I was in Las Vegas for 56 hours for the GRAPHISOFT North America 2017 BIM Conference. I arrived around 2 pm on Wednesday and flew home a little after 10 pm Friday night. In that short amount of time, there was so much ARCHICAD joy and awesomeness. So much that I can’t fit all my thoughts into one post… This post is therefore just part 1. Expect parts 2 and 3 as soon as I can finish getting them coherent.

In my recaps of the previous GRAPHISOFT North America events (2013 BIM Conference in San Diego and 2015 BIM Conference in Las Vegas) I talked about meeting ARCHICAD heroes at the conferences and being recognized at the airport. The 2013 BIM Conference was a solo event for me. The 2015 BIM Conference was about reconnecting with old friends. The 2017 BIM Conference felt like a family reunion. It was without a doubt the most enjoyable conference I’ve ever attended—GRAPHISOFT, AIA, or any other. Five of us ARCHICAD users (plus one spouse) flew down from Seattle together. One of the ARCHICAD users (Patrick) drove up to Seattle the night before and stayed at my house. We had dinner with another ARCHICAD user that evening before all resting up for Las Vegas. Patrick flew back to Seattle with me and another friend Friday night. He crashed at my house and we then hung out until about 11 am Saturday. So really the ARCHICAD conference was more like 78 hours, starting Tuesday, ending Saturday and taking place in two states.

By the time the group of us from Seattle were waiting for the shuttle to take us from the airport to the hotel, we had met up with more friends and other ARCHICAD users we knew or had connections to (you’re typically never more than two or three connections away from any ARCHICAD user). The shuttle to the hotel was completely overstuffed with ARCHICAD users and everyone was joking with old friends and connecting with new ones. Throughout the course of the event we didn’t take enough photos as we were all too busy talking about ARCHICAD, sharing ideas, and having fun. I’m unfortunately not in the group shot below because three of us who should have been in the photo had already boarded a plane home when it was taken.In 2015 I ran a user panel. I moderated a discussion between three power users: Ken Adler, Ken Huggins, and Patrick May. We regrouped in 2016 to give an agnostic version of that talk at the AIA National Conference in Philadelphia (instead of ARCHICAD power users, we were merely BIM power users). In 2017, all four of us gave individual presentations in Las Vegas. I attended Pat’s and Ken H’s talks, but wasn’t able to sit in on Ken A’s. But that’s okay. He and I caught up between sessions. Plus I had a bunch of friends go to his talk and everyone left blown away. I know what Ken A was doing in 2015 and 2016, so I’m not surprised.

In 2017 I presented on Automatic Beauty. Twice. It’s a perennial favorite topic of mine. My recent post (better 3D yields better 2D) discusses some of what I talked about, but as is often the case with my lectures it was an amalgam of dozens of my blog posts and other interconnected thoughts. Whenever I give talks, my ideal scenario is to maximize audience participation. I much prefer to have a ninety minute conversation than give a ninety minute lecture. In fact, I try to make my lectures as close to user groups as I can get away with—I’m merely the facilitator in the front of the room with ARCHICAD open on a laptop. I never assume I have all the best ideas. I went in with that mentality for both my lectures and was extremely pleased with the results. Since my lecture was designed to get the other attendees talking, my two lectures, while on the same topic, with the same slides, and same sample files, turned out to be very different. Had someone attended both sessions, they would have heard two very different talks.

In the first lecture someone took issue with my colored plans and sections. Well not really with the colored Views so much as what happens when the information leaves the computer. This ARCHICAD user was concerned with printing and how the drawings would look in grayscale. She got hung up on this problem and we as a group spent a while discussing it. Many people chimed in. It wasn’t me telling her what was correct. It was the entire room problem solving together. It was a fascinating discussion and gave me a new phrase to use: 

The Print Shop Problem:

Letting the least sophisticated endpoint drive the decision making process.

When we were talking about printing, the main complaints were the ability for print shops to print tone consistently and the price of color printing. Color is (arbitrarily) expensive. And printing to grayscale (whether or not from a color PDF) is inconsistent. Two colors that should print to the same gray don’t. A smooth tone becomes dots. Some printers don’t do gray, just thin black lines and stippling. Plotter drivers update and ruin a finely tuned protocol. Print shops are archaic and unpredictable. We develop deep relationships with the print shops we like, but often have no control over which shop is used. Anyone who has worked on out of state projects knows the pain of dealing with an unknown printshop hundreds or thousands of miles away. Even locally, we send the permit documents to the contractor and eventually a sub photocopies the prints at a freakishly low quality. In the end we twist how we use ARCHICAD to produce drawings that work at a degraded level when they are pushed through an unsophisticated process.

Stop doing that. It is backwards.

The Print Shop Problem is a beautiful metaphor for all the things we are doing wrong when working in ARCHICAD. The drawings are not the most important thing. Far from it. The finished product (the building) and the design (the model) are more important. The drawings are the link between the building and the model. They should describe the model to help someone create the building. But they should never get in the way. We should do everything we can to spend more time designing and less time documenting. The drawings shouldn’t corrupt the model (contorting the model to make the drawings work) or take precedence. They are a byproduct of our art, not the goal. Let me say that again. Our art is the building not the drawing. 

Like beauty, the drawing is third. Whenever working in ARCHICAD, ask yourself “am I modeling this in a way that supports the design and the finished product, or am I doing this to make the drawings work?” Model correctly. Worry about the drawings later.

