings (and I think roofs). Which us a bit crazy really – because I’d more often paint a door than I would a floor.  ***this applies only when you are within a project environment, thanks to Aaron Maller, check the comments section to see how to use the paint tool within families***

So when it comes to doors, casework (joinery) or any family we build – we have to make a decision – are we documenting our door as MDF or are we documenting it as a specific colour MDF? What do we need to show in a rendering and what do we need to schedule? This could be different for different offices, but in terms of managing your materials library, it’s best to agree an office wide standard. In our office, the door material would usually include both the core material and the paint finish, because we have a range of core materials that differ from door to door, and they may not be otherwise detailed. However generally casework either has all the same core material, or we detail the core construction, so we would often just specify the surface material eg laminate or stone facings.

For walls, we generally have a rule that if the wall has an applied finish with thickness it would usually be modeled separately.   So for example wall panels or tiles are modeled as a secondary wall, whereas paint is applied using the paint bucket.  This rule (mostly) works well for interiors, although I know of a few situations where it doesn’t work so well for exterior wall constructions – for example different colours of aluminium panels or different colours of brickwork.  However, we do change the rules for large projects where there are limited wall types and all the tiles are floor to ceiling – then we usually build the tiles as part of the wall types – for these project types and the way we model and document, it is the most efficient way of working for us.   As I said, its really up to you and your office standards as to if you use paint, a new wall type or a separate wall layer – they will have slightly different behaviours when modeling and scheduling, so it depends on what you want as outputs.

***The other important tool to know about is the split face tool.  This allows you to separate sections of wall faces using sketch lines and apply different finishes to each.***

If you are going to use the paint tool, it is quite limiting. You can only apply it in elevation and with out of the box Revit you can also only tag it in elevation.  ARUtils includes a tool which allows you to tag painted items in plan.  I have also had people query how to find the items they have applied paint to – it is annoying but possible by using a materials take off schedule which gives you the option to schedule ‘material as paint’.

Which brings us to creating materials and finishes schedules. Now maybe many of you have got this one figured out by now – but it had me completely baffled for a couple of hours the first time I went to make one – there is no option for a materials schedule? Then someone kindly informed me I needed to use a material take off – even if you don’t want to take off the quantities! (you just don’t include this parameter) The other important difference in setting up a materials schedule is that you use the parameters that start “Material:Keynote” or “Material:Name”. The other parameters in the list are the parameters of the objects themselves and not the materials.

A couple of important last tips on materials schedules – manage your library well and don’t have duplicate items with similar names and the same keynotes – this will save you a lot of time when you are scheduling. Also be aware that there are 2 parts to the materials dialogue box – and one part, the ‘appearance’ tab relates only to rendering – none of the information stored there appears in your Revit schedule (maybe there is an add in to do this? If anyone knows of one, I’d love to know). The data that appears in your schedule is the data under the ‘Identity’ tab – and that’s it. You can’t add extra parameters to materials (again if there is a way, this is something I would really find useful). For this reason, I don’t recommend including your company name in the material name, because then you essentially lose another parameter for scheduling.  ***Again my readers have helped me out on this – you can add extra parameters to materials, you just can’t do it within the materials editor, you have to go to manage->project parameters to add them.  I still wouldn’t recommend including your company name in the material name though***

Finally remember that in order for a material to schedule – it must exist in the project. Be particularly cautious of this if you have a habit of painting one wall to force a colour into the schedule and then you delete it…One solution to this is to use a phase before the demolition phase to create objects with all your materials on them and schedule from here (demolish the objects in the same phase). I find this particularly useful on projects where I need to generate finishes schedules for the client or contractor before the design is fully resolved (and therefore not yet modeled). It can also provide the base place for all of the project users to find the correct materials.

Originally this post was going to be about a few more things…but I have recently been teaching some classes on materials and found I had a lot to say!  So you can look out for another post on Revit and interiors sometime next year.  In the meantime, what are your tips and tricks for best using Revit materials? Do you have those odd door schedules where your doors are made of yourcompanyname_Glass_Clear? Have problems with materials and scheduling them made you give up on Revit? Share your thoughts whilst I take some summer holidays!

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits: DJRD project image

PS. Sorry if you have commented on the last post and it has taken a while for it to appear. I have had some problems with the comments management section of the website.

Do Revit and Interior Design go together?

