cass gilbert architect communication design meeting

How We Operate: Communication Tools Make a moss Project Happen


Every designer has a different suite of tools they use daily, both to generate design work and for communication about that design with their clients and collaborators.  Some studios may ask clients to bring in sheafs of magazine tear outs and producing a water color perspective of every project, others favor 3D digital models and renderings for each building.  Here are ours:

moss design meeting

Its fair to say that all firms have probably stepped away from this type of meeting of Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building design team–a group of (all) men standing around a table full of full scale blueprints in vests and shirtsleeves.  Just as using AutoCAD or other computer drafting tools has changed the process of architecture irrevocably, other new communication technologies have made keeping everyone (clients, consultants, and contractors, alike) in the loop, much more manageable.

We love the tools we work with here at moss and we’re happy to promote great programs and systems like Basecamp, Harvest, and Pinterest in the hopes that more people will adopt them for daily business use.  Here’s an inside look at the toolbox moss makes use of as we take a project from concept to construction:

Start at the Beginning: Hand Sketching

With all the technology at our fingertips, there’s still nothing to beat a good old fashioned Micron pen and pad of scratch paper.  During and after our first meetings with clients, we diagram like crazy, generating a feed back loop which feed their ideas back to them visually and letting them process and refine them.  We sketch ideas about the space with little massing diagrams and vignettes of important spaces. When all is said and done, not much is as quick or clear for communicating a design idea as a drawing.

pre design sketches

It’s important to keep these early design ideas fresh in our minds and accessible to clients during meetings so we make a point of keeping our design wall current with inspiration photos and sketches for easy access.

image wall

Pulling Ideas out of the Ether: Pinterest

The early stages of design aren’t all low-tech however.  We find Pinterest to be a great way to collaborate with our clients, sharing and building of design inspirations and finding quick talking-point examples to adapt and critique.  Our Pinterest boards are public, which means that they can serve as one more social media platform for new friends to find and research our studio.  For the most part, though, our focus with Pinterest is internal – a huge step up from magazine tear-outs and photocopied book pages.

This is most useful in the early stages of design but we often return to and refresh out boards when during Design Development when we start nailing down material selection as well.

pinterst capture

Down to Brass Tacks: Design Drawings 

Like the rest of our design work, our plans start in sketch mode but rapidly roll into CAD.  There’s really no surprise in the news that an architect uses AutoCAD although more and more firms are switching to REVIT and using their CAD software in more 3D ways.  For our buildings of our scale and type, we find that using AutoCAD with all our files shared on the moss server means that we can all easily pitch in and help each other out with projects under deadline, working as quickly and efficiently as possible.

plans sample

Looping in Consultants and Contractors: Basecamp

Putting together a drawing set is FAR from the last step in the process of making a building.  To expedite all our communications, moss turns to Basecamp, which is more than just one more way to support local businesses (Basecamp, created by 37 Signals, is a Chicago based company), it’s a great way to keep track of all of the logistics of construction.

Each project gets a page which hosts discussions, to do lists, files and figures that can be uploaded and accessed by everyone involved with the process–from clients to contractors.  Intended to make the “could you send me that attachment again” email redundant, Basecamp facilitates discussions which loop in just the right people but are visible to everyone on the project, saving and storing all relevant attachments.  It makes to do and punch lists a snap and keeps everyone on the same page.

basecamp capture

Time and Money: Harvest

We delegate our time tracking (although not our time management) to Harvest, which records our hours, organizes our time by project, phase, client and designer.  We use it to track projects internally and generate our pay slips and also to share information about projects with and provide invoices to our clients.  Time may or may not be money but we know we save both by using this simple system.

harvest capture

So there you have it: a glance behind the curtain at the tools we use to make all the magic happen.  What programs do you use/like for sharing information about your design ideas with friends?  We love suggestions!