Archive for Standards – Page 2

 

 

In my previous article I talked more about my personal experience at AU 2012 and included some whining.  I am sure being sick the later half of the week did not help my attitude.  I wanted to follow up with a bit more on some specifics of why AU is such a great event to attend and what you can get out of it.

This is only my third time attending AU, but have wanted to go every year for as long as I can remember – it’s just hard to get some companies to foot the bill for the experience, especially when they hear it is in Las Vegas.   If you are an Autodesk product user (and that covers a lot of software users), AU is a the mecca of events to learn more about your software and what is coming down the road for your industry.  If like me, you have trouble getting your bosses/manager to approve and finance the trip, start working on them early – like now!  Let them know what a great event you missed and how other industry folks are raving about the experience and what they learned.   Check out Lynn Allen’s video on the benefits of attending AU and get the  Convince Your Manager Tool Kit from the AU site and start planning now.  Keep in mind, your a professional, and avoid the traps in Las Vegas – there is plenty to do at the event that has nothing to do with the Casinos and the strip.   If you do get to go focus on what the event is about so that maybe next year you will get to go again!

So what does AU off that makes it so worthwhile?  Below are just a few of the items that I see/saw:

  • Industry forecasting of what is coming down from Autodesk and where my industry is headed
  • Tons of classes with experienced instructors on a variety of Autodesk software – way more than you could possibly take
  • Huge peer networking opportunity to make connections with others that do what you do
  • Learn about new products from various vendors that are not even on the market yet
  • Talk directly to the manufacturers about your experiences and questions – not a help desk person from India
    • During one lunch I sat with and discussed AutoCAD with a lead Autodesk tester
  • Tips and tricks from some of the best.  I sat in two Tips/Tricks sessions that had over 500 people in each one!
  • Time away from your job to actually focus on the technology that you use everyday, instead of trying to figure it out during production
The hot items this year that I saw were cloud based work, Revit optimization and coordination and a lot about creativity.  I do not know of many folks using the cloud, but it is gaining ground every year.  Revit it seems is getting in to more and more offices and is gaining more acceptance.  I am even thinking of submitting on a basic AutoCAD to Revit transition course for next years AU.
AU Virtual:
If you couldn’t go or went but did not get to sit in all the classes you wanted (like me),  there is AU Virtual.  For non AU attenders, sign up for a  free account at AU Virtual and check out the keynote videos and and classes from AU 2012 and start learning for free.
Hope to see you next year at AU 2013!
WES

 

 

One again I find myself motivated by a Blog post by a fellow blogger and AUGI cohort the Kung Fu Drafter (KFD) at KungFuDrafter.com on the topic of Standards or more so what they should be called.  KFD discussed how one should consider changing the more common name of “Standards” to “Best Practices”.  In the post, KFD made some good points about the struggles we face with Standards – like the big one of “those things that your management always tell you that you need but never got around to developing”.  One that he did not mention directly, but inferred is that of the frustration some feel with having to follow standards, especially if they do not like them or had no input to their creation.  In the post, KFD made the statement that:

“…there is almost nothing good that comes of calling your documented processes standards.”

And to this I agree one hundred percent!  I have seen many places where management, business owners or newby CADD managers with a big ego think that they know best on “how” to do something.  Sometimes they are right, but often they are wrong.  As KFD said in his intro – “…there is more than one way to draw a polyline.”

But two statements that I struggled with the most were that “the difference between “standards” and “best practices” is minimal.”  And “A ‘standard’ is a documented process…” I struggled with these because I see them as completely separate things.  My view of ‘Standards’ maybe somewhat limited, but I look at them as a production result or something ‘used’ vs ‘done’ to create a desired result.  We have standards to create something uniform and consistent.  But the processes, techniques, or practices that we use may not be the same.

Standards vs Best Practices

In looking at some definitions of Best Practices on the web I found the following on Wikipedia:

A best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark. In addition, a “best” practice can evolve to become better as improvements are discovered. Best practice is considered by some as a business buzzword, used to describe the process of developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use.

Some consulting firms specialize in the area of Best Practice and offer pre-made ‘templates’ to standardize business process documentation.

And on the BusinessDictionary.com:

A method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark.

The first definition mentions ‘standard’ and ‘standardize’ with the first being about “a way of doing things”, while the second usage discusses “templates to standardize business process documentation” i.e. creating a document that standardise how you do things, both of which would follow KFD’s line of thinking.