QUIET ROOM & ENTRY VIEW.2It has always surprised me how low the number of interior design teams using Revit has been – often even not used by interiors teams in large firms where the majority of the architecture projects are being delivered using Revit. For me, Revit has always offered significant benefits to my projects, ever since I made the decision my team would move away from 2D CAD packages and into Revit for all projects back in 2007. That’s right -all projects. I doesn’t matter how big or how small a project, or if there are existing drawings in a 2D CAD format, or even if my new design team doesn’t yet know Revit – all the projects I have lead and worked on for the last 7 years have been primarily designed and documented in Revit. Recently, I’ve been pleased to find more interest in using Revit for interior design with a number of people mentioning to me both in person and on twitter that they want to know more about the benefits of Revit for interiors. So I thought it might be time to write a blog post (which has turned into 2 parts) on the main benefits of using Revit, as well as tips for optimising Revit for interior design teams. Today’s post is focussed more on the information benefits and setup of Revit whilst the next part will discuss Revit as a design and visulisation tool.

The Power of Scheduling
When asked recently on twitter for my number one tip for using Revit for interiors, it was to make use of scheduling. From the very beginning of using Revit it was the scheduling and tagging abilities of Revit that have paid off for my projects. At its most basic, the use of schedules for room areas or workstation numbers saves time every time. Scheduling furniture, fixtures and signage is also a breeze – and even better visually now that Revit 2015 allows us to incorporate images – finally! I am sure this change will play a big part in convincing interior designers to use Revit. Door schedules are great too – although come with their own challenges, as do finishes schedules (material take off in Revit terminology).

Anything you used to schedule in word or excel, you can schedule in Revit, so why type everything twice and risk making mistakes? There are a couple of key issues to be aware of when using Revit for schedules. Firstly you have to remember that your schedule is based on your model – if there is garbage in your model (eg two chairs on top of one another, or chairs off in space), there will be garbage in your schedule. The other is the visibility filters set in the schedule, what is not visible is not counted. If the schedule name is Level 23 Workstation Schedule, but the schedule filter is set to Level 22 then its not of much use (just as if someone accidentally counted off the wrong plan!). Schedules always need to be manually checked when first set up, and then some ongoing common sense checking as the project progresses.

Schedules themselves are also great to help you with checking. I use various kinds of schedules for BCA and GreenStar calculations and checking and even expanded schedules to check filtered or totaled schedules. Taken further schedules can become the basis for Room Data sheets created in excel, word (or other 3d party softwares). For an example using excel you can see my previous post What’s in a Room?

If you are interested in more on Revit Scheduling I have presentation on slide share called Informedesign which is primarily about using Revit and its information (often conveyed via schedules) to support your design process.

At the end of the day, the value of scheduling lies in its ability to free up time to spend more time doing what we love – designing. But before we get to the benefits of Revit in the design process, I will touch on the other key aspect of freeing up your time in Revit – leveraging repaatative content.

Revit loves repetition
Its true, Revit loves repetition. Many people believe that means its not valuable for the one off – but it is and I am going to talk more about that next post. However, as with scheduling you use Revit’s power of repetition to free up your time to focus on the one off items and area, because that is where we should focus our efforts as designers.

Two areas of Revit are key for repetition, families and groups. Families are discussed further below as part of your libraries but groups should also form part of your strategy for repetition. I’ve written extensively before about groups – so once you have got the basics of this post, you can go read more about groups here.

Building your generic library
Interior designers and BIM managers alike are often dismayed by the thought of modeling everything in an interior design project (or even worse – by starting to think about what could go into a every project), every piece of furniture  and every material known to man. The answer to this dilemma – is that you don’t necessarily have to. If its your first Revit project and your aim isn’t to deliver a full BIM project then don’t try to – you will overwhelm yourself and struggle to deliver. Start off with a little and build up over time. Focus initially on two areas, one is the more generic content and the other is the areas where Revit assists your design thinking.

By generic content, I mean the components you use most frequently in projects. This will differ depending upon your firm, the types of projects you do and the types of 3d imagery you need to output. For me, primarily I am designing workplace and educational projects. My basic set of generic content therefore includes task seating, a few different lounge, meeting and cafe seating styles and a couple of shapes and styles of tables with easy to modify sizes and bases. At its most basic joinery and equipment may start out as a family that just contains a box.

Focus on your outputs.  If all you are producing is 1:100 test fit planning – you are wasting time modeling every cupboard and agonising over what each chair looks like. As long as you have your plan objects looking right, you can produce your deliverables (and schedule too). Over time you can start to develop your 3D detail or information for different areas over time depending upon your design stages and outputs. For example, while we will end up modeling the casework in a store room eventually (in order to document it), we probably won’t look at it in anything other than plan until quite late in the project (or you might never even need to). By contrast, the 3D development of key spaces such as reception will begin much earlier and may include more specific furniture, joinery and finishes even from the very first presentations. Workstation areas would be likely to be in between. We model almost everything in 3D, so we can create massing type images and flythroughs, it is then the level of detail that differs across the objects in different areas. This also helps to contribute to a more sketchy feel earlier in the design process (as do the new 2015 sketchy lines).

