Monday, October 15, 2012

The Future of Design? Leeeeeeroy Jeeeeenkins!

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Harrison's best friend Christopher (mentioned here) loves designing buildings. He talks of studying architecture and becoming an architect. He and Harrison are also avid fans of Minecraft. Once homework is done they'll often log on Minecraft with their friends from school (one of the guys even hosts Minecraft on his private server). They also log into Skype for VoIP.  Together, this group of 8-10 high school students collaborate in real-time to discuss, design, plan and build the most fantastic of ideas.

However, a few weeks ago I found myself having to convince Christopher not to give up on his dreams to become an architect. 

Over the past year, Christopher has designed and built some really fantastic ideas in Minecraft. He's also painstakingly recreated his family's home in Charlotte, NC. Even though the level of detail is mostly limited to 1m^3 blocks, the care and attention to detail is really wonderful. Harrison gave me a full tour. Impressive!

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So last spring Christopher signed up for a design class during his first year in high school. I remember him discussing his schedule with Harrison over the summer and how much he was looking forward to really digging into the "real world" of design. His new high school is one of the nicest in Charlotte. The design labs are well equipped with the latest software and hardware.

So two weeks ago I asked Christopher how his design was going. "Not so well…I don't think I'm cut out for architecture."

"What are you talking about?" I was shocked. "You've been looking forward to this all summer."

"I'm just really confused. Nothing makes sense." Christopher confessed. Then he began to elaborate.

"We're learning to use something called AutoCAD. Do you know what a 'Layer' is? We have to use something called Layers. We have to make layers and then we draw lines. So far we've only drawn floor plans. It's pretty boring and I'm just really confused - none of this makes any sense. I don't think I'd make a very good architect."

Of course I found all of this rather incredulous. Why would high school kids be required to learn to use AutoCAD for designing buildings instead of Revit? It makes no sense! Teach kids to design in 3D for crissake!

But I've had some more time to think about it - and the problem is not specifically about AutoCAD vs. Revit or even generally about 2D vs. 3D. It's something far more subtle and much more important.

For the past year, Christopher has been using Minecraft. He's been collaborating in 3D, with real-time lighting, materials, time of day (yep - the sun rises and sets in Minecraft - as a great, big glowing cube). And there's even weather! And this is a toy! Well - a toy with over 44million registered users and nearly 8million paying customers.

The real lesson in all of this? After using a "toy" for a year, Christopher thinks the real-world is going to be even better! Not just full of meter cubes - he'll using the same kind of software in high school like they use in the "real-world". But then he gets to high school and has the wind knocked out of his sails.

Sure - Christopher is rightly confused by having to start over with 2D abstractions. But there's still something else missing. Christopher's entry level expectation of design isn't simply about Technology or Level of Detail. On the contrary - he's grown up with Legos and it hasn't hurt his imagination in the slightest. What Christopher was struggling with was the complete lack of any collaboration.

Where's the Social?

Practically night after night - for a year - Christopher has been online with his friends - talking and chatting via Skype - collaborating and working together. They're solving problems. They're debating different design ideas and testing new ideas. The buildings they're creating are habited spaces - not just objects.

Yet when he gets to high school he's is faced with a box. A silo. And even if the box contained Revit, I'm beginning to suspect it would have looked pretty old fashioned compared to his expectations and experience, because working in any silo - 2D or 3D - can be pretty dispiriting.

This brings me to the "future" of design.

At this moment, quite a few software companies are rushing to put their "solutions" in the cloud and convince us that the cloud is the "future" - a limitless, infinite computer. But as far as I can tell, almost all of these solutions are simply just reiterations of the tools on the desktop. Sure, you can get an answer faster if you throw more processors at it. But a disconnected, fragmented, siloed solution is just as fragmented regardless if it's on the desktop or in the cloud.

It seems to me that we've got plenty of great Technical solutions; we can now fabricate and build almost anything we can imagine. But the Social aspects are for the most part completely missing in our "real-world" tools. Sure, the "Cloud" makes compute faster - but it doesnt make it collaborative - nor ultimately better. 

On the other hand, look at gaming. Social is everything about gaming - which is really just a metaphor for solving problems. And Minecraft has managed to integrate social collaboration with design and building - and in doing so captured the imaginations of over 50 million users around the world.

Sure - design tools like Revit are more interconnected and a really great start. But then what? So far it's all cloud-based silos:

  • Rendering? Silo in the cloud.
  • Analysis? Silo in the cloud.
  • Construction? Silo in the cloud.
  • Facility Management? Silo in the cloud.
  • Document Storage? Silo in the cloud.

As far as I can tell, Cloud without Social is a D-E-A-D dead. It's just another disconnected desktop that sucks...less.

This is why I'm so excited about the future of design - because the future of design is Social. This isn't about platforms that are cloud-based; it's about platforms that are social-based. And when we get this right, Harrison's best friend will enjoy being a designer who isn't stuck in another silo unable to collaborate across teams and distances. 

Because at the end of the day, the cloud isn't about connecting computers - it's about connecting people. And if your favorite design software company tells you different they just don't get it.


Jereme said...

Hm...Thought provoking Post with great points...something to think about.

antman said...

As long as there's an undo command to keep your good buddy Leroy and those precious little welps from causing your design effort irreparable harm, I'm all good with the social. .-)

Cesar said...

That comment about the Cloud not being collaborative. Well, he hasn't seen the business model that "Advance 2000" (A2K) has created. That's all I've been researching as of late. Businesses that have a similar or maybe better model than A2K, and luckily, I'm finding a few that see that same "Cloud" vision to better assist "collaboratively".

Andy Milburn said...

Thanks Phil

Nail on the head. Perhaps you need to look up the meaning of incredulous (just being social) Maybe design was more social when our work was on the surface of a drawing board for every passer-by to comment on. We have a long way to go methinks.

Ashton Noble said...

There are not many sites that have explained CAD Design as plainly as above. Nice demonstration indeed.

drzz said...

For those who read French, here is a good explanation of BIM - IFC :, and what the French call the digital model/sketchup/mockup (maquette numérique).