How Shadowing Elevates Comprehension, Understanding and Efficiency

How Shadowing Elevates Comprehension, Understanding and Efficiency


Do you remember your first driving lesson? Maybe you took the key and put it in the ignition automatically because you saw it so many times and the new activity for you was getting the “feeling” of starting the car and pushing the gas.

Learning by imitation is a powerful tool that helps us to make huge leaps in our development. The training process in truss and panel design can be long and seems at times that there are no shortcuts. Somehow it seems that all designers had to go through different ways to learn the same issues:

  1. Plans Reading and Interpretation
  2. Fundamental Truss Concepts
  3. Software Proficiency

We can hear several stories of designers telling they were sat in front a computer and started with no much more guidance to work. Here at Gould Design, Inc., I have been exposed to something called the “Shadow” technique. This company has made important efforts to build a training system that helps people to grow. This method and has worked for green (newbie’s) or coming-back-to-business designers after a stretch out of the industry (such as myself). Amazingly, this method also works to push forward the “Top Guns” and help them learn efficiency tips from their peers or mentor.

The tools for such systems are multiple, and one that has proved its efficiency is the “Shadowing” technique. This works by watching, in our case remotely, into the computer of a mentor or coworker developing any stage of a project or a whole new one. As designing is a uniquely creative process, we all know that nobody follows the same pattern. We, as designers, can enrich our methods and processes simply looking carefully how our coworkers do stuff like:

  • Proper plan interpretation. Maybe we have been overlooking important issues or skipping helpful sheets like structural plans, details or general notes. Maybe we can learn a way to read them better?
  • Shortcuts key settings. This is a huge time saver! Sometimes we get used doing certain tasks in a certain way, ignorant of ways to get them done more quickly by finding new approaches.
  • The use of regular complements like hatching, line colors, among other regular complements maybe you can need in your daily work. Feeding your “Collection” library can be the difference to finish from one hour to fifteen minutes.
  • Engineering tricks leading to simpler and less expensive solutions (reducing number of plies or webs).
  • Proper use of criteria according to clients. Some will like some kind of splicing or keeping overhang even in areas not required or vice versa. Also you can learn how the shop prefers designs.
  • Solving special situations like changing loading conditions, or lumber, adjusting the setup for a particular job or client.

Looking from a different perspective on things can work in your benefit ONLY if you have the necessary ingredient needed for all growth in life: An open mind! If you are open to try to grasp new approaches to the day-to-day work, your output can increase significantly.

Keep in mind the one you are “shadowing” is surely working in a real job and we must try not to be a burden for this designer who is opening her/his box of tools for us. And as a guide you must remember someone is looking over your shoulder and if there is any special detail or shortcut you usually use, please comment it to the “Shadowee” because maybe you can go too fast for a first timer.

This tool it fits like a glove working remotely. Why? Because the “Shadowee” is watching the screen only and releases the trainer of the pressure to have someone breathing over their neck. Additionally, it also allows the trainer to work as usual without bigger alteration of the work routine.

If the trainee can shadow several designers it could be very enriching. At least it was for me! I had the opportunity to learn from several sources, all veterans. I am certain it can help other designers with tips taken from previous experience from veterans within your company as well.

Managers: Have you tried to use this tool with your design staff? In what other ways do you think experienced designer could help trainees?

Designers: Are you being given the opportunity to attain your full design and earning potential? Ask your manager today if you can shadow someone in your organization.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Javier Dominguez – Design Professional

Gould Design, Inc.