When looking for a definition of Standards” on Dictionary.com:

  • Something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.
  • An object that is regarded as the usual or most common size or form of its kind
  • A rule or principle that is used as a basis for judgment: They tried to establish standards for a new philosophical approach.
  • An average or normal requirement, quality, quantity, level, grade, etc.

And on BusinessDictionary.com:

  • General: Written definition, limit, or rule, approved and monitored for compliance by an authoritative agency or professional or recognized body as a minimum acceptable benchmark.
  • GATT definition: “Technical specifications contained in a document that lays characteristics of a product such as levels of quality, performance, safety, or dimensions. Standards may include or deal exclusively with terminology, symbols, testing and methods, packaging, or labeling requirements as they apply to a product.”

So, my definitions would be that:

  • Best Practices” are the best known method, technique or proven processes used to achieve an end goal –  a ’standard’.
  • Standards: are usually established by an authority (a rule or principle) or by general consent (defacto standards) as a basis of comparison. Typically used to achieve a specific look, quality, quantity, level, grade, etc. or obtain specific results or create a safer environment.

I think every AEC firm company needs some form of ‘Standards’ but where I look at things a little different from KFD is that rather than setting up the processes as the standards, I believe  a company needs both a set of ‘Standards’ AND a set of ‘Best Practices’.  Things that I would see in a set of Standards include: (Think National CAD Standards)

  • A Standard set of Layers
  • Standard line weights used for the Standard layers
  • Standard Fonts used for standard Company Styles
  • Standard Title Blocks, drawing Blocks, and annotation Symbology

Basically – A standard looking set of documents for your company.

Now, as to how you get there, i.e. what process you use, I can recommend some ways, by doing certain tasks or steps – kinda like best practices. But, if you want to use scripts or layer states to control your layers, or if you use toolbars in lieu of the Ribbons – I don’t care if it achieves the same results.

CADD managers may document steps to get a result, and may be it is a non-flexible result so that a specific process has to be used, but this may be where some good automation get’s setup.  The more arduous things are and the more steps one has to use, the more likely they will find their own way or  shortcut to get a result (like exploding in lieu of redefining blocks).

CADD Managers beware –  by labeling your company “Standards” as “Best Practices”, I believe you are offering up that the desired result is flexible or has ‘elasticity’ not something I would want too many people interpreting on their own.

Standards are something necessary and need to be defined, monitored and controlled while Best Practices can be taught but may vary by individual.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes what some users may choose to use as a process is less than optimal….  Because there are many different ways of doing things, we can teach “Best Practices” and encourage them to be used, but in the end we require  “Standards”.

 Thanks to this thought-provoking post by KFD, I have added  “Best Practices” as a category to this blog and will start updating my existing post’s  categories to reflect it.  And this has also prompted me to put together a post dedicated to some useful business “Best Practices”.
Thanks Curt…
WES

 

What is Change?

 

Image courtesy of WIKIMEDIA Commons

Starting with this post I am going to discuss the various aspects of change and will be spreading them out over additional posts to keep them from getting too long.  These posts will include the What, the Why, and the How of Change.   I will use some examples in each area to make it a bit more real and not just theoretical.

Starting out – “What is change?” – Depending on who you talk to and their specific experience with change, you may get various answers.  Most will give simple definitions or interpretations of what change ‘means’ (feels) to them.

  • Change sucks
  • Change is hard/difficult
  • Change is disruptive
  • Change is important
  • Change is good
  • Change is necessary
  • Change is progress

Let’s look at some of Dictionary.com’s definition examples:

1.   to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone:  to change one’s name; to change one’s opinion; to change the course of history.

2.   to transform or convert

Whereas people usually define what they feel about change, the dictionary examples above show the verb (action) tense of change.  The feelings about change will typically match up with the actions of change, with each feeling being dependent on how the change was implemented or performed.  In each of our personal and business worlds, change is never as simple as a single action or task, it is a series of steps that we take to achieve a purpose.  Changing how we feel about ourselves or others, changing how we maintain our health and fitness, changing how we treat our clients, employees or co-workers, etc… does not happen in a single action.  Change requires multiple actions and mental exercises with the manner in which you do them typically determining success or failure.  And what this all means, is that ‘Change is a process’.

