A reader of mine had an issue with my ARCHICAD 19 Work Environment. He was an experienced user—in subsequent conversations, I believe he mentioned he first learned ARCHICAD 4.55—but the differences in my Work Environment (WE) had left him stumbling. In the end we untangled the issue he was facing and learned something about an aspect of ARCHICAD that we each took for granted, albeit in slightly different ways. Let’s dissect the question and my response.

Easy but not Obvious questionDominic saw a problem and wasn’t sure why it was happening. I confirmed that the problem was linked to my WE and then realized I didn’t have an answer for him. My Work Environment exposed ignorance on both ends of this conversation. He didn’t know why the new WE wasn’t acting like his old WE. And I didn’t understand all the implications of the Work Environment I was sharing around with the community. Neither of us should be ashamed. We all have blind spots.

Relative Coordinates in TrackerSolving the Problem

First, I needed to figure out where Dominic was inputting his data (Tracker or Coordinate Box), and then understand what was going on. He gave me all the clues I needed and the holes in his comment highlighted where confusion got in. He got that the Tracker (I was confident he was using the Tracker) wasn’t showing relative coordinates for the X and Y distances. But the drop down next to the Tracker Button in the Toolbar had the option for ‘Relative Coordinates in Tracker’ checked (I knew this because we were using the same Work Environment), so there was a bigger issue. That was my clue to go further into my Work Environment to discover the solution. Was there another place where relative/absolute coordinates were controlled? There was. Once I found that, the problem was easy to solve. I told Dominic to do the following:

  1. Go to Work Environment/User Preference Schemes/Tracker and Coordinate Input.
  2. UNCHECK ‘Show X-Y Coordinates relative to User origin in Tracker’.

I also recommended unchecking ‘Use relative angle measures’ and ‘Use angle relative to the last Snap Reference Line’. Once I was looking at the Coordinate input logic more closely, I realized those should be off as well. They are cool features—allowing a user to always see cleaner angles—, but they could just as easily get a user in trouble if they aren’t paying attention. If you don’t realize your tracker is referencing its angle measures to the previous edge of the element you are creating or a Snap Reference Line that wasn’t created perfectly, you’ll see a 0º, 45º, or 90º angle and think everything is fine. Until it disastrously stops being fine because your whole building is rotated 0.05º due to some minor error from days earlier (and you never noticed that because the building is square to itself…mostly). By the way, if bad angles worry you, read this article by Link Ellis about a label James Murray created.

In the end, this was a simple fix and it taught two longtime ARCHICAD users more about their favorite BIM program (neither of us really understood these options until the above comment and ensuing e-mail conversation, though the options have been in ARCHICAD for sometime).

Pet Palette input is easy to updateHiding in Plain Sight

Dominic noticed that his tracker was always referencing the project origin. That was what he was seeing, but that wasn’t what was happening. The Tracker wasn’t referencing the Project Origin. It was referencing the User Origin. And clearly in Dominic’s file, the User Origin and the Project Origin were the same spot. If you aren’t comfortable with the differences between User Origin and Project Origin, take a moment to read the entry on Origins in the Help Center. People who “know” ARCHICAD should read it too. After all, do you all know how to reset the User Origin? Or how the User Origin relates to the new Snap Reference Points in ARCHICAD 19? I’ve read the Help Center, so I do. And it is going to make placing elements so much easier.

My guess is that Dominic never uses the temporary User Origin (keyboard short cut Opt+Shift / Alt+Shift). He might not even know what it is. Or he noticed the new behavior and hadn’t yet moved the User Origin, so didn’t realize that was what was actually happening (that’s my real guess). All that means even if he got to the same Work Environment menu I got to, he might have missed the solution because it’s using language he might not be familiar with. Language matters. I’m a writer, so of course I say that. But I’m saying that as someone who teaches. Proper terminology is so important. If you can speak ARCHICAD, then you can more easily problem solve ARCHICAD:

Do You See what I See?

This problem was so easy for me to solve because Dominic and I were looking at the same things. He was using my template and my work environment. I had all the information and resources I needed to replicate the problem. When people ask me for help, I often say “just send me the file”. If I have the problem file, then I can see exactly what is going on. I don’t have to rely on what might be the wrong words or an image that only shows part of the problem. Images of course are great too. I would rather see an image of the issue (say an ugly junction, an error report, or odd colors in 3D) than a written description. When a user translates the problem into words, often the words they choose (unintentionally) obscure the real problem. Of course if the original question is written well and accompanied by a good image, I don’t need to ask for the file. If I don’t have the time to help, I always tell people to ask on the ARCHICAD-talk forum and post images. Posts with images have a much higher probability of getting looked at and answered—because they are easier.

