The Pros and Cons of Designing with CAD

"The art of drafting has evolved dramatically with the introduction of technology and the internet, and it continues to evolve.”

authors  | May 10, 2021

Our clients’ needs are what drives a project. Verbal communication is okay as long as everyone remembers, understands and acknowledges the goals. But people can forget. That’s why it’s crucial to translate verbal communication into email messages and send them to everyone involved in the project.

Having systems in place to help organize information for clients’ plans is also critical. The information should be organized so that the details get into the plans. Contractors don’t care how we gather data, as long as the plans show everything they need. They must have complete information to do their jobs – to transform our creative ideas into reality.

Homeowners also aren’t concerned with what we do to keep everything together, as long as they get the results they want. Even if they’ve learned how to interpret plans, it’s still up to us to explain how each detail we’ve drafted benefits them. They can relate to perspectives, renderings and quick sketches done during a meeting, so knowing how to draw and sketch by hand is an excellent communication tool.

The art of drafting has evolved dramatically with the introduction of technology and the internet, and it continues to evolve. That evolution has helped me – and many designers like me – grow and change with the times.

Visualizing Through Hand Drafting

Hand drafting was an objective for me in college. Computer Aided Design (CAD) software wasn’t an option at that time. The interior design department at my college was weak when it came to drafting education, so I took other schools’ courses and hired an architect to mentor me.

Hand drafting my clients’ plans required a minimum of eight hours to complete each page. When clients changed their minds about anything, it involved erasing and re-drawing details. If there were a lot of changes, it meant re-drawing everything. Hand drafting prevented me from working with more than two clients at a time and caused chronic tendonitis to settle into my right thumb. Clearly, it was time for me to learn CAD.

AutoCAD was the biggest fish in the pond, but it was limited to drafting. The user had to create plans, elevations, sections and perspectives.

Within five years after I graduated college,
there were several Building Information Management (BIM) software programs available, which thankfully made it easy to generate all views with the click of the mouse.

Computer-Aided Drafting Pros

There are many welcome advantages to working with CAD. For starters, it basically cuts the drafting and plan modification time in half. You can draft a proposed kitchen or master bathroom plan in about three hours. “File save as” allows unlimited iterations quickly!

The software also produces elevations and sections. What you want to see immediately shows up on the screen after you place an elevation or a section marker on the plan, then click the left mouse button. It also generates perspectives. Simply place a virtual camera from a viewpoint, drag and click, and you and your clients can see the view immediately.

Another CAD advantage is that the software creates virtual walk-throughs, which help homeowners envision the results. The first time I used this feature, it helped a stubborn homeowner change his mind. He wanted a shed roof over his kitchen addition but chose a gable roof when he saw the difference.

It builds virtual photographs and motivates client feedback. Homeowners can see to-scale perspectives and give their opinion about how their project looks, which helps more clients and increases income. Less time spent preparing plans and modifications allows you time for more clients, and more clients equals higher income.

Furthermore, CAD will reduce workspace area. It’s possible to work on a regular desk or table using a PC or a laptop.

And CAD eliminates the need for blueprints. Printing plans on a plotter is better for the environment. Before plotters, we used blueprint machines that required ammonia for processing. Storage needs are also diminished, as you don’t need to store paper plans since plans are on a hard drive.

Hand lettering is also eradicated with CAD. This was the most time-consuming part of hand drafting.

Finally, CAD provides the ability to retrieve plans instantly. Plans stored on a hard drive can be quickly recovered. It’s also easy to share electronic plans as attachments to email messages or upload them to Dropbox. Plans and views are visible during screen sharing.

Designers can also create a custom layout that provides a signature look. CAD allows users to draw unique parts or import library parts from SketchUp, and duplicate details. Features from different client’s plans can also be reproduced, which saves time.

Computer-Aided Drafting Cons

Unfortunately, there are down sides to working with CAD. It requires a time investment, and the time spent learning how to use it varies based on previous CAD experience and the time available for classes. It took me two years to become proficient with my first CAD program. The major problems I experienced were learning the jargon and understanding a poorly written manual.

It also demanded a monetary investment. There’s an initial investment for the software, the computer, a powerful video card and a large monitor, and the ongoing investment includes software and computer upgrades, and computer repairs. A plotter saves time, eliminating the need to get printed plans from a service bureau.

It also generates posture pain. Sitting for hours in the same position is terrible for your back! But it was worse to stand for hours, cantilevered over the drafting table. An adjustable chair is vital. The monitor and keyboard height are also critical.

When looking back, we can see how far we’ve come. The progress we’ve made gets us inspired and motivated, and looking ahead to future growth.

Picture yourself designing in 3D. Imagine software that can correct any mistakes made or rectify any inconsistencies between the different views. Think about software that knows the current codes and either warns us or amends the plans and views. The future of our profession is very bright indeed!

Note: With love and gratitude, I dedicate this column to Ellen Cheever, who inspired me to follow my passion. I’ll always remember her kind, wise words of encouragement. Ellen shared a great tip in her first “Beyond the Basic Kitchen” class. “On kitchen plans, show all the appliance doors open. It will help your clients understand why you’re making specific recommendations.” Thanks, Ellen!

Diane Plesset, CMKBD, CAPS, NCIDQ is the principal of D.P. Design in Oregon City, OR and has over 35 years of experience as a kitchen and bath designer. She is the author of the award-winning book, THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling, and has been the recipient of numerous design awards. Named a 2019 KBDN Innovator, Plesset has taught Western design to students of the Machida Academy in Japan and has a podcast, “Today’s Home.”

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