When you are thinking about making a change with anything you do, whether it be at work or home, the most important thing to understand is that change is not an event or an action – it is a process.  Ok – you may be thinking that this is a simple concept, ‘so what’s the big deal?’  Many individuals and companies still treat change as a task – one that needs little planning – just action.  When change is treated in this manner, no matter what it is – health, finances, bad habits, etc.. without a plan, without really understanding what you are trying to fix, without weighing the  pros and cons of your actions, and without considering the people who will be affected by your actions – it will fail.   After all, most changes are not instigated by a single event or person – they typically happen after experiencing issues, frustrations or complaints over an extended period of time.

Changes typically happen for us when we are fed up with how things are or have been and we just know ‘something has to change!’   Many will see people issues and process inefficiencies as just inconveniences that can be ignored and hope that they will just fix themselves, while others just assume that the work required to change something is not worth the potential results – so why bother?    For some, the concept of a change, even when it is obviously required scares them and they just give up before they even start.  More often than not though these procrastinators and resistors to change will come back to the same conclusion – something has to change!

This final desperate realization that things have to change is many times strong enough to be a catalyst for implementing new ideas or practices.  Sometimes though it comes so late in the game that in desperation, changes get implemented with little thought or planning.  In the business world these situations occur when leaders, managers or business owners realize that something just isn’t right or there are issues that they do not fully understand but know cannot continue.  Exasperated, they decide that “some changes need to be made” and “they need to be made now”.   With little thought and planning they charge in and make blanket changes that they think are going to turn things around!  Typically though, due to their lack of planning and thoughtful consideration they attempt to fix things from ‘their’ viewpoint and this often makes the situation or issue worse than when they started – this is a change failure.

Change fails for two primary reasons, the first is that change is not treated as a process and implemented in a proper manner and the second is people’s natural resistance to change.  This resistance to change usually comes from fear of the unknown or past bad experiences with other change failures.  In my next post I will address change implementation with some examples and in follow-up post I will discuss overcoming resistance to change.

WES

Email Etiquette

 

 

 

 

What is Email Etiquette?

The online Business dictionary defines Business Etiquette as:

Expected behaviors and expectations for individual actions within society, group, or class. Within a place of business, it involves treating coworkers and employer with respect and courtesy in a way that creates a pleasant work environment for everyone.

So for Email, I think it would be the expected behavior that involves treating coworkers, clients, your employer and friends with respect and courtesy when sending email.

Email:

Pretty much everyone in business is affected by email. In office environments people are often sending or receiving emails to communicate needs, requirements, and schedules or it is used to pass other non-email documents back and forth. The key to email is that it is a form of communication and although not verbal, it requires some of the same basic principles of being clear and concise. In many cases, email communication needs even more thought because you do not have the advantage of the non-verbal body language cues you get with face to face communication.

Basics:

Addressing:

When addressing email recipients, be clear on who it is going to and who needs to be copied. There are three typical lines that can be used in an email correspondence, if you do not have these options, either your email program is very limited or they are turned off – typically the later. These three addressing options are “TO”, “CC”, and “BCC”. For those who may not be clear on their use it goes as follows:

TO:

This is for who the email is primarily addressed to. This can be more than one person, but it is typically only a few people. If you are addressing dozens or hundreds of people directly, you may wish to use an email mailing application that personalizes it a bit more than everyone’s name on the “TO” line. There are security and privacy issues that go along with this as well (See “BCC” section). Typically you would be addressing an individual or as said before a few people and then copying others to make sure they are “In the loop”.

Commonly accepted practice:
Anyone on the “TO” line is being directly addressed and comments or questions are being directed to them and they should respond.

This is important if you start asking questions or making comments that appear to need answers. If the email was addresses to everyone directly it would seem everyone needs to respond. The problem comes in when all these people do respond

CC: (Carbon Copy – as in old school carbon paper – get it?)

This line is used to copy other individuals that are not necessarily being directly addressed. Please do NOT use this for Email distribution lists or passing along funnies! (this means you Tom)…

Commonly accepted practice:
Anyone on the “CC” line is being copied for courtesy or information use, so that they know what is happening, what issues are being addressed, etc… but their response is not necessarily required. If you are “CC’d but you are specifically addressed in the body of the email itself, then that changes things and you should respond or act accordingly.

