Turning a Constraint into Gold

nathan hildebrandtMay 31 2014

It is just about that time of year when ArchiCAD users get their hands on the latest release of ArchiCAD. The cries can be heard already "where is the Stair Tool?" etc. I used to be one of these people that would focus on what Graphisoft wasn't doing and missing out on the opportunities that their development brought with the new release. Yes there are things that need attention in ArchiCAD and as a client that pays for the software we should be getting software that enables us to meet our deliverables, but I hope by the end of this post I might bring you closer to my way of thinking.

I start with an analogy, one that will be familiar with us as Architects in the design industry. As Architects we have two budgets to work with. The Project Budget, we must design the project to meet a client's budget and secondly we have a budget to manage regarding our own fees and how we resource the project to get the best quality outcome for the set fee. We are all in business to achieve profit otherwise there is no purpose in opening the doors. So as an Architect there are two constraints that we have to monitor to ensure that we achieve budgets. Think if our fee was twice as much, you could put twice as many resources onto the project to achieve a higher quality design, but can that higher quality design be constructed within the client's budget.

The next point I make is in your office environment itself and Strategic Planning. You need to undertake a number of steps to achieve the greater goal. The steps need to be made in a particular order to gain the best outcome. Meaning you can't jump ahead without expecting to have to do some rework. Once again this can be linked to the design process and we use a Boulder Diagram to explain the design process to our clients. The idea behind it is that you start at the bottom with few major decisions and as you work your way up you need to make more and more decisions, these decisions are influenced by the previous decisions and need the previous decisions to be made to be worthwhile proceeding with. An example of this is knowing the site that a building will be on before you start planning it out. If the site was to change then you would have to re-plan it again. So the idea is that you do not want to have to remove the previous decisions as it effects a significant number of other decisions.


Now lets bring this back to ArchiCAD. As a client we pay $X each year to be provided with software upgrades and support. As a business model the budget of the development and other business expenses can't be greater than the income from the client base. The big question is would you pay twice as much to get those features you have been crying out for, for years?


Addressing the second factor of the timing in which development occurs. The challenging part of software development is that it is similar to Strategic Planning and Goal Setting it needs to be done in a particular order. Graphisoft do have a roadmap in place and it does change depending on a number of factors, but the reason things are fixed are because there is an order to get it done.


So why am I so passionate about this topic to write about it? Why take the side of the software company? Well the answer is this, look at the problems that are in ArchiCAD with Attribute Management. Because of that problem we looked at workarounds to prevent the issues that we were having with Attributes and multiple files. This constraint within the software unlocked our thinking to create a very powerful high quality system that we have today. So just like in design, a constraint can create a great design opportunity. You can read about the concepts of our system in my previous posts.

“So take a constraint and make more from it than you would if it didn't exist.”

I look forward to the debate in the comments, so leave you thoughts below.



I am one of these that would like to shout: where is the Stair/Balustrade Tool? Why? I work for a small construction company, frequently as a sole designer, periodically with some assistance. My duties cover entire design and construction process and I have to rely on what comes with the program. I cannot script in GDL, when something in ArchiCAD does not work for me, I have to scout internet resources for solutions. Last resort is purchase of additional plug- ins or utilities that patch the holes in software functionality. Looking at Cigraph or Cadimage offerings, to name the most known producers of ArchiCAD add on tools, I can't stop wondering why there are so many of them? Stairs and ramps are equally important as walls, slabs, or roofs and are needed in every project. So much has been said about it, we just badly need this to be addressed. Graphisoft is right in their claim about shifting focus from adding features to improving workflow. ArchiCAD has now ability to model anything than any user may desire, there is really little need for adding new modelling tools. What I would like to see is a better integration of existing capabilities to deliver final product - well documented project. I do not find any major weaknesses in the program, the biggest challenge is how to improve information flow to enable others to access data rich content, and enable their direct input in the design and documentation process. In other words - proper BIM collaboration. That however cannot be achieved by Graphisoft alone. I will soon leave my workplace for a larger design office with mixed ArchiCAD/Revit/AutoCAD software environment. This will require some readjustment, I will be the most advanced ArchiCAD user in the group. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. I will need to learn the practice culture, routines and setup. Human constraints are going to be my major concern in the next few months. I wish I was able to contribute something more constructive and pertinent to the topic. Instead I would like to thank you for sharing information on the system you created and implemented.

