Will GeoDesign help design tools get out of the way of workflows?

by Matt Ball on January 8, 2012

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There was a good deal of discussion at the recent GeoDesign Summit about ways in which incorporated analytics will enhance the design process by allowing for performance feedback. This form-based design workflow allows for a more inclusive process, but it will face great resistance if it impedes the flow of ideas and creativity of the designer.

When speaking with Keith Besserud, director of Blackbox, a research-based think tank within the Chicago office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, he made the comment that all forms of computer-based design to date stand between the designer and the design. As we become more dependent on the computer, and our ability to use it, in order to even do conceptual design, we need to put more emphasis on ease of use to gain the most for our workflows. While those in the architectural field that still only use paper are dwindling due to generational shifts, there are still issues that arise as we continue to add layers of complexity to our design tools.

Intuitive Interfaces

The ways in which we interact with our screens needs fewer barriers, and fewer buttons, particularly for earlier stages of site exploration and context collection. Computers are a great help in cataloging all the necessary project documents, video context, terrain and infrastructure visualizations, and it facilitates a more direct connection to the actions of Earth systems, but we still struggle with integrating these inputs.

There’s a need for technology that is as easy to use as pen and paper, that facilitates workflows, that works instantaneously with zero impedence, and that supports collaboration.¬† While at the event, Wacom interactive pen displays were used as the input device in many demonstrations. These sketch-based tools have come a long way, with ability to detect subtle changes in pressure and to relay the angle of tilt to alter inputs and achieve different outputs such as line width and weight and opacity of color brushing. With future enhancements, the pen-based approach could provide the interface that we’re after.

Inclusive Interactions

The integration of advanced computational concepts within the multi-disciplinary design processes of the typical planning and design office has the potential to improve dramatically. The use of generative design tools and genetic algorithms to offer design alternatives are one approach that greatly improves the starting point of the process by offering a more deeply conceptualized end point that is guided by a more quantitative analysis. These more semantic approaches can be extended broadly into surrounding landscapes, with input on not only a building or landscape as the endpoint, but how the design compliments and improves its neighborhood.

Key to improved environments are the inputs of citizens and neighbors to weigh reactions, address concerns, and improve outcomes. We have seen advancements with a number of different tools to engage the crowd, but speed and realism of renderings are crucial to greater consensus. The form-based approach of Esri’s CityEngine provides a lightening-quick adjustment to realism by just changing numbers within the parameters. This connection between parameter tweaking and the visual outcomes makes a very valuable connection for stakeholders who can begin to better weigh tradeoffs. This couples nicely with the benefits that designers receive from a rules-based approach that provides weighted scoring to help determine the right mix of elements in the design.

Design Ethic 

While the interface, collaboration, and quantitative analysis are crucial to take the next steps of design, what’s more central is to address the inefficiencies of process that waste both time and materials. Doing more with less time and materials, and with fewer impacts, has become imperative with the greater pressures on our planet.

Today’s design goes beyond the process of inventorying surroundings, analyzing, creating a concept and then designing. With GeoDesign the inventory becomes much bigger, with connections even to Earth processes, where the design must fulfill broader performance objectives, but is able to thanks to a more informed understanding of place.

The design ethic is increasingly being driven by mandates to achieve sometimes conflicting goals. The computer’s ability to handle all these guiding metrics, and then weigh their embodiment in the design, is a workflow win aided by technology. In this regard, the design tools don’t get out of the way of workflows, they become one of the only ways for workflow improvement in the face of increasingly complicated mandates.

With all these advancements in technology and approach, it’s tempting to say that technology will bring us leaps and bounds beyond our analog past. Certainly, we could not achieve the levels of input into design in any other way than digitally, but it’s important to keep an eye on the sophistication of our digital tools and processes so that they don’t take on mythic proportions that hamper free thinking and innovation.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith Besserud January 9, 2012 at 8:50 am

Matt, just a clarification…I believe what I said was that computational technologies “stand between” the designer and their designs, which is a different meaning than “standing in the way of”. I would say that there are certainly tools out there that make the life of the designer easier, as well as those that do not.

Matt Ball January 9, 2012 at 9:19 am

Keith, thanks for the clarification, and I’ve updated the post to attribute the quote correctly. Didn’t mean to put the “get out the way” words in your mouth as it’s my own attempt to draw attention and spark some dialogue.

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