Jump to content

Setting up Office Standard for managing symbols with record data info.

Recommended Posts

Hi, I’m looking for any advice and tips people are willing to throw my way.


We are a smallish architect practice and Im hoping to streamline our scheduling of things like plumbing fittings, equipment/appliances, lighting, furniture etc. We don’t have a standard way of doing this, and what we do basically involves a lot of callouts and notes that have to be reinvented for each project. 


We have a good library of standard 2d and 3D symbols for all this stuff. What we don’t have are custom records or data attached to most of it. Nether do we have a decent collection of data tags, or custom worksheets for reporting on this stuff.

So I’m now looking to add custom record fields with symbol specific data to the symbols in our library and from this the plan is to be able to drag a symbol into a project, slap a data tag onto it and have some nicely set up worksheets on our drawings available to display the preformatted symbol data. We can then add and edit the data as required for the project from within the worksheet to pretty quickly spit out plumbing, equipment, lighting and furniture schedules on drawings.


This is something I have wanted to do for some time but it is quite a leap from how our office has done things in the past so I’ve always thought if I’m going to do it I need to do it really well. I know it is the way forward and wil be a massive time saver, but a half baked system won’t get the uptake I need for it to become established in our office. I’m now taking the dive and would dearly appreciate the advice of people who perhaps have driven this road before.


So I know the basics of how all this works and yesterday I thought I’d start out with plumbing fittings. So I spent some time first creating a custom record format for plumbing sanitary fixtures. I thought through what fields I would need and how setting up the correct fields would impact on how the info would be pushed through onto worksheets on drawings. I set up an “ID” field as well as “Fixture Type”, “Style”, “Location”, “Description” fields. So for example a wash hand basin might be:


Type: Wash hand basin

Style: Wall mounted

Location: [project input]

Description: Caroma Caravelle 500 Wall basin with methven blah blah mixer, 40mm outlet etc etc.


I thought while I’m at it I might as well add some more record fields that may be useful so I stuck in “Manufacturer”, “Model”, “Model No.”, “Finish”, “Size” and “Price”. Though most of this could be covered in the “Description “ field.


I then made a Data tag that would attach to objects containing the Plumbing Fixture record. The data tag would display the ID field and help anyone reading the drawing see which schedule item related to which item(s) on the drawing.


I then started attaching the record to the many plumbing fitting symbol definitions in our library and one by one editing the field data to suit each symbol. This was very tedious but I kept reminding myself that it would save a lot of time in the long run.


This isn’t the first time I have done this, I have managed to do this sort of thing on various specific projects but it is the first time I have set it up as part of a library with the intention for it to be an office standard.


So developing a pragmatic, flexible, intuitive system that makes sense and is easily applicable to the various types of projects we do and that everyone in the office can  understand and benefit from is the tricky bit!


Are there people out there who have “been there done that” before and can offer some great tips?



Do my custom records need anything else? I must have edited and re-edited them a dozen times trying to figure out if they covered everything off. Or should I trim them right back to keep them really simple? Any suggestions appreciated.


It would be good to know if there is a quicker way to add data to symbol definitions. That is by far the most time consuming aspect of this. I know there is a command to add a record to all symbols in a selected RM folder. But subsequently editing the data from the record field defaults to something specific about the symbol it is attached to is painfully slow. Can the Data Manager be used for this? I had a look at it and found it more confusing than anything else.


Do I need different records for plumbing fixtures, equipment and furniture? They would all have the same type of “ID”, “Type”, “Style”, “Location” and description fields so why not just have one record to cover them all? If they all used the same record I could more easily combine them all into one worksheet which would be useful and they could be all covered off with one type of data tag. I could also use classes to filter stuff in or out of the worksheet schedules.


For worksheets is it a good idea to have individual worksheets for each sheet of a project file calling up the data from all the symbol data present just for the viewports present on each sheet? Then also have an “editor” worksheet so that data from all plumbing fixture symbols (or equipment symbols or whatever) in the file could be managed in one place? Or is there a better way this is  just creating unnecessary work?


Any tips on setting up useful data tags? Could some generous soul please share their own super flash custom data tags? Mine look pretty crap...


Well done for making it all the way down here and thanks for even reading all this! Hopefully you are inspired to share you IP!!



Edited by Boh
  • Like 4
Link to comment

@Boh I’m with @halfcoupler, simpler is better.

All that data is definitely easier to manage and update in a database rather than a proprietary CAD/BIM interface.


