I had just bought my MacBook in 2006 and was still learning how to use it when I bought the pro version of SketchUp. I had grand delusions of doing all of my design work on the computer. I refer to this as a delusion because with running my own remodel business, learning how to use my first computer, and learning SketchUp I did not have enough time. There was just too much to learn at one once, I had no reference point for understanding the principles of computers or how they worked let alone a drawing program.
As a contractor I have a saying, “You don’t need to know it all – just know who to call.” Since I did not have time to learn how to use SketchUp I would hire the drawings out. I could make very simple changes, then do a screen capture with notations and I would get a new drawing with the confirmed changes. This all seemed to be a laborious and costly process since I had to completely sketch something out and add all measurements to it for someone else to draw it up on the computer. My drawing could be rough, but it had to be clear enough that the draftsman would not spend too much time trying to decipher my drawings at $60 per hour. Fortunately most of my work does not require computer generated or CAD type drawings.
Quite an Investment
If you have a business it is necessary to figure out the true cost of making an investment. Even if you get the free version of SketchUp there is a cost to learning it, it’s an investment of time. For me it’s been a lot of time. I do not have the option for taking classes so a couple of books, the online tutorials, and help from generous people has been moving me along.
I have always understood the value and potential of using SketchUp for presentation and accurate plans, but fitting time in to learn it seemed to be difficult. Recently I picked an office project to learn the program on. The project consists of using large doug fir beams, left over from the construction of a house, to build out an entire office full of cabinets, desktop, and walls of bookcases.
I struggled for 3 weeks on drawing the room full of cabinetry with SketchUp. But now I have a basic set of skills for drawing with the program and I look forward to using it. I learned that, when getting frustrated, to turn it off and come back later. Most often, the element that I was not understanding would come to light after I relaxed my mind. Sitting in front of my 13” laptop for hours on end does not help the situation. Hands-on time in the shop always seemed to help this situation.
Besides developing my SketchUp skills, my presentation impressed the clients. I took my laptop in for the presentation, but I started out with a small 3 ring binder with 22 screenshots of the room at various angles, levels of zoom, and with added dimensions for understanding size.
I chose this job to learn SketchUp on because of the level of client and the scope of the job. They paid me good money for a design and it warranted a professional presentation. It seems to have paid off because the size of the job has increased. I am now working on a new set of plans with the changes and additions. In the past I would have paid someone else to do this and it still would have taken a lot of my time.
Impressing the clients and getting additional work (this contract still has be finalized) is certainly a benefit, but there is also the benefit of having measured shop drawings. I don’t need every detail of a cabinet spec’ed out, just the outside dimensions work for me and then I reverse engineer to the insides of a cabinet. With the experience I have, I design the outside dimensions around what needs to go on the inside and everything just falls into place.
For this project I also designed an Arts&Crafts style bookcase to fit a specific area and it took me just under an hour to finish it. I can hand sketch faster than that. When I do a hand sketch, that gives me the concept but I need to figure out all of the specific dimensions and do clean drawing for the client. I need to do a front view and side view at least. Doing this by hand requires at least an hour if not more. With SketchUp I only need to draw it once and rotate it to see the various angles.
I determine the sizes of the parts as I draw and I can see if the proportional relationships work instantly. Most often I have an idea of the concept and sizes the parts need to be for a project, this comes with experience over time. But after drawing it once I am able to get all of the dimensions off of the project to use in the shop. Another benefit is the ability to make changes efficiently. A file can be copied then modifications made to it to show an alternate version.
There is a feature where you can add a sketchy hand drawn effect instantly to the project. This would seem ridiculous but it has it’s place. You can render a more simplistic drawing and then apply the sketchy effect to show a client. It renders an artistic image that is more vague on the specifics but gives the concept. For a cool looking artistic representation, the architects I know will apply the sketchy effect and then color the print out with Prismacolor markers. It may sound silly but clients get excited about artistic renderings of their projects. It says to them, “Your project is a work of art!”
SketchUp is an investment. I bought the pro version because I see the need for some of the features that it offered. But even if you get the free version it is an investment of time.
Time invested for individuals will vary. It is important to note that I have never taken a formal computer class of any sort beyond high school and I learned on a TRS-80 (some will have to Google this to know what I mean and it may cause you to laugh) so my learning curve seemed quite steep. I did not have anything to compare it to or any other point of reference. People would often say, ” Oh it’s easy compared to…” but I have no training in any of these other programs so it is all relative.
I am excited about adding SketchUp to my repertoire of skills. It is an item that seems to validate my professionalism and skills to the client. As a business, impressions and presentations are very important.
Hand sketches are still very important. I find they are the best for capturing a thought quickly and for allowing the flow of ideas without getting hung up technology. Hand sketches are going to be the first form of visual communication with a client that will lead to clean drawings. Most often a rough sketch is all that I need to build from but I understand the importance of using SketchUp to ensure a clear transfer of ideas to the client.
If you are not going to use SketchUp often or do not deal with clients, it may be more of a novelty and is not necessary. I would in fact encourage more time in the shop than time on the computer for building woodworking skills. But this is a personal decision that everyone will have to make for themselves.
Share the Love ~ Share the Knowledge
-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com