I remember taking a “Statics” course in university. The professor insisted that we solve some of the problems “graphically”. That is, instead of using just math, he wanted us to draw the forces to scale and solve the problem by measuring our drawing. In the beginning, I didn’t like this approach. I didn’t like the “inaccuracy” of it. My reasoning was that with pure math an exact answer can be found. The professor’s approach seemed clumsy. It was only after I made a mistake, that I began to appreciate the advantage of drawing out a problem and solving it that way.

I must have added a wrong number in one of the equations, but I didn’t know it. My calculator dutifully produced a number. I wrote it down, only later discovering that it was off by a factor of 100! I loved the idea of accuracy, but the numbers didn’t mean anything. By making a scale drawing, I could see the answer. I may not have been able to give a number to even 3 digits of accuracy, but real life problems often don’t require that kind of precision.

Along the same lines, it is essential for designers to know how to build things. They don’t need to know how to build everything, but they should have a fair understanding of what it takes to make a design come to life. If possible, they should use the product or service that was their responsiblity.

I have heard that in “the old days”, whenever an arch was built and the last stone was put in place, the architect would stand under it. That is the kind of confidence all designers should have. Since the word “architect” comes from the Greek for “chief builder” or “lead builder”, it should come as no surprise that those architects would agree to stand by (and under) their creations.

Spending some time learning the materials of the design, learning the fabrication process along with seeing and using the final product or service are simple steps that any designer can do. Unfortunately, too often it isn’t done. Remember this blog post the next time something breaks.