I would also say, don’t rule out using supplier content but don’t rely on it exclusively. For anything you are going to use over and over again, you can start from a supplier family but make sure you do some sort of QA to determine if its suitable for your ways of using it – for me key things are that it is the right way around (all Hermans Millers chairs are backwards) and that is has a 3d plan component to it so it will represent as white in views with colour schedules applied. Beyond that I may also go further with replacing parameters and materials if my uses for it require this. (eg for scheduling) Its great to see the range of furniture and fixtures available as Revit families are growing – examples currently available include Haworth, Steelcase, Caroma and Britex (you can find a good starting list here at IGS website).

The other key part of your generic content is materials. It much more efficient to have a library and templates that already contain basic finishes such as white powedercoat, black laminate or stainless steel complete with information and keynotes that then doesn’t need to be recreated in every project. Again supplier sources such as Dulux free Colour Atlas for Revit app or RTV’s Revit Paint (which includes Dulux, Resene and more) can also help build up your material options quickly.

Next post I will talk more about Revit materials and finishes as well as how to use Revit to power your interior design process, but also about some of the limitations of Revit for interiors (Autodesk hope you will be reading!). In the meantime, are you using Revit for interior design? What are your tips? Or is your firm starting to think about it? What makes you hesitate? Are you just starting out with Revit for interiors? What’s driving you batty? (because Revit does do that too, even to me some days!)

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits:  DJRD current project image, rendering straight from Revit.

Big data at the intersection of building analytics and people analytics

buildings with peopleImagine if you could simulate your building or workplace environment before you built it – not just simulating energy usage or daylighting – but creating a simulation of how the people would behave and work inside your space. And not just a generic sample population, but your actual workforce in a simulation that knows and understands their actual behaviours. Before investing in bricks and mortar (or tables and chairs) – you could test numerous design scenarios and their impact upon not only how the building itself operates, but also how the occupants respond, their use of space, their interactions with one another and more. How would this change the way we design, the way we build and possibly the way we all work?

Many people would think this sounds pretty far fetched, futuristic and certainly a little bit big brother. The reality is that we actually have both the information and the technology available to do this – right now in 2014. Today I’m going to talk about why we would want to look at simulating human behaviour in the built environment and what this could mean for design, as well as discuss the types of data analysis and technologies from different fields that I believe could be brought together to make this kind of simulation of the built environment possible.

My background is in workplace and educational design. A large workplace is probably one of the most complex environments in which to try to predict and understand human behaviour. Unlike a restaurant, a shopping centre or a train station, it is designed to have a large number of diverse activities taking place. Whilst at the same time – and I know this sounds a little strange – there is actually less of a clearly defined purpose in being in a workplace than in many other kinds of enivonrment. Different individuals have different purposes in being there, because they enjoy their work, to socialise or to earn money are just a few. An opposite example of a much more simplified purpose of space would be in a cinema – where almost everyone is in the space for one purpose, which is to see a movie (although they may have different motivations for seeing the movie). In the workplace, because there are so many different activities and behaviours, finding patterns to predict how people work – and even understanding what improves their work is more complex.

The holy grail of workplace design is to be able to prove that certain design elements increase productivity. Most researchers agree that it has historically been almost impossible to measure productivity in knowledge or service oriented workplaces, which today make up the bulk of first world workplaces. We can however measure a lot of approximations of productivity – or things that we expect to have a close correlation with productivity – things such as staff retention, absenteeism or self reported satisfaction and comfort levels. This kind of data is readily available.

Another key issue in workplace design centres around the actual useage of space. Real estate is a significant business cost (though much less significant than the people cost) During the design phase of any project there is great debate over wdifferent kinds of spaces and how and if they will get used. Do we allocate individual offices to sit empty, will staff actually use that large breakout space, will that training room sit empty for half the year? From the workplace designer through to the facilities manager and the CEO, the ability to simulate occupant behaviour in the workplace has a huge potential to impact upon what and how we design our workplaces. To me this could be the next significant game changer in workplace design and productivity.

It’s being made possible by big data. In the past, we have not had access to enough information about either building systems or occupant behaviours to be able to simulate these kinds of complex environments. There is software that can simulate human behaviour – and it has been around for more than 20 years. Commonly used software that simulates vehicular and pedestrian behaviour or fire engineering modelling is all simulation software which is based upon predicting human behaviour. However, the difference between these previous software models, and predicting behaviour of occupants of a workplace or other complex building type is the complexity of the human interactions. Human behaviour in a fire situation or within a train station environment is much simpler than in a workplace. There are less possibilities because of the limited scenario, and also we are essentially only tracking one variable – movement. Workplace design has made very limited to use of this kind of simulation, for example Google campus at Mountainview has been designed to ensure that all staff are within 2 and a half minutes walk of each other. Movement within the workplace, or other building types, is a pretty simple and limiting factor to use to test and simulate our designs. Big data, and in particular, combining information from the fields known as Building Analytics and People Analytics, could give us the opportunity to feed a huge range of different kinds of building and human behaviour data into a simulated building model.

