As I learn more about the design profession, I discover new resources. Today’s discovery is DesignIntelligence, the Design Futures Council’s monthly “Report on the Future” and self-described “repository of a vast wealth of timely articles, original research, and industry news.” Here’s what the Council says about itself:

The Design Futures Council is a global network of design community professionals. The mission: to explore trends, changes, and new opportunities in design, architecture, engineering, and building technology. Members include leading architecture and design firms; dynamic manufacturers; service providers; and small, forward-thinking A-E-C companies taking an active interest in their future.

The Council regularly publishes articles on future trends and management practices that affect the design industry, including “reports on financial management strategies, best practice case studies, and articles on fees, profitability, ownership transition, communications planning, strategic change, [and] achieving competitive fitness.”

Webcrawling, I found a full reprint of DI’s January 2006 volume entitled Fifteen New Directions Sweeping the Design Professions. (One must subscribe to get the full text of articles on DI’s website. I can’t remember where I found the full article.) In the first article in this volume, Current and Emerging Trends Reshaping the Design Professions, author James P. Cramer states: “At no time in history have the design professions played such an important role in pressing global issues.” He’s talking about the sea-change occuring in how business is done globally, evidenced by a proliferation of “new methods, processes, technologies, demographics, values, and behaviors,” and argues that design firms will need to reinvent and restructure themselves to keep up.

I couldn’t agree more (see my post The World is Flat). Changes wrought by technology, particularly the global connectivity made possible by the internet, and new competition from educated, talented, and ambitious workers in countries like China and India are changing how projects are done in the US and other nations that previously had a monopoly on design. If we don’t keep up with the technology and we don’t join forces with these new experts, we’ll lose.

The issue goes on to present 15 trends that the Design Futures Council identified after surveying top design professionals. The first of these is that “firms will be delivering genuinely integrated and more overtly collaborative professional practices in architecture, interiors, engineering, and construction.” The successful organizational model will involve integration of all disciplines needed to complete a project either by creation of a truly multi-disciplinary firm or through an inter-firm collaborative effort. The future, the author argues, will see architects, designers, engineers, and contractors sharing authority, responsibility, costs, and risks from a project’s inception.

This level of collaboration will require firms to adopt technology that will permit a seamless exchange of data and this involves another trend that the article identifies – Building Information Modeling (BIM). With current architectural, design, and engineering systems, separate files are created by the various project participants as they develop and complete their tasks and drawings and documents are then physically exchanged. Changes to one document might require changes to other documents and these changes must transferred manually to every drawing or document that might be affected. This cumbersome process has enormous potential for errors and omissions. BIM streamlines and decreases errors by maintaining all project data in one file that can be accessed by all participants and changes to one part are immediately reflected in all parts. BIM has been around for a few years, but only now is it beginning to catch on (see my paper on BIM written in September 2004 for a class.)

The most forward-thinking firms have already adopted this technology and others are poised to do so. Given the incredible changes in how business is done and the increasing pressure on firms to produce more in a shorter period, firms that fail to adapt their processes and organizational thinking to this trend will surely fall behind.

I haven’t learned or even seen BIM in action, but I have had some recent conversations with firms that are adopting the technology and they’re pretty excited about it. So am I. The design business is poised on the edge of something new – not only new technologies, but new ways of doing things, new hierarchies, new expectations, and new needs.

I like the thought of entering the design profession at a time when things are changing. It’s invigorating and that’s a good feeling.

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