As a system designer, I am constantly looking at how others are designing systems. I want to see what I like, and what I don't like, about someone else’s work.
When we look at different designs, it’s important to remember that there is likely a set of circumstances that led to a particular decision.
If we are all being honest, we all probably do this in our own respective fields. It is in our nature to look at other people's work, to learn and to analyze. Even though this can often be coupled with judgement, it really is a good tool to see different perspectives.
I have learned a lot from taking tours of other facilities, along with installing other people's designs, and even installing my own designs.
Generally speaking, I am usually not impressed.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and I often find myself thinking, "Why didn't they (or I) just do ——- fill in the blank—-". I know others have done this to me, but what we always forget is that there is always a back story. There is always a series of events that gives a lot of context to the decisions that were made, and that is what I want to focus on here.
I know we are not supposed to air our dirty laundry, but I want to outline some details about a few designs and give some context to them. I believe that the specificity of the examples is not what is important, but instead, the ability to start looking at other designs in a new context.
For one project, I designed a company's conference room, for what turned out to be a difficult implementation. I eventually had to fix the system, but somehow managed to train the end user on that very system, before it was fully functional.
I felt the pain of that design all the way through, and by the end, every person from the project manager, lead installer, salesman, and my boss were upset with the outcome. I had to swallow my pride and work through all the issues one by one, until the system worked as intended.
The back story, in short, is that we were busy.
It sounds like an excuse, but it is also a valid reason.
As a designer for an AV firm, you have at any given point 10 jobs on your desk that are the top priority for each of those 10 clients.
Well, this one project ended up being one that had fallen through the cracks. Even worse, an install date was demanded, even though a design had yet to be completed.
We rushed to get everything finished. Go figure, some of the equipment did not function as planned.
Long story short, it was a tough job with tough timelines, that ended up where no one was happy.
This is what I call a negative outcome.
I remember this job specifically, because I remember getting questioned on every decision I made relating to that project. An analysis was made after the fact, and it was made without knowledge of the factors leading up to the design. There were good reasons for the decisions I made, and documentation to support the design, but they were ultimately poor decisions.
Being busy is not the only factor that can cause problems to arise for a system designer.
The other is the client.
I believe I can say this, because I now find myself on the client side of a job. It is our job to define the use case of a room. It is our job to know what we want to do in a room, so we can give the system designer insight into what our expectations are. While this is generally pretty common language, it really does allow the designer to take common language and translate it to a workable design.
This initial conversation, in my opinion, is actually one of the most important conversations pertaining to a project and its success. The rest of the project will likely fall under false assumptions, if this portion is not conducted appropriately.
During one project, for example, the client had a very difficult time nailing down a use case for a room. In part, it was because the organization had crafted many use cases spanning multiple disciplines. Each section of the organization had its own vision for the room, and felt strongly that it was required for their needs. When the dust settled, the room was deemed to suit everything from a live event with a band, a banquet hall, and a video conference meeting space for 30 people.
The client came up with well over 20 unique use cases for the room.
The project ultimately came together in a good way, all things considered, but it was not because of the initial conversations.
It was despite them.
It caused a lot of time at the end working long, late hours to try and make everything work. A week extra on the front end can save multiple weeks on the back end.
The project also had a lot of physical restrictions, making it very difficult to please each of the groups. This caused a good deal of criticism from multiple fronts. Most of the people doling out the criticism did not understand the full extent use case of the room, or the design restrictions placed on the room.
Finally, I set aside time to tour a facility that implemented conference rooms in a very similar fashion to what I planned. During the tour, I got to lay eyes on some of the equipment that I had specified.
Because most of the equipment was new, I had not seen a lot of it in the wild. This may seem trivial, but it turned out to be a very important detail, when it came to the aesthetic of the design.
The biggest change item was the drum roll camera mount.
It sounds small, but when we saw it in person, everyone in the group hated the way the mount looked. Had I gone with the standard mount that came with the camera, I would have had 30 rooms where a mount would have gotten negative and unwanted attention.
Because of this tour, we were pushed to look at an additional mount that looked more slimline, and disappeared behind the camera. It was a very small change in the grand scheme of things, but really made the difference in appearance of the room.
On the books already are other companies in the midst of projects, who have opted to do the same thing. They will tour our facility and look at our designs to decide what they like and what they don’t.
I know they will ask a lot of questions, but that is the benefit of a tour. They can learn from the experience of others.
When we look at different designs, it’s important to remember that there is likely a set of circumstances that led to a particular decision. It could be that someone is overworked and doing the best they can with the resources available. It could be that the client gave no clear direction, or even specifically said they wanted something that did not fall in line with the project's goals. There are many reasons, but there are also lots of good things that can come out of viewing other designs. Viewing other designs can provide insight and a learning experience that otherwise can only be gained after years of practice.