Building Analytics is currently seen as the next big thing in building and asset management as well as an important factor for environmentally sustainable buildings. Probably most people in this room have at least some familiarity with this field. In the past, data gathered from buidling tuning or the BMS was more limited and unlikely to be in real time. However this has been changing. Building managers can now have real time access to a range of data – from factors such as which lights or appliances are in use, to the temperature, CO2 and VOC levels, heat or movement maps of actual occupation coming through motion or heat sensors, lifts that track occupant destinations or individuals movement through security systems via access cards or CCTV. Many of these systems are already commonly available in any new large commercial development. Facilities managers and building owners are using them to understand and predict occupant behaviours in relation to building systems. Historical data from the same systems can then be combined with real time data to predict or simulate things like building energy usage in a given period or what the impact of certain weather conditions might be on occupant comfort.

This type of building analytics does take into occupant behaviours, but only at a very simple level, things like is the space occupied or not occupied – because this is key information for the running of building services such as lighting and air conditioning. Whilst this data is firstly being used to control the systems and secondly to predict building performance it also provides us with real time reliable data on occupied versus unoccupied space. The ability to use web based booking systems for rooms or desks was the first step that created some kind of data around anticipated space usage, but it wasn’t real usage data, only a prediction of usage. Today BMS data can be combined with this kind of booking system, and it is possible to not only track advance bookings but real time actual usage – if someone doesn’t turn up to use the booked space it can be reallocated to somebody else. Whilst this kind of information can help manage a building it doesn’t predict behaviours or improve occupant performance.

This is where People Analytics can start to work with building analytics to create a fuller picture of how space is actually being used, and what this means for the occupants.

So what is people analytics? People analytics looks at data generated by people and companies rather than data generated by building systems. It is a growing field of social science with implications in particular for human resources and recruitment – and in my view for designers. People anayltics starts to look at and analyse any available kind of data in order to find patterns and understand human behaviours – its anthropology using computer generated information. Today, data generated by people can include anything from emails, to social media usage, to bluetooth and movement tracking, voice recordings, computer data logs, organisational plans, charts and documents or google searches. If you think about your electronic footprint, even without anyone planning on tracking what you do, there is a lot out there. The more we use the web or cloud based services, the more data exists about our habits, our performance or our personalities. In the past the quantities of data have been so much smaller, that there was not sufficient amounts of data to generate patterns or the computing power to crunch it. Today there is.

By analysing huge amounts of historical data it is possible to identify patterns or characteristics of certain groups of people, or how to predict or promote certain behaviours. Once the historic data set has been created, it is then possible to analyse data of new people to identify who fits the patterns. We still don’t always know what the data can mean on its own though. One of my personal favourite odd ball data correlations is that super guru computer programmers apparently have a tendency to like a certain Japanese manga website! You can see the applications to recruitment and HR immediately.

Another fun example of the use of large samples of aggregate data is the Twitter happiness index. This website analyses the use of certain words on Twitter every day since 2008. Words are assigned values from 1 to 9 to signify sad to happy. The overall happiness score for each day is then calculated and graphed. There are also Twitter election indexes, oscar indexes and many more aimed at trying to predict outcomes based upon twitter traffic. Elections polling has been a high profile example demonstrating people analytics to the public. In the 2012 US presidential election, big data was used by a number of forecasters to accurately predict the results in all 51 states. These are all examples of different uses of people analytics.

But how does all of this relate to buildings, and workplaces in particular?

Lets start with a really simply example of using other kinds of data in combination with building systems data which was undertaken by Immersive, a big data company based in Melbourne, Australia. By taking the historic heat sensor data from a workplace BMS and analysing it against the organisation’s project planning data for the same time period, it was possible to determine what the actual space usage and occupancy loads had been over the period compared to the predicted project staffing levels. Using the same forward project planning data, it was then possible to predict the organisations actual future space needs. Whilst this takes into account some level of occupant behaviour – space occupancy – again its a single variable, where we are still looking at physical space more than actual occupant behaviours.

