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by Jared Banks, AIA | Shoegnome, LLC |

Probably the biggest barrier to residential firms using cutting-edge technology is that many residential firms already have systems that work well. That system might be based in hand drafting or CAD. It might be about client referrals and doing right by past and current clients. Regardless of the details, these methods are tested, repeatable, comfortable, and—ideally—profitable. They are known quantities. They have worked forever and the belief is that if “it ain’t broke, why fix it?” This leads to a mentality of "why do I need to go to BIM, why do I need that new movie tech, or do I really need a website, a Facebook page, a twitter account... isn't LinkedIn just a hassle..."

That’s fine. And if it works, that’s great. But it’s time to evolve. It’s time to stop being static. Because at some point the old ways just won’t be enough. It might be a year or two, or maybe five, but there will come a point where the good enough solutions turn into the not good enough solutions. Clients are getting more sophisticated and technologically savvy and the competition is getting more fierce. The need for a good Internet presence and comfort with production technologies become more critical with each passing day. This pressure will only intensify as new firms run by Gen Yers and younger Gen Xers become more competitive.

It’s easy to push this line of thinking too far: to fall in love with technology and everything new, to become obsessed with the next best thing, to condemn anything old, or to fall for the cliché of don’t trust anyone over thirty (in which case don’t trust anything I’ve written in the past two years). That is just as foolish as its opposite. So instead of taking this article down the path of why you need to toss your pencils in the compost bin (or at least the shavings) and burn all your trace, let’s focus on an example that brings analog and digital processes into alignment. Let’s look at teaching not just the old timers something new, but also the youngsters something old. Surviving the next few years won’t be about sudden change, but about the fusion of traditional architectural value with new potential.

In the fall of 2012, one of the most talked-about architectural apps for the iPad was Morpholio Trace. Soon after it came out, I started writing a blog post. I had the title, but got busy doing other things and never finished—which I’m glad about because my view has changed considerably since then. Here’s the original, amazingly sarcastic title of that defunct post: Decreased Functionality proves Paper is Better than iPad. My initial reactions were anger, frustration, and confusion. I didn’t get why everyone was going so crazy for a program that just mimicked trace paper. Shouldn’t the digitization of a process IMPROVE it in some way? If electronic pencils are just glitch-y, more expensive, less versatile replicas of a classic tool, what’s the point? My cursory understanding of Morpholio Trace was that it lacked the sophistication of other drawing apps, not to mention full-blown architectural software. The layers were nothing compared to the layers I was used to in Photoshop, AutoCAD, or ArchiCAD. The limited pen color selection was laughable. My list of grievances was long.

Fast-forward a few months to early 2013. Bud Dietrich and I were exchanging e-mails, discussing various aspects surrounding architects’ relationship with technology, and specifically the Internet (which we’ll leave for a future article). Morpholio Trace came up as part of a solution to doing design meetings over Skype or another video conferencing software with remote clients. Bud downloaded the app (which is free by the way) and his enthusiastic response to the app gave me pause. I played around with the app some more myself and realized that it really is a great tool. And in fact the reduced functionality that I initially condemned is exactly why it excels.

The beauty of an app like Morpholio Trace is that it is a bridging technology. If you work with tracing paper, there is no reason not to explore Morpholio Trace. It's just a more advanced version of what you do. Adding layers of trace is just one click. You can erase or Undo. Whatever you do can be saved out to a .jpg and e-mailed. Everything in it should be VERY familiar, comfortable, and obvious. There is great value for architects who already work with trace paper by hand; for them this app adds functionality. It turns a familiar process into something that supports working remotely. It is a great step towards more advanced and technologically integrated processes.

If you don't work much by hand this is an app that can reintroduce you to the benefits of ephemeral sketching. Not everything needs saving. Not every line needs to be agonized over or be fixable mid-thought. Using this app, one is reminded of the value of a one directional process: always forward.

This app does exactly what I want technology to do: help architects move into the digital world while also helping them reconnect with the freedom and looseness of unfettered design. An app like Morpholio Trace quickly becomes invisible, for both the technologically savvy and the uninitiated, and opens up a gateway to other techniques on both sides of the digital divide.


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