1 – 2 :: DesignProject : : the harnessing of a new tool

1 – 2          a Report from the field…..

Under the topic of DesignProjects, this one almost doesn’t qualify. It was what I call a ‘Hit & Run’ project. A montreal client with buildings in Montreal and Ottawa, had been finalising a new tenancy for the Ottawa property. The tenant, a non-profit  NGO (non-government organisation) with an international presence needed assistance in doing a ‘fitability study’ – well, that’s my term for it. Given that they had a staff of 13 and presently occupy the full three floors of an old heritage class rowhouse, the question was, how might they fit in a new space, in an old building, with no private offices, all open space.

My mandate was to interview them, take inventory of furniture, etc., establish a needs analysis and then visit the client’s  building to view, measure and generally assist in design coordination.

Arriving at the appointed time the tenant coordinator and myself started by doing a walkthrough of their current offices. Following is an account of the first-time use of a new design tool, how it helped, how it was difficult and the overall progression of the project development.

The new tool?  – iPad – believe it or not.
Yes – many think of it as a gadget……suppose in many ways it is – or it certainly can be.

But me? I’ve been intrigued with the idea of using tablets in design for a decade at least….. and a big part of the reason why I acquired one to determine if it might be a useful tool.

A couple of years ago, while as Sr Design Manager at Marriott Hotels,  we had a project come in. The Marriott in downtown Des Moines needed to undergo a complete ‘rooms re-do’- along with all elevator lobbies and corridors – over 25 floors.  The project was assigned to my team, and on a Tuesday afternoon, a consultant who we worked with regularly, and I, boarded a flight to Des Moines. The architect on my team, Hind Baki, was to join us the next afternoon. We had two days to complete a fully comprehensive survey of every room, every bathroom on all 25 floors.

Sheryl, the consultant, had developed a fabulous Excel input form which she installed on her Windows tablet computer. Although a full-blown laptop, the keyboard could be folded completely back so that, as we entered a room, she had it resting on her left forearm. With a stylus she simply picked this box, or that box on the form – added notes on the fly – we entered dimension checks, took photographs and moved on to the next room – took about 12 – 15 minutes to do each one. That meant we could do 4 -5 an hour….. when Hind arrived, it went faster.

We completed a comprehensive survey of approximately 350 rooms in two days. By Thursday night we were done. We left on early Friday morning on flights back to Washington.

So – I knew a highly sophisticated, mechanized tool was incredibly useful. Once back at the office, Sheryl generated a complete ‘Scope’ list that acted as our master survey tool for the project. We never did go back there again – we completed the drawings, specs and project publication within 6 weeks…..and Bob’s your uncle – fait accompli.

So – last week I had to drive to Ottawa to survey a small non-profit firm that is moving into one of my client’s buildings. They have a small staff – 13 in all, and none in private offices. They are mostly standardized on Ikea furniture, with a variety of different form factors, etc.

This was my own ‘acid test’.  I arrived with a measuring tape, my iPhone and my iPad…..no notebook, no pen.

We first visited the existing premises, a three storey townhouse. I requested that the coordinator write the name of each staff member on a large sheet of paper and place it on their desk. Once she had done so I started taking pictures with my iPhone – the first was a general establishing shot, then a follow-up downwards focused shot of each desk with the persons’ name. Following the photography, I re-visited eachemployee’s desk – sketched their furniture on my iPad (using a pretty good app called NoteShelf), then measured each piece (desk, filing cabinet, bookcase, etc)

And wrote the dimensions on the iPad alongside each piece of furniture.

All in all it took about 45 minutes.

We then walked up the street to the new building. The space consists of two adjacent offices, about 1000 sq feet each, which will be joined via a new arch opening at the specific location my planning will indicate.

I sketched up the outline of each office space, then moved around the space taking measurements and entering them on the iPad sketch. It was a little cumbersome – the page size, is the visible page size……there is no ‘scrollability’ to increase the range of the ‘paper’ on which you’re making entries. It is, however, extremely easy to add a second, a third , a fourth, etc page to the one you start with.

The stylus I use is called an Alupen – a recently released product specifically for the iPad market. It has a rubberized tip and the barrel, quite thick, is all aluminum.

The weight is good, and the balance is good. I actually started the entries using a Pogo stylus – but the tip is too ‘squishy’ I find…….not as easy to be accurate.

In any event, although I had a lot of entry data to cram onto the screen, I did it……I then went back over the space and using symbols, indicated where existing electrical outlets were.

When finished, in all, I had 4 pages of iPad notes for the two spaces.

The complete job, from start to finish – including an overview meeting with the client, took 1 hour and 45 minutes.

When I returned to my office, I e-mailed the notes to myself as PDF files.

I then printed out hard copies so that I had file records and mark-up copies.

I did the same thing with the 57 photographs I took……..it was, all really quite simple.

Not quite pretty, just yet – but it will get there.  And I will get there with it…..

The long and the short of it? The iPad has amazing potential….when I think about the paradigm shift that has resulted by Apple introducing this device, I have nothing but confidence that other more spectacular tools to help us in the world of design, are just around the corner.

Below is the primary  page of the PDF file of the measuring survey. I converted it  to a JPG in Photoshop so I could upload it here.  As I said – it’s not pretty – but, fortunately, I can still read my own handwriting and as I practice more, I will become more adept at achieving clearer results.

Yeah – I know – it looks yucky…..but – hey! It actually works. I’m really letting my hair down here ….why? Because, if you follow my lead, you’ll know what to expect – and you won’t become irretrievably discouraged…..it is, what it IS. It’s workable – move on…..I used this, TOTALLY, as my guide to input and create this:

So – who knows? It’s gonna take some adjustment – some getting used to……what I DO know,and what I CAN promise you – is this……those of
you who are keen to be on the leading edge of applied technology in our profession, need to get onboard with this tool (or others like it).
The landscape is going to change once again…..my bigDream, still not realised – is to be able to take reliable site measurements via sonar, attach them to a raw drawing file – have the software (i.e. AutoCAD) filter the result and execute a script file to draw up the plan as per the field measurements…..a pipe dream?  Nope! Believe me, it’s not -stay tuned ……

Update: Today  I had occasion to see a long-standing client – 25 years since I designed and oversaw the construction of their house.
We met to discuss the complete rip and gut of the master bathroom – it’s faded, it’s tired. So – again, I arrived with 3 items in my bag – a measuring tape, my iPad and my iPhone. I did all the drawing up, measurements and photography in 45 minutes…….and tomorrow I’ll transcribe it into AutoCAD. I’ll keep you ‘posted’……..


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