But what if we could take multiple kinds of data – data that is more specifically tracking behaviours in the specific context of the workplace? And not just data about electronic interactions – what if we can gather the same types and quantities of data about our face to face interactions as our electronic interactions? In analyising workplace productivity, this tracking of real time physical interactions is important – because in most companies, much of the informal collaboration still happens face to face. The theory is that in organisations where knowledge work is undertaken, social networks define how information is transferred informally across the organisation, and that this informal sharing is creating a transfer of knowledge. This new knowledge then has a significant influence on how the work gets done and therefore on productivity – kind of like how you learn just as much by going for drinks at RTC as you do in the presentations – people are sharing what they already know.

If organisations can find ways to firstly understand these social collaborative networks and then secondly promote them, social scientists believe that the organisations productivity can be enhanced. The office space itself then becomes one means of modifying social behaviours in order to promote certain kinds of interactions. But how to collect information on face to face interactions – we are not all going to suddenly start skyping the person sitting next to us.

Enter the sociometric badge. Developed by a team at MIT, this device contains a number of sensors. An IR transreciver allows the devices to sense one another, bluetooth records their physical location in space, an accelerometer can figure out if you are sitting or standing and a microphone detects audio. Right now this device is approximately the size of your building access card although slightly thicker and can be worn around your neck. In the future your smart phone will probably be able to track all of this anyway – its actually already got almost all of the same sensors. The sociometric badges have been used to track and record the behaviour of building occupants in a number of studies investigating the way we work. The outcomes have been published in a great book called “People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business and What It Tells Us about the Future of Work” by Ben Waber.

One of the interesting things is that the microphone doesn’t even record what you actually say. It records things like tone, change in volume and speaking speed – which are considered social signals, and which are in fact more important in our face to face interactions than the words we actually speak. Early tests in laboratory environments included speed dating and salary negotiation simulations. Computers were able to predict outcomes with over 85% accuracy based upon 5 minutes or less of these recorded social signals.

These devices have since been utilised in a variety of actual real workplace studies. So far sociometric badging has found that call centre productivity is enhanced when team members take breaks together and that the amount of time spent interacting and the amount of physical movement are god predictors of creative days.

These studies, and most in the book, are based around understanding and modifying behaviours rather than modifying environments, but as any architect or designer knows, if you modify the environment, you have the opportunity to modify the behaviours. One of the studies of most interest to us, looking at how changing physical space impacts on occupant behaviours, was a study which investigated the size of lunch tables in a workplaces cafe spaces. Using data from the sociometric badges within an online travel company, it was found that staff that sat at larger lunch tables were more productive. Within the existing office environment there were 2 different spaces staff could choose to eat lunch – one had small tables for 4 people, and the other larger tables seating up to 12 (or they could chose to eat by themselves at their desk). The data quickly showed that the people who ate lunch together would then tend to communicate further that day. The staff that sat at the larger tables were more likely to speak with others outside of the group they had arranged to lunch with, and formed larger conversational groups at the lunch tables. These wider lunch time conversations led to links and collaborations in the organisation that were not otherwise being formed. These links were part of the knowledge sharing that led to greater productivity.

In another MIT project, the cubicles themselves were equipped with sensors so both the office environment and the people within it were being analysed. The cubicles were fitted with blinds instead of typical workstation cubicle screens, in order to provide privacy or allow collaboration. Based upon the collaborations that the data had identified as being most beneficial, the automated blinds would open or close overnight. In this way the building itself can even automatically respond to data analysis.

Often, the data coming out of these studies is not surprising the social scientists or the building designers. What is is doing though, is proving things we know instinctively, the things we have seen work before.

When you think about this information about your day, what you do, where you go and who you talk to is then combined with your electronic footprint, the information about your colleagues and then possibly also the building data – its a pretty full story of what happens inside a given workplace or building in a day. The possibilities for analysis and experimentation will be endless. Why is this so important to design and construction though? So far this is all about modifying existing environments. Being able to test and prove what works is the next step.

In an example that initially does not seem to be related to physical space, but to health, the sociometric badge data is combined with data about how disease spreads. The impact of sickness on the work environment, the interactions and the productivity can then be simulated across a range of scenarios with different people being the disease originator and different simulated responses such as stay home versus solider on being tested. One suggested solution to minimise spread of disease was to change the regular seating layout, which has the effect of reducing the level of interactions between people who already knew each other.

Moving into the not so distant future – there is no reason why the possibilities of physical environments could not be tested inside a BIM, with the algorithms behind the behaviours of the sims being developed from these kinds of behavioral data sets. We have the technology available to us already.

While this isn’t about BIM as we know it today, the link between the the building model and the simulations is obvious. But will architectural practices embrace these technologies or will this lead to another new kind of consultant in our team?