BCC:

This is used to privately copy recipients and if you are distributing to dozens or hundreds of people and are not using a distribution list application or site – PLEASE use this line in lieu of the “CC” line. Why? Security and Privacy are the biggest reasons. If you have not heard of Malware, Spyware, Phishing, or SPAM you are living in a very sheltered world. All of these can originate from Viruses that infect a person’s machine and then harvest email addresses from that user’s email, address book or various other files on the local system. Once it gets these addresses it will send out emails to some or all of these addresses (each program works a little different) with the goal of infecting more systems. If an unprotected user gets one of these emails and downloads the attachment, clicks on a link in the email or sometimes just views it, the infection starts over and keeps spreading.

This is commonly spread when someone decides to CC all their friends on a joke or a small business or organization CCs all the members or potential customers, etc and one of those people is infected with one of the above. The BCC options strips the email address so that each recipient only sees that they received and email from someone and all the other recipients addresses are not available. As far as Privacy, maybe I do not want others knowing I am on your Email distribution list or maybe I do not want others that are CC’d to now add me to their mass marketing campaign. Yes some people will take all those addresses and use them for their own purpose – Which I will be doing one time to a large organization who does this repeatedly, even after I expressed the above concerns. It appears the only way to get off their “CC” broadcast is to quit the organization – so I did. So all their group members will get a free copy of this article. : )

If you are one of these offenders and you want to change your ways, there are options besides just putting everyone in the BCC line that will make your emails look a bit more professional. Try these links:

Creating a distribution list: (then BCC that list)

http://email.about.com/od/outlooktips/qt/Distribution_List_Outlook.htm

Send to Undisclosed Recipients:

http://email.about.com/od/outlooktips/qt/et_undisclosed.htm

Still lost? Drop me a line – I’ll try to help.

Subject Line:

What is this email about? Blank subject lines are really annoying – did the sender not know what the email was about? Emails are not texts – they have a subject! Efficient users use the Subject line for sorting, searching and filing. Users that do not have a preview pane showing up (A Virus precaution) will get nothing under the subject line – should I open it / is it a real Email? Although this is annoying on a personal email basis – for business professionals – well it is unprofessional!

Importance:

If you select the “important” option for all your emails, which it seems a lot of people tend to do, (because everything they do is important!) it is a lot like crying wolf. Someone looking over your shoulder might go – “Hey that email has that ‘Important’ symbol next to it – You better see what it is”. Nah – I’ll get to it later – they always use that – no matter what they send – if it is ‘that’ important they will call. Don’t get me wrong – I look at these on an individual basis, and if it is a new person or someone who rarely uses it – I will look at it right away – otherwise – it will wait in line just like the rest of the non-important emails.

Presentation/Punctuation:

How many times do I need to read the email to get what it means? This does not really take a lot, just start by using periods and commas. It’s not important that you put two spaces after a period in a sentence or whether you use a comma after the last item and before the ‘and’ in list of items, but using a period when a sentence ends and a comma where you would normally pause in a conversation would be a great start. Oh – and maybe some capitalization or – lack of. WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING AT ME?! (Caps lock is a toggle…)

If you are sending email as part of your work/business, please use spell check. An occasional misspell is understandable, but consistent spelling mistakes and horrible grammar in an email from a supposed professional is just sad in today’s world. In Outlook and Gmail it is an automatic feature – just turn it on and leave it.

Signature:

Who are you, and how do I contact you if I have questions – other than a reply? How about a name, company and phone number as a minimum? So when bdguy34@aol.com sends me a blank subject line email with no signature, marked as “important” stating:

WE ARE HAVING A ISUE WITH FILE CAN U PLEASE CALL AND FIX.

Well, I just wanna….

;

Reply All:

If you are on the “TO” line and sometimes on the “CC” line, you may wish to do or even be asked to Reply. when this happens – do a “Reply All” so that everyone has the benefit of your response – the others may need to hear what you have to say. And, if you don’t want everyone to “Reply All” as your emails states – do NOT “CC” everyone – because what other benefit is there to everyone seeing everyone else’s email?

