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Architects = visual people need visual tools + training

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memo:Vectorworks authors and editors



I think that easier ways of playing with wall composition and thicknesses, especially of adjoining walls would be useful. When I do a measured study of an existing house as a 3D model to which I then add the extensions, it is hard to get the model to work in 3D. It is very difficult to get all the crooked walls of varying thicknesses to align at corners to complete the model.

Existing drawings in 2D are relatively easy, but I need to model the 3D look for people using basic VW Architect.

Most sole practitioners I know here can't afford to add on or upgrade all the time.

It would be good if a better rendering function could be integrated into the basic architect instead of being an add on.


Every package ought to come with a self drive tutorial, rather than that being an add on.

I have been a MiniCad/VW user since 1988, mostly as a 2D user, and it still represents the best tool I know for my architectural work. Inspite of having seen other local WA architects using Autodesk products like Revit, I know VW is still easier to use because I use it, and couldn't if it weren't, and newcomers to CAD still have lots of problems with the other packages - if they WERE easier, they'd make more use of them!

It's a pity that Ozcad's Julian's training is only available in Sydney - 4000 km away

Post script:


The more I think about this, the more I realise could be improved to make the life of the architect easier - (read Vectorworks-using-architect) - and that's what its about, huh, making life easier while enabling us to provide a better service to our clients.

All these mentions in menus like windows and columns etc "style -1" "style-2" etc are USELESS.

It would be better were these styles to be given NAMES and PICTURE examples to be able to be SEEN as to what they mean.


Therefore, REPLACE ALL SUCH ANONYMOUS NAMES WITH VISUALS that immediately suggest what the item is, and what it does. Standard keyboard shortcuts ought be provided and shown for everything and kept from one version to the next.

We architects are always time poor, and will not generally make use of what is not "bleedin' obvious!" Most of us just turn on VW and drive!

One of the great things about the old MiniCad 1 on which I started in 1988, was how intuitive it was to use, without any training. It was quite visual, not too much verbage. Therefore, INTUITIVE CUES (and visual) for identifying and selecting variations to/within tools and library objects and macros would greatly enhance the appreciation and use of the libraries VW has gone to the trouble of providing for us ?dummies? to use.

3D to 2D

For working drawings, I have found that it is difficult to get enough constructional information into the 3D model. It also seems hard to get good 2D elevations and sections from the model - the elevational views seem to take up a lot of memory



Perth Western Australia

[ 02-04-2005, 12:46 AM: Message edited by: Architect G?rard Siero ]

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I'm not sure this is the right forum for this type of essay on the life of an Architect. Telling yourself and use that you are in a time-poor profession does nothing for your business and does nothing for our profession either.

Part of running an Architectural practice is running a business, and it has to be run as a business. This means that you have to make a profit. You need this profit to invest in the business (new computers/software/training). It?s not VectorWorks fault.

I agree with Brendan, VectorWorks is amazing power for the money you spend.

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No one is denying the value of VW. However let's not lose sight of the fact that its ease of use and accessibility for CAD novices was one of its endearing qualities.

Easy visual cues are an important part of that. Intuitive user interface is part of the ethos of the Mac environemnt. That needs to be remembered when making upgrades. Not all architects are computer or software engineering types for whom CAD is a breeze.

Jonathan, you know that most architects work crazy hours, so anything that makes that work easier and faster helps.

Secondly, every business needs to watch overheads and produce work efficiently. That includes minimising a l l the costs associated with CAD.

Thanks for your comments.


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many architects work crazy hours and some make a lot of money. The Architects that make money in architecture do so because they run their practices as a business, not because they are the lucky ones.

To which you can say, let?s keep overheads down, or you could say we need to invest properly in the tools that make us the money. I know some Architects that run old versions of VectorWorks on old machines. Are these Architects reducing overheads? or are they refusing to invest in the tools that they use for most of the day to earn their money? Using old machines and old software is not working efficiently.

I agree that CAD requires an investment. It requires a continuous investment in computers, upgrades and training. Remember that products that you specify change, and get updated, and laws and building codes change and get updated. You have to invest time to learn these...

But it comes back to giving your practice the tools it need to complete the tasks that you want. VectorWorks is powerful and with the localised Australian and New Zealand version it has some great capabilities, you can do things that we could never dream of in earlier versions... and these make you more efficient, they improve the quality of your work and the quality of your presentation and some of the new concepts make creating drawings much faster (more efficiently).

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Actually, I am with Gerard on this, and I think the other posters have been a little harsh & overly defensive - VWA ain't perfect, and there is no need to suggest he should either give up architecture or spend megabucks just to keep up with software which may not actually advance his productivity or drawing quality one jot.

I am getting increasingly concerned with the direction VW Architect is heading.