Imagine the value of the design and simulation team who can prove to the client organisation that workplace productivity could be enhanced simply by working with them? Translate that to all kinds of building typologies – and the whole definition if what architecture is or could be may change. Perhaps big data is going to have an even more significant impact on change in our industry than BIM, in ways we haven’t even imagined yet.

Ceilidh Higgins

This blog is the text from my presentation at RTC North America last month, as part of the session BIMx: Big ideas around big data.  I had a great time over there and attended some excellent classes.  If you are in Europe, RTC will be in Dublin later in the year.

Image Credits: Via Flickr Creative Commons
Big Buildings
The New York Times on the New Art of Flikr

Social media for architects and interior designers

The Art of Social Media by mkhmarketing, on FlickrContinuing on from my last post on My favourite apps for busy consultants, as promised, today I am going to share with you some of the social media sites and apps I use.  I’ve heard its best to focus on a couple of sites, rather than try and maintain a social media presence on every site. As you get comfortable with one, you add another. For me, the main platforms I have used are LinkedIn and my own blog, although I have recently branched out into Twitter and Pinterest (and I exist on Google Plus but don’t really use it).  All of these sites I use on my PC as well as on my iphone and ipad.

For me, social media is something I use professionally, and not in my personal life at all, so one big absence you will notice from this list is Facebook. I’ve been considering setting one up recently, as I have heard Facebook is becoming more of a business site rather than just a place to share your personal life with the world. I’d be interested to hear what you think of Facebook and if you use it for any professional purposes.

I’ve been using LinkedIn actively for quite a few years now. I started out one quiet January in a competition with a colleague to see who could get the most new connections by the end of the month – with the condition that you had to met the person in person.  Today I now have some connections I haven’t met in person, but through my online activities, however, I still use LinkedIn primarily for keeping in touch with industry friends and colleagues.  The ability to maintain current contact details for people I see infrequently in many different cities has been a fantastic use for LinkedIn over the years.

I’m always looking for more ways to use LinkedIn than as just an address book though.  I’ve always been keen to populate my profile with images, slides or other media features (the options for which are frequently changing). When I was job hunting last year I spent a bit if time learning about optimizing my profile for search hits – which does seem to be something you can work with for recruiters but I’m not sure how useful it is for anything else yet. At this point in time, I can’t say I have found LinkedIn to be a particularly useful tool for finding new business as a corporate interior designer – but I think there could be possibilities in future.

I’ve also tried to think of ways to use LinkedIn to get my network working for me. Posting up that I was looking for a designer clock one day met with some success – quite a few options saved me some time trawling the web.

Primarily these days I use LinkedIn to find and share blogs as well as publicizing my own blog. I am a member of quite a few groups and subscribe to daily or weekly digests of group activity. I usually scan these at breakfast and then save to my safari reading list the posts I want to read later – and which if I like, I will then share with my network. I also use the groups to share my new blog posts with readers outside of my own network. Having recently signed up for Twitter, it’s great that I can share something on LinkedIn and have it automatically post also to Twitter.

You can find me on LinkedIn at, but if you are going to send me an invitation, include a message with why you want to connect as I don’t accept invitations unless I know why you are interested in connecting.

I have only recently signed up for Twitter, and it’s certainly a platform I feel like I’m still getting to know. Like LinkedIn, I use it to find news and blogs and to share what I am reading or writing. Additionally I have been using it to share comments live about events I have been attending. I know some people also use it to have conversations with other Twitter users, but I haven’t really used it that way much so far (though I’m definitely considering the possibilities for making customer complaints – I have heard AutoDesk are most responsive via Twitter). Next weekend you will find me tweeting from TEDx.

The biggest difference I have found between Twitter and LinkedIn, is that mostly on Linkedin you talk to and share with people you know (except in groups) whereas on Twitter you can follow anyone, anyone can see what you tweet and you might have many followers who don’t know you personally. People might retweet and favourite your tweets based upon using either twitter handles – this is basically your user name, mine is @ceilidhhiggins, (themidnightlunch was too many characters) – or by using hashtags (the # symbol in front of a word). I don’t totally get hashtags yet, but don’t let that stop you using Twitter – apparently few people do. But basically the hashtags allow you to categorise a tweet so other people might find it when searching.

Also, don’t let the somewhat strange idea of the 140 character message stop you from signing up for Twitter. You don’t have to Tweet at all you can just read other tweets, and many tweets actually contain links to blogs and websites. You can now also include images in your tweets too. But of course if images are your main thing there are better sites for that such as Instagram, Tumblr (both of which I don’t use) and Pinterest – which I do.

