Construction and Renovation

Design & Planning; Computer vs. Hand Drawn

Computer Aided Drawing (CAD), it's time to get with the program

I've been struggling with my concept drawings more and more over the last couple of years. As clients become less visual there is a greater need to provide clear visual aid. Where I used to be able to sketch representations by hand or describe a plan verbally walking around the home or yard I find myself falling behind the times. There is no question that a visual representation shows the client you understand their needs and gives them the confidence to sign the contract. More important is a clear visual representation of what you intend to build or what the client wants built.

I took drafting in high school. I've always been good with plans and architectural drawings. I worked in commercial land development for a number of years reading prints and working with engineers. Unfortunately it's seldom in the budget to spend much time or resources on a great elaborate plan for a residential project. So when I draw a plan for a client it's usually to scale and carefully detailed but it's basic- and sometimes rough. And then there are the changes, erasing and redrawing or white out, it can get pretty ugly. I fooled around with color but I find black and white works just as well.

But have you seen a good computer aided drawing? It's the closest thing to the real thing without being a photograph. 

I've tried to implement a program called Sketch Up a handful of times. It's usually the middle of the busy season and time is my limiting factor. I get frustrated or fall behind and resort to the reliable pencil and paper to quickly turn out a design.

I'm committing to Sketch Up once and for all!

I met a handful of contractors at a Boston area networking event last night and one of the big take aways was their use of computer aided drawings. It was a staple in all of their projects. They create a design and it includes all of the measurements and specs. They give a copy to the homeowner and a copy goes to each of the guys on the ground. Everyone involved understands the project because they have a picture of it, even before the shovel hits the dirt. 

So while I wait for my old 2013 version of Sketch Up to update I thought I'd share my fear and excitement as I try to update my own skills and practices. Plus if I put it out here in the internet world I feel more accountable to stick with it despite any frustration or excuses I may find in weakness as I reach back to the pencil and paper. 

- It's finished updating, better get to work!

Scratch that, after multiple attempts to open the program and even restart the laptop there is nothing happening... Not a good start.

So after switching computers, I'm at the desktop and so far so good! I'm afraid to spend too much time on any of my clients' designs at the risk of losing inspiration, so I'm going to start with something that exists. I'll start with the barn, it's a box, simple enough right?

I found myself getting hung up on details like soffit returns and plant material. The actual barn has pigeon coop returns and not having the skill to represent that in Sketch Up was frustrating. But overall I think the representation is accurate and plant material is irrelevant in this example.

I sent a picture of the barn rendering to my good friend Justin Miner, owner of Gain Strength & Conditioning in Portsmouth. He seemed impressed so I said, "I'll draw your place next."

And so I did. Gain is in an industrial park in south Portsmouth so exterior details weren't a problem this time. Keep in mind that while I know the measurements for my barn, the gym was a lot of guess work and so is not correctly scaled.

I got the gym drawn up much faster than the barn, so I decided to practice a little concept drawing (the whole reason I'm doing this anyway) and add the loft space Justin has been dreaming about for the last few months. Originally he envisioned a space above his current office but using the tools of Sketch Up I found that space above his office is limited due to the slope of the roof. I slid the loft over, moved a door and added a stair case and BOOM! In no time the idea was drawn.

Copying a structure or landscape that already exists is tough, but conceptualizing is awesome! As I worked through the gym I found myself using tools and features almost instinctively. Moving on to designing something new like the loft space was using those same tools to pull what I had in my head and apply it to the design image. 

I cannot wait to continue practicing and designing features for my clients in their homes and landscapes.