I am an architect who has been in practice for over 30 years - I started with pencil & ink on tracing paper, graduated to ClarisCad, then moved to VectorWorks about the time it changed from MiniCad, so I don?t think it?s just me when I can?t ?get? some of the new directions, or see the the point of learning ever more esoteric computer language and jargon. One thing I notice is that the program is more and more a program about understanding software concepts than a program to help architects produce drawings of buildings for clients and builders. The introduction of abstract concepts such as classes, design layers vs sheet layers, saved views and viewports is making the program more prescriptive (that is, you have to use it in the particular way that the program dictates) rather than less.

The ideal program would have 3 parts - first, it would be like SketchUp where you rough out the plan and bulk of the building model, next you would use this data to produce sketch plans (3D perspectives, animations, as well as traditional elevations, all rendered), then finally you would use the sketch plans and model to produce the working drawings. VW Architect is only partly like this. You can use it to develop a model, but getting groovy sketch plans out of it has so far proved impossible - I bought RenderWorks and the CD recently, and in spite of hours reading the manual and watching the CD I still haven?t the faintest idea how to use it to do what I want - and I haven't been able to find a manual or trainer who can help. VWA is geared to working drawings, but some of the new things seem to be to pushing the program to be structured more like Autocad, so files can be interchanged with other consultants who can?t see beyond Autocad on pc?s. Maybe it?s time to introduce a light version, so those of us who are in small offices and don?t have to share files can get on with what we want to do, and the big offices can have their rigid, system-dominated Autocad clone.

David Wood

VWA 11 +Renderworks

17" iMac

Auckland, NZ

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I'm concerned at the level that VW appears to be losing its competitive edge - ie its point of difference that makes it an appealing program to users.

Other programs are leapfrogging it in terms of capability and there are not enough signs that NNA are in fact capable of catching up, let alone regaining their former edge.

Issues which come to mind are the lack of capability to provide:

- refined line elevations that can actually be used for working drawings

- live sections which will update as the model is developed.

- building elements that can be interactively modified in 3D views by stretching and the like.

- two way data exchange between PIO's and their schedules

- functioning associative dimensioning

- live shadow casting.

- sophisticated PIO's that provide options rather than restrictions.

Another factor is that too much of the recent increased program capability appears to have been added with the assumption that all users are experienced and technically minded. This is not the case and many new and existing users are inhibited and confused by the apparent complexity of the program.

It also ignores the essential characteristic of architects and designers being graphic oriented people rather than word oriented people. The maxim 'that a picture is worth a thousand words should be writ large in the face of every NNA programmer. Making life easier for the users should be a priority rather than an inconvenience. Providing a more graphic interface in PIO's so that new and existing users can more easily understand what they are doing should be obligatory.

If NNA chooses to forget the purpose of the program, and ignore the fact that it is the destination which is important, not the journey, then they risk sowing the seeds for their own destruction.

VW has a very loyal user base but to assume that this will save the day is foolhardy. Today's world is more about competitive advantage and users are not adverse to changing program.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Simple Graphic Interface:

There's an older guy (65+) here who has recently tried to get into CAD, word processing, etc. Following the enthusiastic recommendations of various local VW users, he bought VW. He hasn't found it as easy as I did when I began. He didn't find the intuitive visual guides I did in 1988. At last report, he's still struggling, he's not very computer literate. He's been referred to Archoncad's training manuals.

He's new to computers. A visual person, used to manual drawing, not really a computer enthusiast. Like most of us, he just wants to produce:

? Easy sketches of design ideas, prefably with simple 3D models clients can understand

? Developed Design drawings he can use for Town Planning Applications: plans, elevations, sections and 3D's

? Basic working drawings (2d is ok, but 3D is better - Client changes from Developed Design need to be easy to make)

? Comprehensive working drawings: plans, elevations, sections and 3D's, all live, with dimensions, notes etc., able to extra details easily.

As far as I know, he's not using the spreadsheets.

A drawing/visual interface for every task would be my wish. Even for creating and editing hatches. Maybe we could just paste a texture (sources from anywhere?) or pattern or series of lines into an object, rather than the complex hatch edit interface. (What you see is what you get.) (This may, of course be difficult to programme.)

The file sizes are important too - clients often do not have the capacity to download large files via email, especially if they are in country areas with poor internet services.

The size of elevations files is a problem for sending files to Clients via emails.

Easy visuals for training and interaction with the software for ordinary folk (as opposed to computer wizards), like worked examples in MOVIE form, would be a useful training tool that can be provided with the software.

VW remains a good product - for the sole practitioner architect, the best value around. I wouldn't use anything else. I make these suggestions purely as contructive feedback in the hope of both broadening our user base, and making life easier for everyone, especially the less sophicticated user, of which, I believe, there are thousands, myself included.

