Category Archives: Technology

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 https://www.flickr.com/photos/neilarmstrong2/5480543083/
The New York Times on the New Art of Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/2442371176/

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.

LinkedIn
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 au.linkedin.com/in/ceilidhhiggins, 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.

Twitter
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.

Pinterest
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
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.

Numbers
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.

Goodreader
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.

Turboscan
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.

Slideshark
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.

Kindle
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.

Teamviewer
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 ceilidh@themidnightlunch.com 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 

Social media – design collaboration via digital means?

Water cooler by Jason Pratt, on FlickrIn my last role I used to spend a lot of time working with remote teams – often remote from me and sometimes from each other. Over time I realised that one of the biggest challenges in working this way was the lack of informal “overheard” conversations. For example I might be briefing one person in the team on a task but start talking generally about how the meeting I had that day went, someone else in the team sitting near by might overhear and join the conversation with a new idea. This lack of proximity and informal collaboration is also a traditional problem in the relationship between interior designers or architects and engineers. The question is, is it possible to replicate this casual form of interaction digitally?

Social media is frequently described as the new water cooler, just one recent example can be found here. HP’s internal social media platform was also called WaterCooler.  Although I have to say – the image I found looks just the opposite doesn’t it – and I’ve always found coffee to be more popular than water! Regardless of your drink preference, is social media the current or future digital means for casual work interactions and collaboration though?

Personally, I found social media useful on certain occasions – I became the first person in my company to post my redundancy on yammer the internal network – for me this meant a lot of people found out in hours rather than weeks (and I also had posted personal contact details).  However on a day to day basis it wasn’t a tool I used extensively. I found instant messaging to be much more useful, but the limitation is that it is generally a one on one conversation. The guy that sits next to me can’t overhear and put his 2 cents in (this privacy is in fact often becomes the reason people chose messaging as the means of communication).

However, I still don’t believe that social media can completely replace the informal, overheard, in person element of communication. Firstly by typing something into a social media site it is much more of a deliberate sharing action. Secondly I find that people are less likely to respond. If I speak to you in person or on the phone you are more likely to say something than in front of a large meeting. If I instant message you rather than email you, you are more likely to respond partially because of that annoying flashing but also just social convention. If I post something on social media (or to this blog!) it has become a combination of email and the large meeting – for most of us it becomes too public, too deliberate and just too much effort to respond with a comment. Perhaps partially because we know that if we start commenting on everything we will be there all day – and maybe no one will notice – unlike if we spend all day at the water cooler or coffee shop!

I think the issue of informal communications and collaborations remains a challenge to be solved in order to fully realize the benefits of working remotely and globally. I started to think about the part that videoconferencing could play in this and then I came across this suggestion:

“One fix, he suggested, could be a screen set up in your office space that shows a colleague who is working somewhere else. It could enable the types of informal conversations that often lead to fruitful ideas, and maybe “frost up and go into privacy mode” when that person takes a meeting or a phone call.”

This came from yet another blog on the workplace of the future, but its certainly the first time I’ve seen this suggestion (and I do have quite a lot of time to read blogs right now…hey its research for you right?) http://www.eweek.com/mobile/intel-offers-an-image-of-the-workplace-of-the-future/

I started thinking about this one, maybe this means the whole office will become like a giant telepresence room where half the office is a mirror image of somewhere else. Or maybe through one window we see one place (say Perth) and through another we see another place (the engineers down the road). For anyone not familiar with telepresence – right now its typically limited to meeting rooms.  Traditionally you have 2 identical rooms, each one is only half a table though, the other side is a video screen. Its still pretty expensive so not that commonly installed. The technology has been around since about 2006 but doesn’t seem to have made much impact – probably due to the cost and the need for the 2 identical locations.

Today I found another alternative on – that holograms will be the next big thing.  (though I do admit this was posted to you tube in 2010 so obviously I’m behind the times)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAIDXzv_fKA
Maybe we all sit in different places but have our holograms working in a shared project office?  This hologram would seem to have more potential as an architectural or engineering collaboration tool. because not only can we share ourselves, we can share our models as holograms too.

All of this moves away from social media as a solution, and back towards physical solutions – even if they are driven by technology, they are still attempting to replicate a physical environment. Do we need a physical environment to collaborate best or is social media already taking over and replacing this? Will this perhaps change as the workplace demographics change?

What is your experience worth social media in the workplace? Do you think social media is the new water cooler? What are your success stories (or horror stories) of using social media for collaboration in interior design or architecture? Do you want your engineers (or interior designers or architects) right there with you? If we were having this conversation in person would you comment?

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