CADDManager on October 6th, 2011

Way back when, when all the drafting functions were done with a mechanical pencil in hand there were many talents that a drafter had to develop in order to make plans readable.  The artistic flavor of their lettering was developed over time.  The twist of a pencil to make consistent line weights was an artistic talent that did not come easily.  The use of splines, templates and triangles to create the exacting angles and curves needed was a learned talent.

Generations of master drafters have marched forward passing on the techniques from one person to another.  Each one taking what was learned from the past and adding their own little flare in the nuanced fonts they created by hand.  Each one was building upon the process of years of manipulating paper and pencil to document the designs to be built.

And it was not all just the scratching of lead on vellum.  It included the wisdom and knowledge of how to communicate what needed to be conveyed.  It was learning and presenting on paper the methodology of plan views, enlarged plans, sections, cross sections, orthographic views, diagrams, schematics and so much more.  It was using the proper combination of what diagram goes with what plan.  It was combining the correct chart to assist a specific view.  On the grandest scale it is which plan comes before others and which sheet preceded the next.  It was the flow of the information in the set. It is how plans reference a detail.  It is how sections support plans.

Are these talents no longer needed?  Have you seen sets of plans put together that make little or no sense?  Do you see contractors making extensive change orders and generating overwhelming levels of RFI’s because the plans are not clear, or do not match or the references are wrong?

Let me know if you have seen these things happening…

The Art of Drafting – are we losing it?  or is it already gone…

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15 Responses to “The Art of Drafting – are we losing it?”

  1. Personally what I have found is that with the advent of 2D CAD based drafting we have lost some of the benefits of thinking about what we are drafting. Typically when hand drafting we have the luxury of time to think about what lines we are drawing and what they represent, we get a global view of the project as it’s spread out over our board. Each line had a function and place in the project, we put a lot of thought as to exactly what we are doing as the consequences were immediate.. ever tried to erase a ink line on vellum or Mylar?

    AutoCAD came along and with is the benefits of speed but we did loose some of the benefits of hand drafting mentioned above.

    I have been fortunate that in my 20+ year career I was fortunate to learn on the board, migrated to CAD (thought the 12″ screen was too small and couldn’t see the whole project) and now to BIM software.

    What I find now with BIM software is that it gives you the design perspective back! Now when you place elements you are actually building the building…. virtually. You can see the consequences of what you place where and the impact of what you input immediately, giving back the benefits of thinking about what we are drafting.

    Over the years of using 2D CAD based drafting I think we have partially lost the skills of knowing how a building goes together. BIM now encourages us to once again think about what we are drafting……

    My 2c. :-)

  2. Much of what you list should be lost, a couple of things can’t be. I compare some of the lings you list like line weights, and letting to things still being taught in elementary schools today such as cursive writing.

    The computer has automated a lot of these tasks giving the user more time to focus on design and less time needed to do mundane non-value added tasks.

    I do agree with you that 2D drawings are very much needed to convey the design for manufacturing. CAD should allow us to focus even more on this since we don’t need to focus on learning how to do the little things. Let the computer take care of that part.

  3. Scott,
    Thanks for commenting… This topic is still unfolding. Keep reading and commenting as I continue to post.

    Mark

  4. Kevin,

    Thanks for posting. As I continue to post on this topic you will see that I am not trying to hold tight to the past. Far from it. But the past should be used to build the future. I am taking a higher view of things. Will we ever need to hand letter a drawing again? – NO. Do we need to have students learn how to hand letter – not any more. But the desire for great lettering pounded into my head was one perspective that pressed me forward toward excellence in other areas. We should be careful with the areas we allow to be “good enough”. They are the enemy of Better and Best. We need to think about the things that we “used to do” for the lessons they teach us about the great things we are doing now and will be doing in the future.

    I think you and I are closer in thought pattern than you think.

    Mark

  5. It’s an interesting topic.

    Speaking from the point of view of a contractor in the building industry, many drafters go to night school to learn ‘CAD’, but few ever get taught how to draw.

    By that I mean, how to communicate clearly through a drawing, how to apply drafting standards, how to compose a drawing set.

    Recently, one of our freelance drafters retired. he was in his 70′s and never learned to use a computer. Despite the difficulties of sharing hand drawn information, the company still employed him. Why? Because of his expert knowledge of his subject – not his (non existent) CAD skills.

    And the point to note is that he wasn’t that much slower at producing his drawings than us CAD jockeys. He knew his subject so well that he knew exactly what information he needed to put down to communicate the design intent, making him an incredibly efficient drafter.

