What to look for in a new design tool
Design resources for BIM, energy modeling, cost estimating, and sustainability abound. AIA partner Deltek offers strategies for navigating your options.
When it comes to product selection and design tools, architects and designers have seen an explosion of options on the internet over the past several years, mostly in the form of product catalogs that purport to make it easier to research, compare, and select products, as well as integrate product-specific data into a project.
But not all products or platforms are equal. “Free” resources, while attractive, often have an unseen price—product data may be out of date, inaccurate, or incomplete; specification or BIM content may be loaded with extraneous or unneeded data that makes the content unusable or in need of major work; or comparison tools may not be sophisticated enough to compare one manufacturer against another.
Whether or not a resource will be useful may depend on the architect, the project, your immediate needs, and likely other factors as well. Generally, the following criteria should be considered:
- Where does the information come from? Is it a manufacturer-supported resource? In other words, does the manufacturer maintain and update the data or has it been scraped from the internet?
- If a vendor or software provider who is not the manufacturer is behind the product, what is the story behind offering the product and what will they do to maintain the integrity of the product?
- Is it a complete product; i.e., will it completely fill a need or does it only provide a partial solution?
- Does it integrate into your workflow?
Avitru’s team of architects that maintain and update MasterSpec—a tool developed by the American Institute of Architects—keep these guidelines in mind to ensure clear, concise, and correct product data. Product catalogs or productivity applications aren’t directly related to specifications, but it’s still useful to know what products are available in the marketplace.
While manufacturer websites and product representatives remain the best source for product data, just as the major software vendors remain the best source for design software, there are some design resources that provide high-quality content or applications that deliver on the promise to make the architect’s life easier. Here are a few promising tools we saw at the AIA Startup Showcase and on the floor during the A’18 Conference on Architecture, two of which were developed by architects for architects.
- Founded by two architects who started thinking outside of the traditional BIM content model, BIMsmith offers resources for manufacturer-specific BIM content in BIMsmith Market, but doesn’t stop at just offering an online product catalog. BIMsmith Forge is a patented product that allows the creation of custom wall, floor, ceiling, and roof assemblies from generic or manufacturer-specific BIM content.
- UL SPOT is an online directory for manufacturer- and product-specific sustainability content comes from a non-profit with a long history of supporting building safety and that recently expanded into sustainability. When building SPOT, UL identified a need to create a trusted platform that architects could rely on to offer up-to-date and accurate product sustainability information.
- Morpholio is a suite of apps, built by an architect, that allow the use of an iPad to mimic traditional workflows, such as tracing a drawing, and then integrate it into a design. There’s something to be said about being able to sketch a design or brainstorm on site or otherwise away from the BIM workstation, and the creativity that comes with. And if you are looking to sketch out an interior and integrate products, they’ve got a tool for you.
These tools may not be for everyone—needs, workflows, timing, and other factors may determine the need and the use. What products have you found useful? Email Michael Heinsdorf, Avitru's VP of business development, at MHeinsdorf@avitru.com with your insights.
Avitru develops MasterSpec, the architecture industry’s most trusted and comprehensive building specification system, created by AIA for its members. Learn more at avitru.com.
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