I signed up for a Pinterest account about a year ago, but I’ve only just started to use it. Again for me,  it’s a professional tool rather than something centred around my personal interests.  A lot of people are using Pinterest as part of hobbies and home renovations as well as professionally. All you will find on my Pinterest right now is one board (find me as Ceilidh Higgins) – which is inspiration images for a current project – I do also have some current projects set up as secret boards too.  This way  you can chose if you share your boards with everyone or just with people you invite.

I generally find the images in the same way I would have before – via google searches or specific architecture and interior design websites and then use the Pinterest bookmarklet tool to save them to my boards. I share the boards with the project team so everyone can view and add images – wherever they are. It’s a great way to communicate ideas with remote team members.

I have also convinced my office to start setting up an account – we are in the eary days of adding images and haven’t yet made them public boards.  It’s certainly a much quicker way to get images of our recent projects out there than a traditional website update. Our practice boards will only be used to display our own work – the Pinterest terms on intellectual property seem to be a potential minefield for companies and we wouldn’t want to be accidentally infringing other practices or their photographers intellectual property or suggesting their works were our own.

If you want more on social media for architects and interior designers, I recently listened to a great podcast from The Business of Architecture, Enoch Sears interviews Aurora Meneghello the Director of Marketing for Novedge (an architecture software company) on social media – and there is also a prior interview on marketing as well as many other resources (including an ebook on social media which I haven’t read yet).

Finally for me the last social media platform is of course this blog, but I’ll save some further chat on that for another day!

What social media tools do you use as an architect, interior designer or consultant? Is social media useful as a means of keeping in touch with your clients – or do you use it more for industry networking? Do you have any ideas on how architects or interior designers can use social media as part of their design process? Or for business development? And finally, should I get a Facebook page?

Image Credits:

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  mkhmarketing 

The Midnight Lunch: My favourite apps for busy consultants

toddler apps by jenny downing, on Flickr

A few people have commented to me recently on the number of apps on my iphone and ipad or have told me they are unsure how to use their ipad for business and which apps to use. So I have put together my recommendations – and most of them are around organsing yourself, communication and business rather than specifically interior design or architecture – and so are equally useful for engineers, real estate or project management professionals.   While I’m talking specifically ipad as thats the platform I use, most of these apps are available android as well.  Where I’ve mentioned them, prices are the USD prices on the itunes store.  You will notice I’veexcluded all the social media apps from this post.  While social media and apps go very much together, I am writing my next post as a follow up to go into more more detail about social media for designers and architects.

Evernote is one of my favourite apps for so many things. Evernote is designed as a digital notebook library. You keep notes in notebooks. Notebooks can be sorted out into groups to easily separate them. Notes can be words, images taken with your device camera, snippets captured from the web or even recordings. The notes can be tagged and can be searched for words they contain (think like having google for your notebook). You can share notebooks and you can have a business account too. You can have Evernote on all your devices and on your desktop PC, and you can access it via the web. Supposedly (and I would agree  having experienced this), Evernote gets more useful the more you have stored there – because you really then benefit from its power to find things. I use Evernote with a premium subscription (for more space) for work, blogging and research and personally too (its great for your tax return). A great example of how I use it for work is an event like InDesign, a big trade show. During the day I take photos and make notes for each suppliers showroom or stand I visit. I tag the notes with “lounge”, “planting”, “lighting” and things like that. Later in the office when I am looking for planting ideas, I can filter the notes by tag and find all the notes I have made (in the past 2 years!) related to planting ideas. It’s amazing. If you want to know more, there are some great books out there plus lots of blogs, websites etc with tips. If you are really interested in how I am using it, let me know – I could easily write a whole post on it.

Evernote Hello
So I’m not quite finished with Evernote yet. There are a large number of apps that work alongside Evernote for added functionality and one I use is Evernote Hello. Hello allows you to scan and store your business cards as records in your Evernote account. You can make notes on where you met people and add links to their social media at the same time as you add them into the app. You can search within the Hello app or later in Evernote. Because you can make notes and in Evernote you can add reminders, you can also use it as a basic client relationship management software.

Remember the Milk
One feature I don’t use much in Evernote is the reminders. This is because for many years (even before iphone) I have used Remember the Milk. Like Evernote its available on multiple platforms (However only with the ability to sync between them all if you pay for a premium subscription), you can also share lists (I haven’t personally tried this feature). RTM allows you to create multiple lists (for example I have one for work and one for personal, plus a few more specific ones), set prioritys and deadline times, send reminders (you phone moos!) and set location. It can now also be linked to Evernote (I just set this up yesterday) as well as google, outlook and a whole host of other platforms.

I spent ages looking for an excel app and tried at least half a dozen. My advice – give up and go tablet native with Numbers, Apples own spreadsheet app. It costs $10.49 but its worth it. Its so easy to navigate, creating and formating spreadsheets is so much easier with this app than with the apps that try to mimic your PC. And compatibility with Excel seems to be pretty good, I’ve been using some pretty complex spreadsheets back and forth and they seem to be OK (Formatting, formulas and multiple sheets included).