    I agree with Scott, that while I loved drawing by hand, modelling in 3D gives a far better perspective on what it is you are actually building. However, I still know that there I have lessons to learn in communicating that 3D model to the workshop or building site effectively.

    While builders need information that they can reproduce cheaply and roll up and stick in there pocket, there will be a place for 2D drawings – no matter how the design was developed.

    Above all the drawings should give clarity and understanding to the project – or they simply aren’t doing their job.

  6. Today I teach people, at work, how to use cad, & get the views they need. In school they are taught to use the software & what commands to use, but not how to make views. 3D has help because you can now make the views But what about our visualization & imagination? those are the next to go.

  7. I’ve been doing drafting and design for 35+ (Yikes!) years. I started board drafting and moved in to Autocad and in recent years to BIM (Revit, C3D, etc.). The one thing I’ve noticed (similar to those who posted before me) is we have folks that can push the buttons and make drawings but don’t fully understand what they are creating. The “art” is lost.

    Many of the engineers I work with today (mostly Civil) want you to “draw” something and then they can mark it up over and over again until the project is due because it’s so easy to edit in CAD. In the old board days you didn’t start slinging ink until you had the design worked out. Less errors in the final product “back in the day!”

    I agree with Scott C., with BIM you have to consider the design once again before you start making sheets. I’m glad to see a return to the two evil twins, Forethought & Planning!!!

    Mike G.

  8. Before my time, our office had a drafting captain whose job was to enforce standards, review drawings, and help the drafting staff better their skills. When we began using cad computers were placed on the drafting boards and plugged in. Cad out of the box had very little in terms of style and all content needed to be created from scratch. Libraries were created on the fly and passed around on floppy discs. Somewhere along the way we got a server and the most of the myriad of discs found their way into a morass of folders. As each project was completed, it would inevitably be copied to start the next project and along with it every bad practice, mistake and error. (Never in the history of drafting had the ability to propagate mistakes been so easy as with the invention of cut and paste.)
    As each new generation of architect joined the firm, he came equipped with a brand new approach to cad as promoted in his or her university. The project architects became responsible for reviewing the drawings and soon the drafting captain had no work and retired. Individual studios cropped up and standards became a distant memory. As I was archiving some material from a recently retired associate, I came across a folder full of sticky backs and transparencies with the label “office standards” on its tab. The most recent date on anything I found was 1967.
    When we moved to a new office 3 years ago I lifted the monitors off of vico mats so yellowed with age that only the place where the monitor rested was still white. I wrapped up about 20 or so parallels and deposited them in the dumpster. The following morning as I sat in front of my pristine workstation and stared at my new flat panel monitors sitting side by side, their glow reflecting on the high pressure laminate of my work surface, I felt a slight pang of nostalgia. Not one of our workstation has a parallel on it. We did eventually purchase four portable boards for those who had to have a parallel. Two of the users have retired since and their boards lay empty. The other two are buried under several inches of review sets on back tables.
    One of my secondary roles in the office is that of company archivist. In that pursuit I have personally handled nearly every scrap of paper generated since our office opened in 1927 and processor drawings going back as far as 1918. I have ink on linen drawings that are as crisp and vibrant as the day that ink was laid down almost 94 years ago. Now that was drafting! I can show you the sequence of drafting from linen to vellum to mylar to bond and from hand to machine to zip-a-tone to computer.
    The transition from ink and lead to lines, arcs, and circles was stark and lifeless. Drafting lost all of its character. But the same can be said of the transition from straight edge to drafting machine and then to sticky backs and zip-a-tone. I have seen a pattern appear. With each advance in technology the art of drafting has diminished. Or has it? Early machine drafting became more sophisticated and warm as the art of drafting transformed to the new tools. Early computer drafting looks cold as compared to newer more experienced work. I hear from my colleagues that Revit drawings lack character and depth and that they will never replace cad drawings completely. Familiar words? Like 10 years ago when people said that digital would never fully replace film as medium? When is the last time you saw a rack of Kodak film on a pharmacy checkout counter?
    BIM and three dimensional drafting WILL replace 2d drawings. When is a matter of conjecture and not really relevant to the point. We aren’t loosing drafting skills, we are transforming them. Just as we have through every paradigm shift and just as we will in the next.