The goal is always to make things easier. I share my template and work environment not to become rich but to make using ARCHICAD easier. When people use them a few things happen. People use workflows I like, people get to experience the things I write about, and I can better help them with issues because my life is easier. That’s really what this is all about. Making my life easier. If you and I are looking at the same stuff (same WE, same layers, same BMats, same settings), then your problems will be easier for me to solve because there are fewer unknowns. <Yes I referenced that post again.> If things are acting weird for you, but not me, then I know where the problem isn’t. I have a clearer understanding of what is and isn’t known. And then I can assume the solution is easy but not obvious. It’s probably living in some blind spot. Something I do without thinking. Or something you do without thinking.

This isn’t a plug for my own stuff. You should align yourself with whoever you look to for help from ARCHICAD. If your guru is some other remote ARCHICAD master, a coworker, or GRAPHISOFT employee, listen to them. There is a reason they have preferences about all the particulars within ARCHICAD. Those preferences help them untangle the logic of ARCHICAD. Following their methods makes them better problem solvers. If you make their life easier, they will be more equipped to make your life easier.

Easy but not Obvious

ARCHICAD is a very intuitive program. That’s what marketing tells you. And that’s what all the people who are highly proficient in ARCHICAD will tell you. And of course that’s what everyone who is trying to teach the program will tell you. Yet we all occasionally want to throw our computers out a window. ARCHICAD is intuitive, easy, and fun to use. BUT…it’s not obvious. Sometimes it’s logic is different from yours. And this is where the frustration occurs. When this happens we have two choices. We can blame the tool, or ourselves.

When we get stuck, our instinct isn’t to blame ourselves. We don’t hit a difficult situation and say “I’m the problem”. We say “this isn’t working, what is wrong with everything but ME?” When we blame someone else or the tool, we get distracted. We stop looking for solutions and search for excuses. “Of course ARCHICAD isn’t doing what I want; the Stair Tool in ARCHICAD 19 is the same as it was in ARCHICAD 9! Proof!” or “What did they do!? The Stair Tool hasn’t changed in a decade but what worked in ARCHICAD 18 isn’t working in ARCHICAD 19!” Of course cries like that aren’t typically true. Often what’s happened is that there are subtle changes that we miss. A tweak in one version, a UI change in another version. Suddenly what we were used to has changed but we didn’t even notice it. The thing tripping us up is simple and easy to circumvent, but not obvious. And it’s not obvious because we forget to pause and look. Or just ask for help. Or remember to assume that it’s not ARCHICAD, but us that is the problem.

The problem Dominic and I faced was easy but not obvious. It was solved quickly by looking at the situation and asking a few simple questions. Where is the problem? In the file or in ARCHICAD? What is being affected by the problem? Where can we alter the behavior of the thing being affected? Where else can we alter the behavior of that thing? Solved.

Remember to look at root causes. Remember that the concepts of local and global changes apply to both data and how ARCHICAD as a piece of software is structured. Remember that the problem and solution are directly linked, but they might not be co-located in the program. Your solution might be hidden in a place that only becomes obvious once you know where it is.

When you have an ARCHICAD problem, stop and say:

  1. “I am doing something wrong.”
  2. “If I am the problem, that’s an easier fix than having it be a failure of ARCHICAD.”
  3. “The solution is probably easy but not obvious.”
  4. “If it’s not me, then I’ll go with the best available solution, even if that’s a work-around, and move on.”

Search for the simple answer. Use the logic, language, and structure of ARCHICAD. You might just find that the answer is easy and obvious.

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4 Comments

  1. Nicolas

    Hi Jared,
    Thanks for this good post.
    I use the temporary User Origin a lot, but Archicad’s official training vol.2 taught me another way to use relative coordinates in the tracker, that even draw guide lines!
    Here are the steps
    1. Point to a reference point
    2. type x or y to enter the tracker in the desired coordinate
    3. type “000+” where 000 is the desired distance
    (4. do it over with another coordinate if needed)

    I also like the draggin’n’dropin of reference lines 🙂

    Reply
    • Jared Banks

      Thanks for sharing the tip. There are a lot of cool things we can do with the tracker——that I think most of us aren’t using.

      Reply
  2. Michael Hughes

    Hi, I’m experiencing the same problem in Archicad 21 although I’ve followed your instructions above. Could I send you my file? Thank you, Michael

    Reply
    • Jared Banks

      Michael, unfortunately if you are dealing with a similar tracker/input issue it’s not related to the file, but your Work Environment. So the file shouldn’t matter. Try switching to a different WE (and then back again), restarting ARCHICAD, or calling tech support.

      Reply

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