Technology in Architectural Practice

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The AIA Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community (TAP) serves as a resource for AIA members, the profession, and the public in the deployment of computer technology in the practice of architecture. TAP leaders monitor the development of computer technology and its impact on architecture practice and the entire building life cycle, including design, construction, facility management, and retirement or reuse.

Facades (hosted by Architect's Newspaper) on June 7, 2022

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Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

  • 1.  Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-05-2021 09:15 AM
    We have a relatively small, but quite excellent team of Design Technology professionals at HOK. I'm always impressed with the dedication and innovative thinking within our group. However, when we need to fill a vacancy I'm finding it increasingly difficult to locate anyone interested or available for the role. For the most part, we have one dedicated Design Technology Manager per region and when we lose one, it takes many months to find another. From what I've observed, many have migrated to the Contractor side, but what could be the root cause?

    In my opinion based on my time on this side of the industry, Architecture and Engineering firms mostly see Design Technology as a 'part time' job. Even at the best firms, we are always asked to make ourselves chargeable to projects. There are ways to do this effectively - by not actually doing production tasks, but providing targeted training and so on. That said, the overall feeling is that the company can't even afford to pay ONE 'full-time' person to support all the technology that actually supports the work that keeps it alive. It seems totally acceptable to have 2 or 3 full time IT personnel, but the more complex design technology seems to be the thing that most feel can support itself.

    Average IT/Staff support ratio: 1:50
    Average DT/Staff support ratio: 1:200

    I'd like to hear this community's thoughts on where Design Technology stands as a career path heading into the future.

    James Vandezande AIA
    Chief Technology Officer
    HOK, Inc.

  • 2.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-08-2021 05:42 PM
    Management has to appreciate and reward the effort it takes to surmount the ever increasing frequency of learning curves.

    Rudolph Beuc AIA, NCARB, CBO
    R. Beuc Architects
    Saint Louis MO

  • 3.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-08-2021 08:29 PM
    I think one of the aspects managers may not understand is what is the actual "Job Description" for a Design Technologist? I'm not sure if I know either?
    I have a small firm and do all the Design, Management, and  Research in regards to how best to produce my projects - I use Revit, some may use something else, I don't know that it matters all that much which program you use... I believe it all comes down being consistent in the manner that projects are done, because if one person is working on a project and then someone else comes along and does things completely different - well, you'll have problems!
    I guess what I'm getting at here is that there SHOULD BE at least one full time person that is doing training so that everyone in the office understands the procedures that need to be done. Including Management, who needs to attend (at least) monthly meetings on topics that pertain to technology. You're not going to get "buy-in" on what matters if managers don't even get what you are doing?
    As far as finding "People" to do the work of a Design Technologist... Well, I've found it hard to find anyone these days. Also, I don't understand why the AIA is not standing up against "Contractors" producing drawings. I've been against, other than design professionals, producing construction documents.
    I would assume that the ratios should be reversed - 1:50 for DT and 1:200 for IT... IT guys deal with the big picture in my opinion whereas DT deal with the business project by project basis... I don't know, but seems like DT takes much longer to deal with issue by issue???

    Randy Sawn
    R.L. Sawn Design Studio
    Perris CA

  • 4.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-09-2021 02:59 PM
    Good point, Randy. I know standards and training are a HUGE part of what my DT team does and perhaps that is often misunderstood in our job descriptions - thus, also the value proposition to the firm. DT staff are usually only seen as the 'firefighters' - "Help! My BIM model is broken!..." rather than a strategic asset who can help teams plan and execute the work more efficiently.

    As to contractors doing construction drawings...that sounds like a completely different thread topic!! Yikes.

    James Vandezande AIA
    Chief Technology Officer
    HOK, Inc.

  • 5.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-09-2021 04:16 AM
    This is a complex question and I'm not sure if anything I share will respond to it, is there a Design Technology career path for the future.  As a profession, we are becoming increasingly reliant on technology.  I feel that there is a misperception that design technology, or even all technology, can co-exist out of the box.  For simplicity, "Technologist" ends up becoming the help desk to do what in theory is not needed, since it all should be working anyway.  I sense there is a misperception of value from non-technologist to technologists.  This likely causes an individual to flee a firm that is not placing value on their individual contribution to a consulting firm that is hired for that value being provided.  

    Can service level agreements be established as to what a non-technologist team member is expected to do Vs. the technologist?  This will at least focus the technologist's contribution to value-added tasks.  I've seen technologists be incredibly helpful, and it is also because the person who is asking for the help is not willing, or curious, to figure out the solution needed by themselves.  We all take pride in the work we do, we need to give the technologist the opportunity to own a part of the project development and or delivery if that makes sense and not simply be a helper.

    I do not see this tension going away, and we need to appreciate those talented technologists' contributions to have a "Career Path", otherwise, the end result will become mediocre architecture with inside-the-box thinking.  As you correctly pointed out, there will be more consultants needed to support design firms when a design firm can really support themselves when they can value the contribution of the individual providing to the team effort.  
    Hope this helps.

    Zigmund Rubel FAIA
    A Design+Consulting
    Greenbrae CA

  • 6.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-09-2021 03:07 PM
    Thanks Zigmund. You make some excellent points here.

    At least at our firm, we see the DT team more as teachers (overhead) rather than doers (billable). We have always expected our staff to be well-versed in the technology at hand in any given year. So, that is a good clarification for my position on the genesis of this thread.

    I can also totally appreciate your observation that it's equally important for the project staff to be willing and curious to seek better ways to do their work. We're not here to tell our staff how to be better designers or project architects - we want to help them perform their work at a higher level and perhaps eliminate any tedious tasks that would afford them more time to focus on their value-added work.