These types of initiatives oftentimes fail when an enthusiastic techie person in the office runs with it in lone wolf mode, makes all the decisions and assets w/o input, and perhaps makes things too complicated.  Then they are left to wonder why nobody uses their stuff and things descend back into chaos.


Software companies, IT departments, and CAD/BIM managers all suffer the same fate.  Just collaborate with your team to develop the solution, try to follow industry standards, and test your ideas with those who will use it daily before going too far down the rabbit hole.  I do B2B consulting and have unsnarled many train wrecks in this area, typically when the person who developed the system leaves a company or during economic downturns when owners start to wonder where all that unbillable time went 🙂.  

  • Like 4
Link to comment

Thanks @halfcoupler & @jeff prince


Yeah so clear messaging there: simpler is better!!


@jeff prince I appreciate the “lone wolf” comment as I’ve been guilty of that in the past. Yeah I don’t want to spend a lot of time developing an amazing complicated system that only I will end up using. That said getting staff to appreciate the benefits of a smarter way of doing things is no easy task. No matter how significant or obvious the benefits of a different approach are sometimes people just resist change.


We do need to get a more coordinated approach to how we specify this stuff however. So I’m hopeful that, without spending too much time, and with help and advice from experienced users like yourself and @halfcoupler on this forum I can set up the bones of a basic system that will have the essentials in place and be accessible enough for others to appreciate its advantages and how it can work for them. If I can do that I will at least get the “buy-in” of the more progressive staff. 


So to simplify things down then this is what I am now thinking:


Just have one main record format attached to almost all library fittings symbol definitions. (This would include plumbing fittings, equipment, furniture and even light fittings).

The record would have just two fields:

1. “ID” (with “[ID]” as the record field default) and,

2. “Description” (with a blank as the record field default).


To avoid the data management nightmare, library symbol definitions would generally just be left with the record format defaults. Specific data would be added to the symbol once it’s brought into a project file where it can be tailored to suit the project requirements.


Custom data tags and preformatted database worksheets would be added to the project templates files.


The custom data tags would link to objects with the record format. The tags would just display the symbol’s “ID” field. (Different versions of this tag could be used depending on if the symbol is a plumbing fitting, equipment or furniture etc).


The worksheets would just have the two columns to report on I.e. the ID and description record formats. Worksheets could have criteria so they only call up records present in a sheet layer and/or alternatively, using classes, they could just call up plumbing, electrical or furniture fittings.


How does that sound?


Do you think this is still too complicated and could be simplified further? Please keep the advice rolling in! 🙂 


I really like the idea of managing the data outside of vw. Can I ask if you work in a collaborative office scenario with this system or are you a sole practitioner?


Also do you issue your indexed external spreadsheet with the project drawing set or do import the spreadsheet into vw or copy / paste the info from the external spreadsheet into a worksheet in your vw file?


Also how do you do your indexing? Do you use a script to index your symbols or do you do this manually? Are the index numbers used as identifiers on your drawings sim to my ID field? Or are they used purely for internal management of symbols?


Please if others have advice please chime in!



  • Like 2
Link to comment
On 5/8/2021 at 6:06 AM, Boh said:

I then started attaching the record to the many plumbing fitting symbol definitions in our library and one by one editing the field data to suit each symbol. This was very tedious but I kept reminding myself that it would save a lot of time in the long run.


Just reading through the original post and one thing struck me. If you are attaching records to symbols, make use of the Attach Records menu command rather than individually attaching them to each symbol definition in the Resource Manager. This will apply a record to all symbols in a particular folder so in theory hundreds of symbols can have a record attached in one go. 


I am definitely with @halfcoupler on creating libraries. A really well thought-through Workgroup library based on the standard Vectorworks folder structure will save an enormous amount of time in the long run and make shared library content so much easier to manage. You can copy the Vectorworks folder structure from the User Library and recreate it in a shared Workgroup folder. This means that plug-in resources such as Title Block Borders when placed in the Title Block Border folder will be automatically located by the Title Block Border tool when the user goes to search for a Title Block Border style. This functionality works across the program and is well worth knowing about (if you don't already).


In my view, template files should only contain settings that cannot be stored anywhere else. These include Units and Dimension Styles (although I have a separate Workgroup file for those). All other resources should be stored in separate files within a shared Workgroup folder. Even Classes and Layers can be stored elsewhere and imported as necessary. This keeps the New file as clean as possible when you start a new project and is not bogged-down with old resources and data that can sometimes go back years.