In case I’m not being clear, use color in your drawings. Use color in your PDFs. Allow color to help you describe your design so that it can become a beautiful building. Let the print shop dumb it down to black and white if no one wants to pay for color prints and someone demands building from analog rather than digital documents. Don’t worry about it. Once a contract gets used to looking at color on a laptop or ipad, via PDF or BIMx, they’ll soon realize the old way of giant dirty sheets of paper is outmoded and needs to be replaced. Once we give them a better way, they will get hooked. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon. And it’ll only happen if we stop letting the least sophisticated endpoint drive our decision making process. And of course this goes for so much more than color drawings. Add more data to your models and make that data shareable. Start with the easy stuff and get those around you thinking about how much more information we have and can provide.

Just because it doesn’t matter doesn’t mean there isn’t a good answer…

After the conference, Patrick May and I went out to breakfast with my daughters before he left Seattle to drive home. While walking to the local coffee shop, we got to talking. How could we create a simple grayscale override. A one spot change that could turn all Views to grayscale. Neither of us particularly felt we needed this, but since it came up in my lecture we were both intrigued and curious as to how to solve the problem in the easiest, most automated way. Sometimes, even though we don’t agree with what’s being asked for, we still need to execute it. If the person paying the bills demands X, guess what we must figure out? Yup. X. Or if a panicking user e-mails one of us, we can’t always say “Change your ways! March with the avant garde!!” So our minds got to wondering. If we had to solve this grayscale issue, how could we do it with the least effort. Should we add a true/false Rule in all our Graphic Overrides? Then we would just have to update one Rule and everything would switch. It’d go something like this:

Now the exact details might be a little off—subtly different criteria or Fill options, and I should have checked ‘Override pen color only’—, but the concept is sound. If this Rule were added to every one of our Graphic Override Combinations, one simple update to one rule could turn on and off grayscale. With the Rule’s Criteria was set to all elements not on the ARCHICAD Layer to have gray fills [ei, all elements because none of our elements are on the ARCHICAD Layer] we’d get instant grayscale drawings. With the Rule’s Criteria set to all elements on the ARCHICAD Layer to have gray fills [ei, no elements because none of our elements are on the ARCHICAD Layer] the rule would have no effect and our drawings would remain in color. In other words, one manual update to this Rule could turn all Views from Color to Grayscale and back again. Of course this is a blunt instrument: not every fill should have a white background and it’s a work around that feeds rather than combats the Print Shop Problem.

In addition to using Graphic Overrides, we thought about using the Drawing Manager to switch out the Pen Sets right before printing. Or just plotting to grayscale. There were lots of options and we enjoyed the mental exercise of trying to figure out the easiest, fastest, and most reliable route. After the fact I remembered we could just change (via the Drawing Manager) all the Views to have colors by Grayscale—which is a feature I haven’t used in ARCHICAD since at least 2011.

When I told this story to another ARCHICAD pro that we had hung out with in Las Vegas, he said he uses the Publisher and, under Document Options, sets Save PDF with… to Grayscale. He has two duplicate Publisher Sets, one for color and one for grayscale.

All of these solutions are semi-automatic answers. None of them is perfect; each offers a different way to minimize the complications caused by color vs grayscale. The last solution is definitely the way to go, if you refuse to evolve and require a grayscale solution. But of course all these options are a waste of time. We should be creating color PDFs and color drawings for BIMx. Let the print shop deal with turning color to grayscale. And let the contractor be annoyed that the prints aren’t as good or useful as the digital documents. We should all be moving towards relying on digital more than print anyways.

Even if we never use any of these solutions, they are great thought exercises. They are explorations to remind us of things we might have forgotten. The Drawing Manager is a powerful and underutilized tool. Documentation Options for publishing PDFs is something I never remember to look at, but has a lot of useful features like setting an automated header/footer, including/excluding Project Info and Layers, allowing us to print the Reference image from Trace & Reference as part of the PDF, and more. And while I don’t think I’ll ever use the Graphic Override trick to globally turn color on and off in my drawings, I am intrigued by the idea. How else could I use the true/false statement of all elements are/are not on the ARCHICAD Layer to make some sort of other global change. I don’t know what I would want to do with this control, but the discussion of solving a grayscale problem I don’t have led me to that interesting answer for a problem I don’t yet know. It’s a good tool for dealing with those unknown unknowns

By the way in my second lecture, the issue of color vs grayscale came up. I braced for another discussion. Someone spoke up quickly stating that he also created color PDFs and let the end user decide to print in color or grayscale. He stated matter-of-factly that it wasn’t a problem. That ended the discussion and we moved on. The rest of the second lecture was wildly different than the first. It was equally fun and interesting. But it didn’t produce as much self-reflection as the first.

Well that’s enough for now. In the next post, I’ll talk about some of the other lectures I attended and the interesting things that they got me thinking about.

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  1. Eduardo

    I think I have seen those guys someplace else…

  2. Adam

    I was at your first Automatic Beauty lecture. It certainly made me reconsider how we document architectural designs. I think print shops will eventually become obsolete, and be replaced by digital models on a tablet.

    • Jared Banks

      That’s awesome. Let me know if you all decide to make changes to how you work based on what you heard at the BIM Conference. That’d make for a great follow up article.


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