Component Design Means Communication
Building component designers face a unique challenge. Isolation!!! Unlike a doctor who treats their patients face-to-face, unlike a programmer who compiles code into a working program, and unlike a teacher who gets instant feedback from their work, a component designer lives in a world separated from both immediate input and meaningful feedback.
- We rarely visit job sites
- No one seems to want to talk with us
- We work in boring, often uninspiring, usually tacky environments
- On a good day, no one calls, and that’s just as well since we’d rather they didn’t
- The folks who build the trusses we design don’t often to come to us with new ideas
- The customers we design for never come to visit, rarely call, and certainly never say thank you
- The homeowners and occupants of the buildings we sweat over never send photos of the completed home complete with smiling family standing in the doorway that we sweated over to design perfectly
The constant pressure to produce seems opposite to the real need for time, care, caution, thorough understanding, and for other people to communicate all the right details to us.
Communication! What a lousy annoyance, when our job is to design. We are professional designers, not professional communicators, right? Leave us alone with our laptop, give us the information we want and leave us alone. We resent communicating! We resent waiting on a team member, waiting on a contractor, waiting on a homeowner, waiting on management. We resent having to call, we resent leaving messages, we resent the helter-skelter workflow all this communication creates, and what makes it worse, no one ever seems to want to take initiative to come talk with us.
Let me kick this back to with a new way to look at your job; to be a designer is essentially to be a communicator. What else is design but communication? Someone has to work with the relevant players and carefully structure a set of constraints (plans, preferences, job site conditions, manufacturing concerns), which then somehow get communicated to the manufacturing line as a set of instructions. This process is magical, always surprising, often humorous, often incredibly frustrating. Take out the communication, and design starts to look pretty mundane by comparison. And in fact, it is.
The “design” process – the mouse clicking and button pushing – is practically irrelevant in the scheme of things. What software you use is irrelevant. The brand of calculator you use is irrelevant. How much experience you have is also irrelevant. What is relevant, useful, interesting and enduring is the skill to communicate effectively. Extracting the constraints and information out of everyone involved to create a special solution which can be communicated not only to the production line but also to the builder and salesperson, for this one job, today.
Tomorrow will be different. Every job is unique. The button-pushing skills are minor and easily learned – the skills to facilitate communication, gather information and get it back to the right people are powerful and are developed over time. If you gain these skills, treasure them. Do not complain that framers never give you the relevant information; if your sales team hasn’t thought of a satisfactory variety of questions regarding job site conditions. Relish the opportunity to lend your insight and ask the questions yourself. Communicate!
Your design is just a byproduct of:
- The questions you raised
- The problems you foresaw and explained
- The solutions you prepared in the minds of whoever will use your trusses
- The feeling of goodwill and excitement in the midst of the uncertain and risky project of building a structure
These 4 items are the real thing, the essence of component design. Communication is not just the sales team’s job, sales is. We are the grease in the wheel of the company we service. We ARE the company’s reputation in the eyes of its customer. The essence of sales is money; the essence of design is communication.
So forget about pushing buttons and reading plans – learn to ask the right questions and set others on the right track toward a successful project. Ask the questions they haven’t thought of. Encourage a problem-solving attitude. Be a proactive and contributing team member. Take a deep breath. Put a smile on your face, accept your new job title, pick up the phone, and communicate!
Jonathan Landell – Design Professional