  • Like 2
  • Love 1
Link to comment

Thanks @markdd.

Yes I use the attach record command which I think is going to shortly get a lot more use from me. If you read on in the thread of posts you’ll see I have taken advice from others about not using VW to manage data so while I plan to attach a custom record to symbols I won’t be doing a lot more individual editing of that data for each symbol. I can see now that it is not really worth the time spent.


Yes we already have a fairly comprehensive library placed in a workgroup folder as well as some pretty good project templates. This post was more about how to set up a system for presenting data attached to symbols in a file. Essentially finding the *best* way of combining the use of libraries, symbols, record formats, data tags and worksheets.


I take your point though about keeping templates clean. I take a slightly different approach and tend to include some default resources that I know are used on almost every project. We tend to recreate the templates from scratch each time we do a version upgrade (every other version) so we take that opportunity to clear out out of date stuff. 


What is your advice with regard to setting up an office standard for record info/data. 



Edited by Boh
  • Like 1
Link to comment

I really wanted to respond about the Attach Record command as I often forget about it being there, especially as it is so easy to attach records using the resource manager. You mentioned how tedious it was!


The template issue is a bit of a "hobby-horse" for me as I see all sorts of colleagues stuffing template files full of unnecessary stuff that cause more problems than it could ever solve.


I can't help with the database stuff I am afraid. I find the Data Manager rather esoteric to say the least and although I am aware of the external database functionality, I haven't explored it in too much detail.


I like @jeff prince 's approach. Your colleagues are the key to making whatever you come up with work effectively.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
13 hours ago, Boh said:

That said getting staff to appreciate the benefits of a smarter way of doing things is no easy task. No matter how significant or obvious the benefits of a different approach are sometimes people just resist change.

That’s where collaborative development helps.  I don’t care for design by committee on my creative projects, but when it comes to developing workflow and standards, it’s usually the best way to get buy in.  Added bonus, you can divide and conquer the task by getting people to do part of the work.


People tend to follow systems they had a hand in influencing.  Also, many minds are usually better than one on these kinds of things.


 I was making a system for managing our plant data years ago in another software.  Most of the draftsmen didn’t really know plants. When I explained the problems we were having and solicited input on solving it, several on the team came up with ideas I hadn’t thought of on my own.  When the system was prototyped and presented for budgetary consideration, it was well received because the whole team contributed and was given credit.  Further, CAD management the set compliance with it as part of employee expectations, training, and bonuses.  This got the people who resist change to adopt it.  More carrot than stick in that example, which is also typically more helpful.

  • Like 3
Link to comment

Thanks @jeff prince and @markdd.


My approach has to be all carrot!


As we haven’t been using record data and data base worksheets for scheduling in the office much no one has really got much experience on how to set it up. It would be good to get the bones of a basic workflow together which I can then take to my team as a starting point.


Keeping things simple I think is a gd idea. If anyone has any other clues to common pitfalls they have experienced working with records and database worksheets across an office workgroup that would would be amazing.



Link to comment
On 5/8/2021 at 3:36 PM, halfcoupler said:

...Since Vectorworks is NOT a Database Management System like SQL ...

Ah, but it can and does play nicely with SQLite, such that you can use a lookup-key field to fetch all your data back from an external SQLite database (either on same machine or on a server) and fill in otherwise empty fields. This can be done for Symbols within a drawing (instances) where it is truly indistinguishable from magic, or by linking Symbols via the Resource Manager (Definitions). It takes a little set up, but saves hours, nay, days of in-Vectorworks typing for larger libraries. All maintenance can be done in the SQLite database file thereafter and updated with a refreshed lookup.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
  • 7 months later...
On 5/9/2021 at 3:54 AM, markdd said:

Just reading through the original post and one thing struck me. If you are attaching records to symbols, make use of the Attach Records menu command rather than individually attaching them to each symbol definition in the Resource Manager. This will apply a record to all symbols in a particular folder so in theory hundreds of symbols can have a record attached in one go. 




I've always used the right-click context menu to run the Attach Records command. I've never run it from the Menu Bar, so I've never been able to attach a record to more than one symbol at a time (because the context menu command isn't available for group selections of either symbols or folders).


From testing with a fresh file, I was able to select multiple symbol folders, and apply my custom record to every symbol definition contained inside every selected folder.


Now I'm really curious how I can get <None> to work for me "at the root of the symbol library"... 







Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...