Key Take-aways:

  • When addressing email recipients in business, be clear on who it is going to (TO:) and who needs to be copied (CC:).
  • When sending to a bunch of Friends – use the “BCC” line.
  • When sending to a Mail-list group – use the “BCC” line or other bulk-mail option – NOT “CC”.
  • Enter a Subject
  • Do NOT indicate ALL your Emails as “Important” – the more you do it, the less important your emails become.
  • Spell and Grammar check if your email program supports it – if not, do it in Word and copy/paste.
  • Don’t type in ALL CAPS
  • Indicated more in your signature than your first name

WES

4 Color Markups?

4 color markups

This post is in response to another post that I recently read on the Kung Fu Drafter’s blog titled Stand Up for your Markups by Laying Down Some Rules…”. 

Worth it?

I have been involved in the architectural and engineering world for over 25 years and have been on all sides, from hand drafter, designer, CADD drafter and designer, CADD manager, Project Manager and even have done and still do CADD and IT consulting.  I have marked up drawings, drafted markups and reviewed other’s work from someone else’s markups, but until I read this post I had no exposure to the “4 Color System”.   My first thought was that it seems to put a lot of extra work on the person doing the markups, the more I read, the more I saw an “us and them” picture developing.  As the first couple paragraphs stated, the work is done as a partnership – and this requires work from both sides.  I feel for those that endure horrible markups and hope that they can find a way to communicate this frustration without causing additional conflict.  Unfortunately, for those that do endure scribble and hieroglyphics, multiple colors will just make them more colorful.

It has Logic

Using separate markup colors has logic, and I am all about logic, setting a standard is good too because standards combined with automation are in my opinion the best way to create quality and cost-effective output.   I am all about logic – well logic and foresight.  Logic requires thinking about more than a single project or task and foresight allows us to look down the road and see the big picture.   The 4 color markups obviously were created with logic and foresight; although it seems a bit heavy on the designer.  If I were the person marking things up, I would have to keep picking up and putting down various color pens or pencils as I reviewed and marked up the drawing – annoying? Yes.  efficient? Not so much. But I am only one of many.

Agree and Disagree

For this methodology, there are a few things I agree with and a few I don’t.  Black is definitely a bad color for markups for the great reasons given.  Red is a common if not the ‘most common’ color for markups and has kept the pen and marker companies in business for years.  The blue – probably a good idea, as some drafters may not truly understand what they are drawing and will just go ahead and throw it on the drawing – although this may be where experience and training helps.  Drafters should have a decent idea of what they are drawing and be able to notice something out of character.  For me, the red pen has pretty much always worked.  The green pen – I do not see the reason for it at all.  If it needs to be gone, mark through it with a red pen.  The yellow pen confuses me.  Who uses that?  Is this a highlighter that the designer uses to highlight stuff he/she has already reviewed? If so, that’s ok as a checklist for themselves, but I’m not sure how the drafter benefits.

Size Matters

The idea of giving each person a different color highlighter is good for small offices if you can get everyone to stay firm – of course this relates to any standard.  What I have found useful in the past and especially with large drafting departments is that everyone can highlight their work in any color, but when they start their work they write their name on the sheet in the lower right-hand corner and run their highlight color over it.  If this person is out sick or has to pass the work to someone else to complete, the second person writes their name and highlights it in a different color and then uses that color to highlight their completed markups.  This way the designer knows who to go back to if they have questions related to the work or wants to explain something that the drafter misunderstood.  Using this method would work for most firms – unless you have a dozen people working on one redline; you should never run out of highlight colors.  Even with all the color options, there are a few things that the drafter needs to do as well – it is not always the designer’s fault.

As to the statement:

Comments that are poorly written lead to confusion in the drafting room. The wrong word is typed or the wrong size is used and it is nobody’s fault but the person who marked the page up.”

I agree with the first line, but the second one I believe is unfair and inaccurate.  It would be easy to discount mistakes by saying that I could not read your markup, and that is why it is wrong but in reality, I was distracted and not focusing on the markup or in a hurry and did not want to try and think through what the designer was saying.  Maybe I did not want to walk to their desk or call their extension to get clarity – this would be part of the partnership.

Responsibility

Creating good markups ARE the responsibility of the designer whether they are being done by an architect, engineer or an architectural or engineering ‘designer’.   Bringing to their attention or to their bosses attention that they tend to be hard to decipher is the job of the drafters.  Clarifying the markups is the responsibility of both the designer and the drafter not solely the markup originator.  If after years a drafter cannot decipher markups from someone they have been working with or a particular type of work that they have been performing maybe they need to get more knowledge about what it is they are drawing.  The less detail a designer needs to put on a drawing to get the point across the more money and time they save.  The time savings allow them to put more time into more important details.  If the CADD drafters are constantly too new or keep getting moved around before they have a chance to figure out what they are drawing then there are bigger issues in your company then how markups are done.