Thanks for the discussion.

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What are the other programs that you have in mind. I would be interested in seeing what they are and what they have to offer.

Architect G?rard Siero;

You mention file size and email restrictions. I would never email a VW file to a client. I do email them PDF files. The PDF is of course much smaller and does not require VW Viewer.

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Take a look at pdf995 it may suit your needs as its a Windows program and free with the option to purchase to stop banner ads. You can also download additional software to edit created pdf's such as add or remove pages, combine pdf's etc.

Worth a look at as its free, before making the possible heavy investment in something like Distiller, which may be required, dependant on your specific requirements.


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One of the things touched on in this thread and in other posts is the increasing complexity of Vectorworks, this is of course linked to its increasing capabilities and is a observation not a criticism.

Maybe its time for a "lite" (hate the expression) version of Vectorworks something like it had with its Blueprint program in the Minicad days, although I never owned or used it.

This could be used for good basic 2D work which is something some users seem to require, without the need for 3d modelling but have a upgrade or progression path to the "full" version of Vectorworks both in terms of files and in customer upgrade pricing options.

Whilst it could be argued you don't have to use Vectorworks in 3D mode you still pay, quite rightly, for that capability in the asking price.

Whilst this may be competing within perhaps an already crowded area it would get people in that market area on the Vectorworks ladder so to speak, and have the potential of increased sales later.

Personally I got Vectorworks because of its 3D capabilities, giving me what I needed without paying the asking price of Archicad, Autocad etc.

I'm not an Architect and only use the "vanilla" version of Vectorworks rather than the industry standard versions.

I understand that, as with all things in life, changes in working practises are taking place.

I hear the expression BIM used a fair amount but how this relates to the smaller architectural practises I don't know. I'm sure many of you are using the program for the more mundane but still profitable and worthwhile work of architecture, which will never justify or need the producing of complex models or complex construction documents within the fees charged or expected by your clients.

A simplier version for the simple tasks which may even find a place in multi seat practises.

Just a thought


[ 02-23-2005, 06:20 AM: Message edited by: alanmac ]

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For me BIM is more hype than reality - I think it will only be relevant to a small percentage of users in the short term. In the long term it may be different.

You are right in saying the program is becoming more complex and difficult to learn to use. One thing I would like to see is more "How to ..." Quicktime movies on the website.

There are some quite good ones, but the range needs to be expanded. An approach similar to SketchUP's would be ideal. At my last count they have 55 movies on their website compared to NNA's 19.

[ 02-23-2005, 07:07 AM: Message edited by: mike m oz ]

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Mike, i think the BIM definition is different for each person. For example some people think of the BIM as containing everything, including all the details in a 3D model.

I think of the BIM as having choices, for example, i see the use of windoor as a kind of BIM. It appears in 2D/3D and has size and if i change it in the floor plan it changes in the window schedule. Roof, walls, joists are similar. We can asssign a database to doors, windows, beams, etc and report this information. This is under the definition of a BIM. I think we get a choice of how far we want to take it....

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Mike, i think the BIM definition is different for each person. For example some people think of the BIM as containing everything, including all the details in a 3D model.

I think of the BIM as having choices, for example, i see the use of windoor as a kind of BIM. It appears in 2D/3D and has size and if i change it in the floor plan it changes in the window schedule. Roof, walls, joists are similar. We can asssign a database to doors, windows, beams, etc and report this information. This is under the definition of a BIM. I think we get a choice of how far we want to take it....

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Reading this session leads me to remark on the learning curve.

It's never ending and that's all there is to it. Also, it's impossible for one app to do all things for all people. VW integrates seamlessly with my arsenal. Many of the Client email issues are as simple as Grabbing the Screen image and pasting it into Safari ... then click send.

I do everything in 3D all the time ... even Civil. There's no end to the magic. The important thing is to develop your own system... never getting too far ahead of the I/O of the database.

Textures & Image Props allow a tremendous range of easy to use possiblities. And if the Rendering is a little messed up with artifacts, it can be easily fixed in Photoshop. Output to PDF is the only way to go and is the very best way to archive drawings.

GUI is never perfect and always changing. The Workspace Editor is customizable as well. Just Go For It...


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There's a bit of shoulder shrugging and that's life, just get on with it and various other cliches going on here. If you're satisfied with the direction VWA is heading, that's fine, but a few of us have concerns about the overly technical and ever more complex route that the program is taking, and how poorly it is communicated to users who are architects first, computer geeks second. Or, in my case, about 10th.