Wojciech I understand that there are missing features like the Stair Tool upgrade but it is a very minor issue when you look at the delivery of a major project. It is something that I guess I have just not worried about and just accepted. You do make an interesting point about the Add-ons which I would like to respond too. In ArchiCAD we think that the odd Add-on is a bit painful, in all honesty all we use is Cadimage Door and Window Builder. Now wait till you shift into your cross platform practice, and see how many Add-ons are required to deliver the required output in Revit. I think that once you see the number required you might not feel so bad about ArchiCAD anymore. It all comes down to the perception on our own side of the fence. We don't realise how painful it would be to do things the other way. Just the other week I learnt about how Families work in Revit. Say you accidentally delete a Family from a project file. All instances disappear from the file, unlike in ArchiCAD when you lose a library part you have the ability to relink it. Just that little point in itself is an eye opener. Thanks for the comment. Nathan

Nathan said: >>>>"Wojciech I understand that there are missing features like the Stair Tool upgrade but it is a very minor issue when you look at the delivery of a major project. It is something that I guess I have just not worried about and just accepted. " .....and therein lies the major problem with Graphisoft's development strategy. I appreciate that you've written out a well-reasoned and well-considered articles outlining your thoughts regarding the latest graphisoft release and teh perceived general direction of their development roadmap. So I hope you won't mind if I go ahead and shoot some holes in your argument as it's not uncommon to find quite a number of pieces right around this time (just prior to the release of the new version and typically by people who were beta-testers and/or are just Gs insiders) almost defending GS' decisions iin deciding which features to improve and which ones get left out once again as users complain or express dissatisfaction. One of the reasons you (CONSTANTLY) find people complaining about the perceived lack of interest in GS' part in improving tools like the Stair tool, in particular, with every new version where it seems to get ignored might have a lot to do with the fact that there's not many buildings you design (with the capital "D") these days that don't employ the use of a stair in some capacity. And given the glaring shortcomings of the tool, it's not unusual to find oneself having to have a stair in their project drawings that's morphologically and aesthetically at odds with the design language of the rest of the building, or worse still, in a lot of cases, having to resort to really clunky work-arounds and hodge-podge workflows to make the stairconform to local building codes and design panel building standards and requirements. And it's all well and good to suggest that users can simply turn to third-party solutions (like Cadimage or Cigraph) to cure their stair ills, but these solutions will only take you so far - if you're even wiling to invest in them in the first place, which a lot of small to mid-sized practitioners are not. And for good reason. Aside from the fact that they force you to adapt a workflow that's completely alien to the rest of the project, there's issues with upgrade to new versions (like Cadimage forcing users to have to pay for upgrades for new versions of their plugins that have ZERO new features and are simply re-compilations of the old code to enable it to work with the new version of ArchiCAD, which puts you in an odd situation if you decide to drop them altogether and want to use old projects with their older plugins in a new version of ArchiCAD), lack of continued support for old plugins (Cadimage recently abruptly just dropped some of their old plugins altogether without warning once again stranding their users who relied on those older plugins) among other issues. Bottom line being that it's just not a wise long-term investment strategy to rely on thhird-partty solutions if you're a small practitioner. Which brings us back to the Stair tool and Graphisoft's apparent reluctance to improve it or to use this third-party plugin reliance strategy. It's easy for someone like you to say it's "a minor issue" when you work for a large firm that has considerable resources but for the rest of the smaller to mid-sized firms who form the vast majority of their customer base, it's not so minor and GS' continued (and seemingly deliberate) neglect of it comes off as a little contemptuous of their users - especially when they know quite well that it's the number one feature that people ask for improvement on, and which always inevitably gets the loudest complaints with every new release - and really uncharacteristically tone-deaf for a firm that would otherwise claim to know what their users want or need seeing as one of their marketing tags is that "ArchiCAD is a tool designed by architects for architects". And by the way, the Stair tool in this case is merely a proxy or symblomatic of a lot of similar gripes that users have with other features that have long lacked attention from their long-term development strategy (like lack of a custom GDL object maker that doesn't rely on GDL coding, lack of macro-scripting, etc). It just happens to be the largest and most well known. Now I understand that a large reason that tools like the Stair tool continually get ignored in favor of things like "workflow enhancement" features, and "BIMCloud" and even tools like the Curtain Wall tool is because they're chasing the larger sized firms and clients as potential future customers, and what better way to do that than to position ArchiCAD as the sort of tool that can handle project types the sizes and scope of which these kinds of firms deal with - with the inherent reasoning that whatever improves for these larger firms in the program, filters down to smaller users as well who also benefit. I get that. And from the looks of it and from the sounds of what someone like you is saying, it seems to be a strategy that's paying off for them. At least in the immediate context. My only query would be, what then becomes of the smaller users and their needs? Do they just fall by the wayside and not matter anymore? After all, Graphisoft wouldn't be in the position they are in now (to be able to chase larger clients and firms) were it not for those smaller firms and small-sized practitioners who invested in them early and loyally stuck with them all through even with the onset of Autodesk's Revit marketing onslaught (at least for us North American users). But who knows? After all, I'm just a small-sized user.