  9. I started my career as a board drafter and started using CAD in 1985. I remember a board drafting problem in trade school- doing an isometric view of a machine part. It was a killer because it was a angled bracket with 45 degree skews in 2 directions. Everyone struggled with it, but it taught you how to visualize a 3 dimensional shape in your mind. A skill need more than ever as we move into BIM softwares.
    People look at CAD as a problem solver that does the work for you. It is no different than a pencil. It is a tool and only works as well as the person operating the tool. Memorizing commands and shortcuts does not replace critical thinking.

  10. Great thought-provoker, thanks, Mark. I’ve been trying to point this out for years, so it’s nice to see someone else bringing up the same subject. It’s important.

    I spent a year doing CADD support after 25 years as a piping/plant designer/draftsman just to see what the techies had to deal with and I came to appreciate what they do.

    Field sketching is important (at least in my discipline), so if you can’t draw well, well…

    Regards,

    Paul
    PipingDesign.com

  11. Good morning for all,

    I am new in this forum and also I am a beginner in am English language because my second language is French, not problem the important is communication.

    Concerning the subject “the art of the Drafting?” I find it is very interesting subject,

    Really the pencil becomes day after day forgettable and the machine became necessary for the resolution of our technical problems, we forgot pencils HB and 2H, the pens ROTRING, the table of drawing, the famous red book CHEVALIER (for the draftsmanship) and the bleu book for piping (trouvay and cauvin).

    The drafting packages make it possible to save to us only time, but for the detection of the error at the time of the design is really impossible, because that sometimes happens to me to detect errors after the impression of the plan.

    Greetings

    BENADJAL
    Mechanical engineer
    (SONATRACH ALGERIA)

  12. I started the drafting 27 years back.Still I remember the olden days,which we had a Guru (Teacher). He knows how to mould the drafter.But today drafters are interested only to familiar with softwares.

  13. I think the art of drafting has turned into the art of CAD operating. I would much rather see a new cadet drafter have high marks in graphics or drafting throughout highschool.

    Usually we have to “beat out” their bad habits they have learnt when using CAD. Sure it can do a lot of fancy thigs, but often they are time consuming and not needed at all.

    I could teach someone to use CAD in a month.

    It would take a year or more to teach them to be a drafter.

  14. I was ‘brought up on a drawing board’ and did go into AutoCAD 2D from version 2.6 to 11 before I became more involved as an Engineer rather than drafter. I still like to keep my hand in and never forget my skills.
    When you are drafting, you are engineering. You are building the project on paper.

    What I have seen over the last 2 years in the UK, is that graduates, masters degree ‘engineers’ who are now in high positions in the company, just simply cannot read a drawing let alone produce on.

    Most want to see a 3D model so they can ‘see what is going on’.

    I remember that technical drawing at 14 – 16 years old in school was a vital learning curve well before I started my drafting apprenticeship. It no longer happens in schools but this should be learnt before CAD.

  15. Hello everyone,

    I started my draughting career as a tracer in 1978, I had completed 12 months night school learning how to write in a ticket writing class before I started draughting. I literally started from the printing room and filing first long before I could touch a drawing board so I was office taught from the ground up. In doing this I understood how printing occurred, and drawing sets and signatories, the engineers of the various levels to complete a project. I was also conversant in not one discipline but multiple disciplines and worked in two countries in both hemispheres and was asked to work in a third. In my own country Australia I was just a tracer, in London I was a detail draughter and important to companies as I was able to work with layers of different disciplined drawings on my board and/or layout table. I could move easily from electrical drawings to mechanical and structural without thinking time to re-orientate from one discipline to the next. That is higher order thinking, I with my collegues could turn around a drawing from design concept to contract ready in fortnight when it was the norm to take 4 to 41/2 months errors were fixed in the main before the drawing left my board and rarely came back for changes unless there were major design changes. With the CAD draughters coming into offices in the late 1980′s early 1990′s they had no concept of what their job entailed they didn’t seem to understand their job was to create engineering drawings. They could use the CAD programs and wasted Draughty time repairing their errors which they were not interested in learning why or what they were doing wrong concerning drawing conventions. Oh I did work on several CAD programs but was frozen out and called a dineasaur for knowing my job well. Now as an educator, research confirms what I am writing today the bath should not be thrown out with the baby, but it has now, we are back to reinventing the wheel again. I am also not lamenting the past but computers are just tools like drawing stencils, pens and pencils the operator has to drive the programs in reality and that takes visual knowledge and understanding, and drawing knowledge includes spatial knowledge and understanding.
    have a good day everyone

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