    James Vandezande AIA
    Chief Technology Officer
    HOK, Inc.

  • 7.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-11-2021 07:04 AM
    I am not sure that DT staff needs to be totally overhead.  Even if they are teachers, the teaching can be tied to specific projects and their time becomes billable.

    In the early and mid-'90s when the large firm I worked in was just jumping into use of computers, we had two staffers, one an architect, the other an IT type who were responsible for getting the staff up to speed on the use of the computer. To make matters tougher (may be not as tough) we were not using AutoCad. The firm used the same software McDonnell-Douglas uses to design aircraft. At the time, three known architecture firms (all large ones) were using this software. The training was project based. Only a few were trained at a time, and the trainers were billing their time to the project.

    I don't see why, if the teachers are developing skills that are being used on specific projects that their time should not be billed to the project. It does encumber the bottom line of the fee, but should be built into the fee at the Proposal stage. It comes down to principals understanding the capabilities of their staff and knowing how the complexity of the project will effect their execution of the workflow.

    Greg Burke, FAIA
    Gregory John Burke | ARCHITECT, PA
    St Augustine, Florida

  • 8.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-09-2021 12:36 PM
    James et al,  I completely agree with your points, especially the level of excellence your group shows regularly.  The design business requires passion to succeed and enjoy it. design technology the same.  My thoughts on some of your points:  There remains in architecture an idea, sadly,  that the best, highest use of design talent is not in the use digital tools.  However we have been able to grow a culture at our firm that celebrates this aspect as an extension of those talents.  Not to say we've solved it, but the people who appreciate the value of design tech outnumbers those who feel it is a necessary evil.  Which enables you to make the case for a low level of billable for design technologists.  I focus on that case often, and show it with the cost center numbers along with profit numbers and typically investment in design tech is profitable. And perhaps more persuasive is the fact to compete you have to be good at it. 

    Now, back to finding the design tech talent,  I have been able to hire from within twice, and there remains interest with staff who are more engaged with the tools to move to design tech.  I believe that forms that openly value being tech forward can attract the talent.  I also look at the idea of training willing people and casting a wider, more diverse hiring net that has been typical helps as well.  But, now that we are back to a hiring cycle, it's hard to compete salary wise, which brings us back to the "pay for it" discussion.  I feel that the bottom line is that the majority of our, and our competitors, revenues comes from the use of the suite of digital design tools, not email.  So, doesn't that infer significant investment?

    Guy Messick AIA
    Director of Design Intelligence
    IA Interior Architects
    San Francisco CA

  • 9.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-09-2021 02:54 PM
    Thanks for the great feedback. I'm also getting several private replies which I'll try to share here via anonymous paraphrasing.

    A former colleague of mine suggested changing the title of this topic to "Has the INTERNET killed the Design Technology profession?" Their stance is that so much information and guidance is available online - there is no longer a need to have a dedicated on-staff technology 'generalist.' They wanted to clarify the difference between someone focused on general training and support (which could be supplanted by Google + YouTube) and the need for billable specialties such as parametric analysis, performance analysis, etc. In other words, if you can't be billable, you just become a cost liability to the firm.

    Another message was from a design industry professional who was allowed to spend only 10% of their time and expertise to better their design firm, with the rest of their time doing project production. They just started a new career as a VDC specialist with a construction management company with a significant pay raise and the recognition of how their skillset is appreciated.

    Very interesting hearing both sides of this debate. Keep those thoughts coming!

    James Vandezande AIA
    Chief Technology Officer
    HOK, Inc.

  • 10.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-09-2021 03:33 PM
    I will give you my 1.5 cents worth based upon my 50 years of work in the profession.  Years ago an architectural draftsperson was highly skilled and highly respected, then along came the computer and with it AutoCAD etc.

    That's when the change began.  With the computers came the cad-techs because the senior architects and designers at first didn't want to take the time to learn about "cad" and how to use it. 

    Fast forward some years and what was being taught in technical schools was how to use a computer program - not anything about architectural technology per se, and so those coming out of these technical schools really didn't know much about the architectural practice in terms of detailed documents.  Therefore, assuming other offices like mine experienced what we did: it was taking more time marking up the work of these cad-techs than it would have taken if we had done the work ourselves.

    So - we quit hiring cad-techs 10 years ago and only hire intern architects. WE simply couldn't find any cad-techs that had a clue about what they were doing.

    Bayard Spencer AIA
    Spencer-Pierce Architecture+Interiors, Inc.
    Round Rock TX

  • 11.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-10-2021 09:01 AM
    @Bayard M. Spencer III AIA - When you say "cad-techs" it sounds like you were hiring those people as draftspersons, correct? As opposed to hiring them to support CAD and/or training CAD for your staff of architects and designers?

    That's another caveat I should clarify...our Design Tech professionals are all originally trained as architects or engineers. I think that's important to consider if any firm is hiring dedicated DT support personnel.​

    James Vandezande AIA
    Chief Technology Officer
    HOK, Inc.

  • 12.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?

    Posted 11-11-2021 05:37 PM
    To continue on the discussion of the role of "CAD-tech", I find that training interns from architectural schools to use the software isn't much different from teaching a CAD-tech on how we specifically use the software at our firm.  The missing part of this discussion is how much architectural training you give an intern vs. a CAD-tech while they are at your firm.  As a BIM Manager, I shouldn't be filling in the missing piece of this puzzle simply because I'm a registered architect and know how to put together a set of drawings.  This training is still a requirement if you would like to have competent professionals at your firm (knowledge of architecture and technology).

    Nick Kovach
    BOKA Powell, LLC

  • 13.  RE: Has Architecture killed the Design Technology profession?