By: David Fano Have you ever had the experience of sitting through a graphics standards committee meeting? It’s where happy and ambitious thoughts go to die. What starts as a good cause for your firm quickly devolves into very long and highly subjective arguments about things such as title blocks, line weights, line styles, fonts, font sizes, tags, symbols, and of course… naming conventions! I’m not in any way trying to devalue documentation standards or the importance of title blocks. What I am saying is: We spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects held about 141,200 jobs in 2008 (source). Hypothetically, if each architect in the U.S. spends 30 minutes a year on average working on standards, as a profession we spend 70,600 hours on standards every year. Just for reference there are 2,080 hours per year in a standard full-time work week (52 weeks x 40 hours). That’s like a firm of 34 full time architects working on nothing but standards every year.
There are numerous ongoing efforts to address this issue by creating graphic standards for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry. The National CAD Standard and Architectural Graphic Standards are broadly known. More recently, there has been a lot of focus on creating a National Building Information Modeling Standard (NBIMS). Unfortunately, many these efforts have not yet led to widespread adoption. They are slow to develop and take a prescriptive, top-down approach to compliance. Frequently, these efforts suffer from being written by super users for super users. Other industries are leveraging open and collaborative approaches to streamline standard processes that benefit the entire community. In fact, the project management software company 37 signals, references none other than design patterns guru Christopher Alexander, in describing its design process. In addition to its groundbreaking products, 37 signals built and open-sourced the widely adopted Ruby on Rails, a web development framework that drives many of the social platforms we use today. By developing it as an open source project, 37 signals looked far beyond the benefit to their internal processes and made a concerted effort to help the industry as a whole. In the eight years it has been around, Ruby has become one of the most widely adopted web development frameworks and the number of contributors has grown to over 1900 people (source). In the time of wikis and crowd-sourcing, why can’t we, as a community, create an open graphic standards framework? The community is moving, slowly, in that direction and there are examples of initiatives that incorporate an open source approach. In partnership with HP and ArchDaily, CASE established the open-source design community DesignByMany where anyone can post design challenges and the community helps to solve them. The only requirement is that participants upload source files so others can learn from their process. For example, DesignByMany received more than 60 original 3D models for its Passive House challenge. The Open Architecture Network is another amazing initiative. The goal of the network is to allow designers to work together in a whole new way, a way that enables 5 billion potential clients to access their skills and expertise. The network has a simple mission: to generate not one idea but the hundreds of thousands of design ideas needed to improve living conditions for all. But what we need to do, collectively, in the building industry is develop a framework that enables us all to focus on what matters – great design. I’ve singled out graphic standards because as architects and designers we all have to deal with them. But what do YOU think is a worthwhile initiative to pursue as a collective design community? A wiki-like detail library? Add your suggestions in the comments and lets see if we can get something going!