Change and improving and updating is fine, but it doesn't have to result in a more complex program. I would rather see for instance the ability to draw round or hexagonal windows, or a dimensioning system that allows horizontal dimensions on a vertical string, or "save a copy as lines" off the model elevation that didn't require hours of work to get presentation quality elevations (why should I have to buy Photoshop, and learn how to use that?), or manuals (such as Jonathan's) written and illustrated by and for architects, long before such technical things as viewports. The trouble with a lot of this complexity is that you buy the upgrade, spend time and money getting to grips with it (beacause most of the money has gone into writing the new code and little into how to explain it to the users), only to find it is of little use in real life.

Fine for those whose business is in developing and selling the upgrade, not so good for the end user who just wants to design better buildings and draw them better (and faster would be nice too) so the builders and trades can understand the drawings easier and build better.

David Wood

VWA 11 +Renderworks

17" iMac

Auckland, NZ

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Going back to what I said earlier you are getting good bang for buck .

we get all these features for a "lite" price.

I am sure most architects are being asked for more and more perspectives in getting the concept right.

often to aid in preselling what will be built this is a good marketing tool too.

Every other cad system is getting more complex,its unfortunately unavoidable.

I know Vworks can allways improve but in the years I have been using it I would never go back.

and I sense it is making inroads into cad markets.

I guess you can't please all ,all the time

Regards Brendan

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I can reconcile with some of what David Wood says as I have to teach both new and experienced users how to use the program, and answer queries when they get into trouble or can't quite figure out how to do something.

As the program has progressed it has become more complex and I find that both new and existing users are becoming increasingly inhibited by the complexity of the program. Many of them are architects and designers who typically find having to work in a disciplined rigid way difficult. They are also mostly image based people rather than text based. This brings us back to Gerard Siero's original point that the interface needs to be more visual.

On this score he is correct - many of the dialog boxes need a visual make over so that people can immediately understand what it is that they are doing. ie. making the program more intuitive to use. I know this won't solve all of the problems but it will help.

Gerard's second point was about training resources and I also agree with him that there is a need for a more visual approach on this as well. The ArchonCAD manuals partly fill this void at the moment, but it is difficult to convince people to buy them (even users who would benefit significantly)

I find that many users have a reluctance to using the VW manuals or the online help (perhaps I should start charging them when they ring up and ask stupid questions). These people even have problems with the training CD's - their brains just switch off.

I now think that short sharp Quicktime movies are the only way to get through to them. The online help would be more effective if when people asked How do I ... they received a response of text plus a small Quicktime movie that showed them what to do.

There would still need to be the more comprehensive movies to deal with more complex problems. I suspect that these would be more likely to be looked at if people had already been conditioned into the value of them by their experience with the Help movies.

What I am really trying to say is that the program needs to become more intuitive to use through a combination of a more visual interface and a more responsive help system that encourages people to use it.

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Also, is it that as whilst Vectorworks is an essential part of the process it does not suit the needs of the visual, image based people being mentioned who know that at some stage they need the requirements that Vectorworks has, but would be better suited or get more value and use from say Sketch Up. How about a hybrid of the two with good seamless file exchange capabilities?

With regard to the problems of training and "These people even have problems with the training CD's - their brains just switch off."

At the end of the day an old expression comes to mind "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink"

Hope you know a good way to chill out or have a cupboard full of stress balls Mike!

all the best


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Horses that won't drink - I know several of those.

I even had one bloke tell me "I don't do manuals".

I've also had the reaction of extreme indignation when I have suggested some formal training which they will have to pay for, followed closely by an outburst on the inadequacies of the program for not being intuitive enough and/or not coming with adequate training materials. These are invariably the same people who have never opened the manuals and are incapable of using the online help. I well and truly empathise with the acronym RTFM.

They also ignore all suggestions that they invest in the training CD's and/or 3rd party books, and bemoan the fact that there are no VectorWorks courses available at the local unis or technical colleges.

I twice attempted to have VW taught at one of the local unis at a time when the architecture department was receptive to the idea. I contacted most of the users, and in particular those people who had expressed this desire, for support in building a case to the uni hierarchy. Not even one of them responded to me, let alone approached the uni in writing or verbally to support the case. Needless to say nothing happened. I have come to the conclusion that they want it as long as someone else does all the legwork.

In my experience there appears to be a correlation between how design oriented the person says they are and unwillingness to help themselves (The drafters invariably just get on with it). The problem is that these 'designer' people are often the decision makers about which CAD package to buy, upgrade etc.

Training in this context is difficult - unless its free spoon feeding they are never happy. So how do you deal with this problem. The only way I can think of is to meet them part way in terms of making the program more intuitive and the online help more user friendly. Hence my comments.

PS - I do occassionaly resort to partaking of the odd glass of port or two or ...

[ 02-24-2005, 09:15 AM: Message edited by: mike m oz ]

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