September 20, 2016

The Process of Design

Call me a dinosaur, but I am at a point in my life and career where I’m not as influenced by the latest trends.

Don’t get me wrong- as one of my icons, Neil Young once mused, “It is better to burn out than to fade away.” I don’t want to be left in the past so I keep one eye trained on the future while continuing to do quality and innovative work. Technology is one trend that is worth paying attention to, especially how it influences our industry and what we do on a daily basis.

One of the aspects most affected by the evolution and changes in our industry is the precise art of sketching. As an architect, I don’t know how we can do what we do in our profession without being able to quickly sketch and communicate ideas to our clients, consultants, and co-workers to our co-workers, consultants and clients.

In this day in age, most of our young college grads are mind-melded to their REVIT software.  As professionals, we still need to be able to get ideas down quickly, accurately and in any situation. For those who know me, you will always see me carrying a ream of recycled paper and my favorite felt tip pen. Yes, I realize just how unsexy and unglamorous that may seem to my young coworkers- but this is where the epiphanies happen, this is where the art is occurring, and yes, this is where the details happen. It is so clean and unfiltered. It is honest with no room for lies. It is like the difference between your favorite Northwestern IPA and a Bud Lite. It is like the difference between an old vinyl LP of your favorite song or album and a digital download. It is like the difference between hooking a wild steelhead and a hatchery trout.

You get the picture. There is just this layer of richness that is all part of the design process that is otherwise lost in the world of computer software. Sketching feeds that creative edginess. It is so in the moment and more uninhibited than looking at a computer screen. It is that singular bit of art in what we do, those spur-of-the-moment “ah-ha” ideas.

Look, I am old enough to have seen trends in the design industry come and go. I am just dangerous enough with technology to know what works for me and what doesn’t. I am now experimenting with sketchy software that allows me to draw right on my screen with a stylist. This is okay, and I am not asking everyone to get rid of REVIT because it is an amazing tool, but when I first started in this profession back in the Paleozoic Period, we were still drafting on mylar with plastic lead. We still created beautiful renderings with pen and ink or watercolor. We built physical models that seemed like they took a lifetime to build. Then AutoCAD showed up and people were saying how it would revolutionize how we designed buildings. We quickly transitioned into 3-D computer rendering and then came REVIT. Now we are making videos, flying drones and stretching technology to convey our three-dimensional ideas to our clients in ways never imagined even a decade ago. Technology is a wonderful thing, but through all this retraining, through all this relearning, the one thing for me that has remained constant and unchanging is the ability to clearly, and quickly and accurately convey my ideas through a sketch. The beauty of architecture, our staff and our work is that these ideas- a classic drawing and life-like rendering – make for an in-depth and artistic design process.


With over 22 years of experience in principal management, architectural design, contract documents, project administration, and program planning, Tony integrates a global understanding of project and building needs. His expertise has grown to include building-types big and small, including hospitality, rest areas, and office buildings, but he particularly enjoys designing public schools. Tony is dedicated to giving back to the community and does so as an active member of Rotary Club and as a Helena Chamber of Commerce board member.