Clarence my posts aren't out there to defend Graphisoft in the way that they are working. I used to focus on the things that weren't being fixed and because of that I had a closed mind. My mind wasn't open too new ways of looking at things. Over the last few years I have changed my focus and started looking at how can I use what I have been given to achieve my practices deliverables. The idea behind the post was to hopefully open more minds to the way that I think to get more from the software. You will find that the issues that you are talking about that a small sole practitioner faces are the same as larger practices. For example we use Cadimage Door and Window Builder as the tools within ArchiCAD aren't flexible enough for us to produce the windows and doors that we need. I agree that there is significant problems relying on 3rd party API Add ons. I am at a point where I am about to investigate having a custom Door and Window Object made for our practice purely because I am over the need for re-subscription. The interesting thing is that ArchiCAD users don't realise how many 3rd party Add ons that Revit users rely on to achieve their deliverables. We are on the better side of the fence. I have had the opportunity to talk to the team at GSHQ and list off all of the key issues that we are facing. The main thing that I have taken from that opportunity a better understanding on how things work with Software Development. Hence the diagram above about doing things in a particular order. Some fixes could be done for the next release say, the problem being that it would need to be re-scripted again in the future due to other changes that need to be made to the software. So some developments are held until other developments are completed so that they can be efficiently done once rather than twice. Other developments are more involved than we really think! Graphisoft are very much aware of the users needs but some things require more effort to fix than we think, hence they aren't addressed yet. A good example of issues being addressed is the introduction of the Revision Tool and Cinema 4D in ArchiCAD 18, these have been on the wish list from users for a very long time and as part of this latest release they have been included. I hope that I have opened your mind. Nathan.

Being quite familiar with both Revit and Archicad, I'd say that while I prefer Archicad for many reasons, the stair and railing tool are two things that Archicad is most lacking. It's ridiculous how hard it is to simply do a balustrade and have it actually look reasonable. But, on the flip side- Revit's tools in this domain, while much easier for general use, are very inflexible when it comes to custom stair and rail design, pretty much forcing you to model them as custom parts (the same as in Archicad-- the Morph tool has become a good friend of mine). But with that said, I would like to make two points. One is that those suggesting that Revit requires tons of 3rd party add-ins is mistaken. In my experience at my previous places of employ, very few if any 3rd party add-ins were used, and the ones that were used were free. Second, as we know in all software apps, working out the bugs is something that is done over many versions. It would be better for Graphisoft to at least start making a working stair and rail tool and then refine it over the years. If they are striving to make it perfect before releasing, it will never happen. But if they are simply taking time to figure out what is the best fundamental core concept for how the tool should work-- then, then they are on the right track. We'll see, though. I'm sure it's gotta come at some point. In the meantime, thank GS for the morph tool.

Nathan, I was following your post on Linkedin only and have just realised this "other" side. To start with, thanks for bringing forth this conversation. The more of these we have, the better. I know all too well that the software of our choice is to be developed step by step, one step built upon the other, but also know that sometimes it is just lack of understanding of how the industry actually works that holds proper develppment back. Just to move away from stairs. I actually have seen the struggle UK and Irish users went through to get the developers at Graphisoft understand what a cavity wall is, how it wors, how you use a window sill, reveals etc. Why? Simply because even these guys that shared a similar building code could not agree which leaf of the cavity wall is supposed to turn for cavity closer, is the door in the outer or inner leaf, does the sill project outward or to the sides etc. (not to mention that Scots have their own ways too and well, things got diffrent edge here down under too, while in Continental Europe noone has ever seen a cavity wall....) if you investigate the so often mentioned Cadimage door/window builder you will just realise that it was developed in Nz based on building techniques and codes specific to the Southern Hemisphere. I think you get it. Graphisoft is developing a Global tool, that is meant to be usable in the most possible geographical locations. Prime example of this is the revisions tool coming out in 18. That just required a rather wide research of what revisioning actually means in the architectural design process. Stairs for the argument are not that dissimilar from revisions in that sense. So far GS has always managed to come up with pretty solutions for problems we did not even realise existed until there was a solution... (eg, they came out with teamwork when hardly anybody understood what that is. It took the main opponent a good few years to come to understanding of the technique) so to summ it up, there are huge challanges ahead but with a construcyive community it can all be dealt with and in the end we architects can only win with the develppments.

Karoly maybe the answer with the local resellers! Maybe they need to have a better understanding of their local market and understand the needs of their customers. You raise an interesting point, it would be very hard for GSHQ to provide a door tool say that met everyone's needs in terms of construction. Maybe GSHQ provide funding or development from a base library part for minor tweaking by the reseller for their local market. Much like the Regional versions of ArchiCAD that they release. I might suggest it with the GSAUST team. I know that GSAUST are working on some projects at the moment but will leave it to them to disclose what they are doing.

Awesome article.

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