One Solution

When I run into a clarity issue, I have a personal solution.  I keep three highlighters nearby – Green, Orange and pink.  When I finish something, pick up a red-line etc… I highlight it in Green, if a word, paragraph or line does not immediately make sense, I look at what it relates to, think what it might mean (this is not the first redline I have done) and if I still don’t have a clue I highlight it in Orange and move on.  When I am done, (or think I am) I go back over the markup quickly double-checking that I picked up everything, on large or complex markups I highlighting in pink as I go indicating it was double checked.  I then take the markups to the designer/engineer/architect etc… and go over the orange items.  Once it is clear, I finish up and return the markups along with the final plots to them.  If the person that did the markups is not available and I have other projects or priorities to move on to I have already established an understanding that the orange means I am not clear on something and they get back with me or sometimes pick it up themselves if they can.

Fairness

Now to be fair, I can see situations where the “4 color” system may come in very handy.  If you are working in a standalone Drafting shop or your markups are sent overseas or out-of-state to drafters, the additional clarity would be helpful (still don’t see the need for Green though).

The statement:

“It’s not always easy for CAD managers to push procedures up the command chain.”

could use its own response post, but for brevity’s sake, let’s just say ‘pushing’ anything ‘up’ is not often successful.  Starting at the top of the department or division and discussing a better way to communicate markups would be best, and one that does not add additional burden to the person doing the markups.  Talk it over and maybe you can offer a solution and get them to believe it was their idea.  Things will go a lot better the more we get away from the “us and them” attitude and maybe even get us back to that partnership originally mentioned.  Yes – I know it is often easier said than done, but not impossible – don’t give up before even trying.  And a final point… Having drafters “Lay Down some Rules” may not the best way to start working on a partnership.

This response post is in no way meant to slight the writer, as it is obvious that the topic came from years of experience and frustration.  We don’t all have to agree on one method of doing anything to make progress; we just need to think through the issues, find a compromise that works best for all sides and work to get it in place.  The information that is shared on the Kung Fu Drafter blog is very informative and is obviously based on a lot of experience – which of course is why I subscribe to it.

WES

 

A lot of folks use AutoCAD every day and while doing so, use the ‘Layer function’ – but how many actually understand its full power and how to maximize their productivity by utilizing them properly?

What are Layers?

In AutoCAD, Layers are basically graphic levels of a DWG similar to a cake. Like a cake, Layers can be quite sweet if used properly. With a cake, you have your inside layers (one or more cake layers) and then you have the outer layers; the icing and sprinkles layers. With a cake, you cannot typically see the inside cake layer because it is hidden by the icing and the sprinkles layers. If the icing only covered parts of the cake, you could see everything except where the icing and sprinkles were located; this is very similar in AutoCAD. With a cake you would have to scrape (or lick) off the sprinkles and the icing to see what is underneath – are you hungry yet?, With AutoCAD you can ‘Freeze’ or ‘Turn Off’ the icing and sprinkles layers, then ‘Thaw’ or ‘Turn On’ these when your want to see them again – much less mess.

Layer Attributes

Cakes come in a variety of flavors and decoration options. Each layer of your cake has choices for flavor or color like chocolate (brown), vanilla (white), pistachio (green) or even strawberry (pink). AutoCAD has more color choices than you can possibly imagine, although with the exception of white, I am not sure I have used much of the preceding colors. The decorations also come in different looks – like sprinkles or decorative line-work, writing or doo-dads that sit on the top of the cake. AutoCAD also has similar options which include types of line work (hidden, centerline, dotted, dashed, etc…) line weights (width of lines) and doo-dads. In AutoCAD, doo-dads would typically be presented via “blocks”. Blocks are basically graphic presentations of something, like chairs, windows, doors, gears, pistons, etc… We will get a lot more detailed on efficient block usage in a future AutoCAD 101 post.

