CAD and culture: A lost aesthetic in design and a gained appreciation for its replacement

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(TLDR: Did drafting design lose aesthetics? No, they moved. Also, check out a bunch of compass rose pictures I took)

 

"If you can't give me poetry, can't you give me poetical science?" - Ada Lovelace

 

Science, Engineering, and art often go hand in hand, and there is a strong history of this connection. Ada Lovelace was the daughter of a renowned poet and seemed to carry some of his gifts. As the mother of computer programming Ada Lovelace and her quote above alludes, she had some wonderfully poetic ideas as well as fantastic contributions to the world of computing. One only needs to look at the works of Leonardo da Vinci to see the strong cross-over of art and engineering. For a modern example, one could look at Apple products. What sets Apple apart from its contemporaries has been their stunning design. Steve Jobs's approach to designing and producing Apple products is summed up best in his quote: "Technology alone is not enough. It is technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing." But will the mechanization and modernization allow for aesthetic sensibilities? As we modernize and improve what we do as designers, are we losing an outlet and medium of the art of our trade? Is a rose by any other design just as sweet?

 

I started my career in the engineering and design world at an interesting time. I got my AutoCAD certification and started blazing a new career path for my self. Many of my colleagues who are retiring can remember a world where computer drafting was not the standard. Many still have their board drafting tools stashed somewhere in their desks. One of my first major projects as a noob in the world of CAD was to close the final door on the chapter of board drafting for my facility. I was (or likely will be) the last person to see many of the physical copies of our design documents. I digitized (scanned the physical drawings) 40 thousand hand drawings. I put them in boxes and sent them away to be stored until the day they are destroyed. Don't get me wrong, these drawings are still alive and well as PDFs. I inserted hundreds of these drawings into AutoCAD to revise them over the next few years. But a PDF or sometimes a raster, being edited in AutoCAD and Raster Design Tools doesn't have the same feel as a D+ mylar sheet sprawled out in front of you. 

 

It really broke my heart to do this as some of these drawings were fantastic examples of drafting mastery. The craftsmanship and attention to detail of the old medium put me in quite a state of reverence. Here I was holding not only a piece of history for this site and the design, but also a work of art in many regards. It saddened me to think that some of this art form had been lost. I was charged with the duties of creating equivalent modern technical documents and could never achieve the level of artistic skill it took to create these hand drawings. While pondering this existential artistic whimsy I was interrupted by a papercut, but I couldn't be mad at these awesome drawings. I was asking my self if there had been a loss of soul in the profession. 

 

Off the cuff I would have said yes, the profession lost some soul moving to a digital world, but after really thinking about it I had concluded no it had not. We have not lost the aesthetic edge, though its focus may have moved. One of the main reasons I'm so drawn to this profession is the beauty of what design documents really are. They represent a rational mastery of man over the seeming insurmountable challenges presented by nature. The medium has changed and so a part of the beauty that the medium presented has had its time, but there are boundless opportunities for this beauty to appear else where. Just looking at the design made possible by generative design and being able to use biomimicry for inspiration of common items is a fantastic marriage of art and science and design. When I see the tools being developed to store and use the enormous amounts of design data with tools like Construction Cloud and Tandem it is a thing of beauty. That design data was frequently lost in aggregating design ideas and concepts into the paper medium. Now that data can make it into the data stream the will live with the designed world forever.  Or even when I think about how fantastically orchestrated a well automated process is, I can see the beauty once again. The liberation of turning a weeks worth of work into an hour is a wonderful thing as it frees up the creative mind for the actual design efforts. I can spend the time once spent at the drafting board honing in the drawing on more iterations and and pushing boundaries and creating intriguing designs which once would have cost far to much time to create due to the medium. It plays right into the old adage: "You can have it quick, you can have it cheap or you can have it done well, pick two." When the demands of design time are shortened by our tools, we can then shift to make it done well. In the end, the beauty is still there, it is just in a different place and in the hands of a different craftsman. 

 

It was bitter sweet to be going through all these old drawings. I was able to enjoy them, even if it was ultimately to send them to their doom. I was about 90% of the way done with the scanning project when I was struck by a very interesting observation. Many of these hand-drawn drawings bore unique attributes of their creators. Many of these drawings had very unique compass roses. I know I couldn't keep all the drawings, but I sure could capture some of then intimacy of these works by snapping a picture of their roses. At that point in the scanning project there weren't many left, but it did lead to the start of a fun hobby. I started collecting any unique compass roses I came across. I think it was my way of preserving just a little bit of that lost aesthetic. 

 

Below are some of the different compass roses across several mediums that I have come across. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

 

PS. My favorite is a compass rose that has the state of Louisiana, my home state. I converted that into an AutoCAD block and have shared it below!

 

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5 Comments
brian.strandberg
Advisor

I think there is a t-shirt design in here somewhere, "Raiders of the Lost North Arrows".

TheCADnoob
Mentor

@brian.strandberg HA, Who wants to go on an epic journey to recover the relics from long-term storage! Ill bring my whip, hat, and fear of snakes.

john_maclainwright
Explorer

Ada Lovelace's quote beautifully illustrates the poetry in science, and history showcases the harmony of art and technology. As we progress, let's preserve the artistry in design.

 

john.manoussakis
Observer

There was a time when one knew one didn't know.  Now we enter a field and don't know we don't know.  In the era of Lifelong learning, we don't allow for the initial apprenticeship, per se.  We've optimised out the aesthetic of skill and mastery.  In other words, the craft.  The poetry in motion.  The ability to work in "the zone", the "flow-state".  Like technology, human resources have become "plug and play".

emmanuelkattoo
Observer

Amazing blog, very informative.