Dragon Dictation
This is an awesome app. Turn your iphone into a dictaphone, as as you record it types. Its not 100% accurate, but its not bad. I use it sometimes for blogging and also on site for recording defects.

This is my go to for a PDF reader, there are free ones, but at $5.49 I have been happy to pay for the extra functionality and useability of Goodreader – I’ve been using it for over 2 years now. It opens up your PDFs, allows you to sort them into folders and annotate them. One thing I like is that your PDFs in Goodreader are stored on your device, not on the cloud, so you don’t need wifi to open them up. I use this for everything from drawings, to meeting minutes, to programs. The day I realised my ipad was super useful for work beyond just the internet, was when I sat in an airport lounge marking up drawings that had just been emailed to me. I use a stylus pen for marking up in goodreader.

OneDrive and Dropbox
I have both – too much cloud strorage is never enough. Both OneDrive and Dropbox allow you to store your files in the cloud instead of on your hard drive. You can download the apps to access your files from your mobile devices and you can install on your PC to save files directly to the cloud. Both give you a certain amount of free storage with bonus storage available by installing apps, recommending to friends or purchasing a premium subscription.

Flipboard and Feedly
Flipboard and Feedly are both RSS readers with beautiful magazine style formatting. This means you can add all the blogs you follow as well as online magazines and social media.  The app has built in recommendations you can pick from too (for example under Architecture Arch Daily).  The app then builds you a magazine with a mix of articles from your selected sites. Flipboard gives you a separate magazines for each feed (site) which I don’t like (it used to be able to integrate with Googlereader to give you one magazine only). I just went back to Feedly again which seems to have developed a bit more since I originally joined last year and I’m going to see how that goes.

Project Management Systems – Acconex, Conject etc
They seem to be something we all have to live with these days. For me personally being on the interior design side, I find PM systems seem to be a lot of work with very little project benefit, but hopefully the PMs get some benefits out if them. Anyway most of the systems have an app,so that at a minimum you can read and send messages on the go. The Aconex app for ipad seems to have pretty full functionality, I am able to upload documents while I am out an about.

This is a great little scanning app – it works better than a photo because it takes 3 photos and adjusts out the fuzziness and converts it to a PDF.  I find it worth the $2.99 I paid.

This app allows you to run your PowerPoints from your ipad. You can choose if you want to view your slides full screen or with speaker notes and you can set it up also on your phone and use your phone to control the slides remotely. Whilst there were no compatibility issues with displaying PowerPoint, you can’t edit PowerPoints on this app. Maybe I will have to switch to keynote…

Bluebeam Vu
I haven’t personally used this app but one of the guys in the office has assured me it’s awesome for defects. You can take photos, annotate them and link the to locations on a PDF of the floor plan. Bluebeam Vu is free and then you can upgrade to Bluebeam Revue (not sure what the features for that are)  It’s the next app I’ll be testing.

I have had a kindle for ages, however when I first bought it there were a lot of architecture and design books I would still buy in hard copy – black and white for images was not really worthwhile. However, now I get these books delivered to my ipad and read them using the kindle app. It syncs with your kindle and your amazon account and the images look great on ipad.

This app allows you to remotely view your PC screen. Create an account, Install it on your PC and on your ipad and you can view your PC screen on your ipad. Pretty cool…but clunky to use. Good really for quick changes to word documents or emailing or moving files to the cloud. Free for personal use.

Facetime and Skype
Especially if you need to contact people overseas, both Facetime and Skype are great simple to use apps for making video calls over the web. Yes, sometimes they drop out – but hey it’s free.

Unroll me
This is not an app but it’s a super useful service I discovered recently. You sign up and it scans your email account for subscription services. Then you choose which ones to “roll up” into a daily digest, and at the same time, easily unsubscribe from any you don’t want anymore. It then sends you one email per day at a time of your choosing for all your ‘rolled up’ emails.  I have all my linkedin subscription emails arrive just before breakfast instead of getting 20 or more scattered throughout the day.

So there you have it – my favourite apps. I’m always on the look out for new ones, what are your favourite apps to use to keep you working whilst out and about or make your work life easier?

P.S. Come Out to (Midnight) Lunch. Meet fellow The Midnight Lunch readers at an informal industry event to be held next Friday 11 April from 5.30pm at Chicane bar in Sydney (10-20 Bond St). Email me at if you are interested in attending or just turn up on the day.  Note the event is not sponsered, buy your own drinks and food. 


Image Credits:

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jenny downing