Display/Presentation Control

A powerful feature of layers is the ability to control what you see on the screen, what you plot, and how the drawing objects and lines appear for both. Working in the building world you may want to show all ‘new’ walls, doors and windows as individual colors on the screen and plot with a thicker line weight than existing walls, doors and windows. In addition, you may also want all the existing items to show up as a hidden line type while the new versions show as continuous. Layers allow you to do this very easily. The more control you want over display and plotting, the more layers you make. Keep in mind that you need to use good layer naming conventions so that it is easy to logically organize and differentiate the layers. For instance, you may want to name all layers pertaining to “Doors” with “Door” at the beginning of each layer name; Door-New, Door-Existing, Door-New-Header, Door-Existing-Header, etc… or maybe group all “New” and “Existing” layers; New-Door, New-Window, Existing-Door, Existing Window, etc… Whichever method you use, spend some time thinking about it, considering multiple scenarios and discuss with your fellow CADD folks or possibly with some outside experienced users in your industry. Another option is to adapt an industry layer standard and follow it. A good one is the National CAD standards layering system. The National CAD Standard is a collaborative effort in the United States between the National Institute of Building Sciences, the American Institute of Architects, and the Construction Specifications Institute, to create a unified approach to the creation and collaboration of building design data by means of building information modeling and integrated into CAD software such as MicroStation and AutoCAD. You can find more information here: National CAD Standards

An older PDF version of the layers can be found here: Layer Guide

Special Layers

AutoCAD has a couple of special layers that you will want to know about – Layer “0” (zero) and Layer “Defpoints”. It is important that you not only know about these layers, but how you should use them. We will get away from the Cake analogies for a bit and focus more on some technical magic that these layers can perform.

Layer 0

Let’s start with Layer “0”. Layer 0 is a default layer that exists in all drawings and should not be ‘frozen’ or modified in any way. The most powerful use of layer 0 is for creating blocks. Blocks that are created on layer 0 will assume the attributes of the layer that they are inserted on, which is why I often refer to layer 0 as the chameleon layer. So what does this mean and how is it useful? When a block is created on layer 0, it will be white and have a continuous line type (default layer 0 properties). When this block is inserted on another layer it will change to the color and line type assigned to that layer. How is this useful?

A Practical Example:

Let’s say you’re an interior designer or an architectural CADD technician and you are creating a furniture plan – better yet a furniture renovation plan. For this plan, you need to show the old and new locations of furniture that is being moved around as well as what is being removed from the building entirely. As you are a smart CADD technician, you have created blocks for all your furniture pieces which include desks, chairs, sofas, file cabinets and computers.

  • Scenario #1: You created all of these items on a layer called “Furniture” with the color of Red and the line type continuous. You start by showing your existing furniture plan on the “Furniture Existing” layer and place all your furniture on this layer. You then create “Furniture-Removed” and “Furniture-Relocated” layers, so that you can isolate the old new and removed status of the furniture layout by freezing and thawing layers. You then create three views on the same drawing showing the Existing, Relocated and Removed layouts. Since the furniture was all created on the furniture layer, all versions of the furniture will be red with a continuous line type, so you will have to note each items or hatch over it to indicate its status. Another option is to create an Existing, Removed, and Demoed version of each block with different colors and line types, or just explode them and change their properties. (You wouldn’t do that would you?!?!) The bottom line is that it will require more work to be clear.
  • Scenario #2: You created all of the furniture items on layer 0 and left the default layer properties of White and continuous. You then created the same layers as in Scenario #1, but the “Furniture-Existing” layer is Red/Continuous, the “Furniture-Relocated” is Blue/Continuous and the layer “Furniture-Removed” is Grey/hidden. As in example #1 you start by showing your existing furniture plan on the “Furniture-Existing” layer and place all your furniture. You then create the “Furniture-Removed” and the “Furniture Relocated” layers. Since the furniture was all created on layer 0, when the items are inserted in to each layer, it will change color and line type so that it can be easily differentiated. This would at a minimum reduce you to only having to do two views (Existing and Renovated) with each piece of furniture on the “Existing” plan being on the appropriate layer for whether it is staying, relocated or removed.

In case it is not clear, the reason for the red vs blue layer colors in scenario #2 is because the red and blue will be easy to differentiate on the screen and will plot as different thicknesses. If you do not use color standards for plotting, you could use the Layer “line weight” option instead for each layer. Hopefully you have some documented standard for plotting.

