July 25, 2024

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Have Designers Always Supported Architects and Engineers?

Have Designers Always Supported Architects and Engineers?

A recent college graduate asked me an interesting question:

“Historically, were there always ‘designers’ backing architects and engineers? It seems that most drafting and CD production is now left to the designers as opposed to an architect.”

The answer depends on what is meant by the term “designer”?

In 1990 I came on board as a “draftsman”. Notice the term “man”. Men dominated offices, perhaps over 90% of the technical staff (not the office receptionist) were men. If we advance ahead about three years into the future the title gaining acceptance was either “drafter” (notice the drop of gender) or CAD drafter. The only difference between these titles was the question of could the drafter use CAD software? If they could use Computer-Aided Design tools then they were more employable! So to get hired employees in each industry began to adopt “CAD” in their professional titles.

After 5 to 10 years of using the term CAD in professional titles (mid-late 90’s) the nic-name of “CAD Monkey” (or something similar) came into being. This indicated that an individual could learn CAD in school but not have reliable design skills to bring value to a firm. “CAD Monkey’s” sometimes took that title as a compliment because with their great software skills they could leap from project to project making the software do amazing tricks. Many loved / used it as an unofficial title. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize this was an actual insult. It meant that even a monkey can use CAD, but can a monkey DESIGN???

Over a span of a few years industry professionals picked up on this trend and to avoid the insult they started taking on the title of “designer”. CAD skills were expected but being called a “designer” meant you could design too. Suddenly “CAD drafters” vanished as “designers” took their place.

Today there is less need for employees that only do drafting. That being stated, back in the day most drafters didn’t only draft either. Drafters were trained more heavily on the process of design when they entered the workforce, instead of in school, because school is where they learned the technical construction aspects of their trade. They then developed their design skills under a “master” (Principle, Licensed Architect, Lead Designer, etc) and often their own designs fell into the same categories (styles) as those they worked under.

What this means: We are actually coming full circle and the designers of today are often just those individuals called drafters in the past. Because our drafters and designers can no longer just create drawings (which is what the “CAD monkees” would do) our industry requires more education in construction principles and less time in design studios. Not that design studios are bad (they are a must!) be we need our schools to have a stronger foundation of construction principles to build on. Then the design skills could be mentored / developed over years of professional practice… which is the way the industry historically used to develop young talent.