Layer Defpoints

The second specialty layer is “Defpoints”. Defpoints is created each time you create a dimension in your drawing when you are using associative dimensioning.  AutoCAD creates nodes or points where your dimensions intersect drawing entities. You can also create the defpoints layer manually. The power of defpoints is that anything that shows up on it will be viewable on the screen but will not plot. This feature has been used by some to such an annoying level that people are now in the habit of freezing defpoints so that they can see what they are doing. Newer versions of AutoCAD (since 2000)  now include a Non-plot variable in the Layer dialogue to allow you to select any layer as non-plotting but viewable.  The most common usage for defpoints is for creating clip edges for xref clipping, viewports in paperspace or hatch boundaries. It would be a good idea to stop this practice and add a few new layers to your standards to address these items individually. Please STOP using defpoints for notes and sketches!  It was mentioned earlier that you should not modify or freeze layer “0”.  The reason you do not want to layer 0 is that it has a bond with defpoints.  If you freeze layer “0” and have linework on layer “Defpoints”, you can see but cannot edit or select anything on that layer – the two are linked.  This will drive you crazy initially.  Of course if you follow all the rules and do not draw on either one or modify either one – you’ll be fine.

Summarizing the important items from this post:

  • Create Blocks on Layer “0” – Nothing else (chameleon layer)
  • Do not Draw on Layer “0” or Defpoints”
  • Set all your objects color and linetype to “Bylayer”
  • Do NOT use Defpoints for viewports, notes, etc..  make a separate layer and set it to a  “non-plot” layer
  • Use as many layers as needed to make the look and plotting controllable
  • And Finally – Do not draw on Layer “0” or Defpoints”

Wrapping Up
Just because you have been doing something for years, it does not mean it is correct. Unfortunately due to the fact that many companies do not see the importance of training and many schools have unqualified instructors, many people have learned much of what they do on the job from others who learned on the job, who learned from people that did not know what they were doing. Open your mind to new ideas and better ways of doing things. Put some thought in to how you setup your drawings – in many cases, especially for architects many people have to work with what you create – and trust me, it can be very frustrating. As the main point of this blog states: It’s time to re-evaluate how “you’ve always done it”…

I will kick things off with a post that is near and dear to me – especially at the present time, as I am dealing with this issue every day. This post may seem out of character for many that are unfamiliar with AutoCAD, but it really falls in line with the premise of this blog – “There are better ways of doing things”… (and often, it is just doing things right from the beginning). This will be the first in a series on AutoCAD basics and some rules and guidelines to follow that will make the process of working with AutoCAD more efficient for editing and updating for all users (editing and updating are two distinct processes for this series).

I know and have a lot of respect for many professionals in the engineering and architectural world that work with AutoCAD everyday and most of those that don’t are using Revit. I have been using AutoCAD since version 3.? (it’s been awhile – 1984) and have used almost every version over the years. It continues to amaze and sometimes frustrate me how so many people that are professional architects, engineers, designers and especially the daily CADD drafter, still mis-use or (mis-understand) the product. By mis-use, I mean they have still not learned, refused to learn or just don’t care about some basic concepts. Taking the more positive approach, I think that many believe they know enough to do their job and do not have the time or energy to invest in additional learning. Well I am going to make it easy for those who are at least interested in stepping up their efficiency and the quality of what they produce. I will be spreading out over multiple posts some critical basics for AutoCAD use that can be taken in pretty quickly and put in to practice right away.

Below are the topics I will be covering, Future posts will dive in to more detail.

  • Layer Usage:  General Efficient usage and standards. Layers offer lots of control if used properly.
  • Layer 0:  This is a crucial layer that should never be frozen, or modified.
  • Layer Defpoints:  This is another crucial layer that should never be frozen, or modified.
  • Blocks:  Do NOT explode, and use more in lieu of copying around line work.
    • Creation:
    • Usage:
  • Lines and Polylines:  When to use one or the other. editing, joining, etc…
  • Standard Styles:
    • Don’t use them!  This covers the built-in AutoCAD styles for dimensions and text which are basically “samples” to go by or at best starters, but your not supposed to use them as YOUR standard.  It creates issues for you and others.
  • Text Usage:
    • Alignment – There are more options than “Top-Left”.
    • Styles – Remember to not use the “Standard” styles – make a company standard.
    • Size – It does really matter.

In the future posts, we will get in to how to use the above, the why and the importance of the why.  If you want to control efficiency and quality, it is important to get it right.

Walt