CAD Myths Clarified

Being a formally educated designer and having been providing architectural/construction drafting services to design professionals for over a decade, I find most people, even professionals in the industry, are not clear about CAD (Computer Aided Drafting).
CAD is the way to design.
CAD is a production and communication tool, not a design tool.
CAD is faster.
CAD does produce clean and accurate documents and can be efficient in revisions. But the quality depends on the person using the program.
Manual Drafting and Sketching are outdated.
Manual drafting and sketching are activities directly connected to our brains. Studies show students taking notes by hand in class generally do better compared to students taking notes with their laptops.
In general, people don’t respect the profession of CAD drafting. Even drafters don’t have pride in this line of work. Good CAD drafters are not just computer program operators. They are an essential part of every successful projects. A drafter, CAD or manual, must understand design and construction and how things ae made.
After getting my B.A. in Art with emphasis in interior design and a few year of work experience, I spent 2 semesters (30 hours per week for 40 weeks) to complete the CAD certification program. With the skilled I learned, I was able to work with architects and designers on high-end projects and gain experience. I have invested a lot of time and effort. I get asked often, but I really don’t know how to learn CAD in a short time.
CAD programs does offer many advantages. BIM (Building Information Modeling) and other 3D programs enable us to study the design closely and communicate effectively with the entire team. But what we have neglected is continue to strengthen our fundamental skills such as simply using pencil and paper.

What Do I Do For A Living?

I posted a short online survey asking people what I do for a living. I only got 4 (heart-warming) responses:
Maker of fine tea bags, interior designer and space planner, freelance autoCAD or technical drawings for other designers
Drafting design
Beautiful interior/deco design
I wasn’t too surprised how few people responded. I am glad to see “design” appeared in every answer. (A friend wrote ‘guardian angel’ on my Facebook. That was so sweet! But I can’t do it for a living.)
I had been struggling with explaining my job. “Designer” sounds very vague. I have not perfected my “elevator speech”. After all these years, my name has been going around as this “good CAD drafter”. I am uncomfortable being defined to by the tools I use. I am not just a CAD technician/operator. I am a professional designer skilled and experienced in the art of drafting. CAD programs are tools I use to enhance my presentation and documentation.
My blog article back in 2012 ‘MICHELLE CHIANG’ is A Brand still describes how I feel about what I do. My job titles depend on what I want to “sell”. It’s time to rework my business mission statement and “menu”. It is more about what I want to do, rather than what I can do.

Design Visualization

Over the years, I have evolved from providing 2D Construction Documents for obtaining Building Permits to introducing varies formats for presentation and documentation.

Here is an example of a partial set of construction documents for new construction:

Designed by Erich Stein Architect

Designed by Erich Stein Architect

Designed by Erich Stein Architect

Designed by Erich Stein Architect

Besides Construction Documents, I also provide drawings for interior design uses such as furniture plans, kitchen design plans, bathroom design plans, tile layouts, etc.

I also do colored plans and material boards:

I started using Google SketchUp to provide basic 3D presentation. This is an effective way to help clients visualize the not-yet-existing spaces. The format can be either still images or walk-through videos.

(Designed by ARKIECO)

(Designed by Geometrix Interiors)

(Designed by Michelle Chiang)

When I was in college, I learned how to draft and sketch by hand. I enjoyed it.

In the real world, I sketched just to communicate ideas. It was nothing formal. Last week, at the last minute, I had to do some sketches for Wendy Weiner Interior Design for a presentation. This is what we ended up with:

I am so out of practice! I need to get back to hand sketching.

Not everyone is cut out to be an interior designer although I had hoped to become one. I am glad to have found my niche working in this industry.

CAD Class Presentation

My former CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) instructor, Julian Inchaurregui of West Valley Occupational Center, invited me to speak to his architectural CAD class as a former student and someone working in the design industry. I put in a lot of thoughts and even prepared flash cards. I want to document this in writing while it is still fresh in my mind. Since this is in written form and I am doing this after the face, it is not exactly how I presented.

Julian and I

11:30, March 8, 2012
Room 304
WestValleyOccupational Center

I was in this program from 2003 – 2004. Since then, I have started my own business providing presentation and documentation to design professionals.

Today, I want to share with you my personal journey, talk to you about self assessment, and marketing and branding for yourself. I will give you some business tips and advice at the end. Hopefully you will learn from my mistakes.

I am from Taiwan and came to the States for college education. I got my bachelor’s degree in interior design from California State University, Northridge. While in school, I have interned for a hospitality design firm inWest Hollywood. Upon graduation, I interned for an interior designer firm and showroom in Westlake Village. I later worked for my college professor and her husband for two years in Santa Monica doing home renovation and interior design. My next job was kitchen and bath designer at The Great Indoors. After a year, I realized the retail business was not right for me. I quit the job and enrolled in the CAD program here (West Valley Occupational Center). A few months in the program, because my design background and solid manual drafting skills, I started getting small drafting job. Now I have my own business catering to interior designers, architects, engineers, contractors, property management companies, developers, home owners, and business owners.

How did I figure out to do what I do? Once I started working, I found there are many tasks I don’t enjoy, but I still like the industry. Although I did not plan on this, I ended up getting a lot of work for drafting. I discovered by providing supporting services, I can work on high-end residential and large commercial projects. Most architects and designers let me be involved in the design process. This discovery took me a few years. I wish I done a self-assessment sooner and focus my energy on getting work I like.

An easy way to do a self assessment is to create two columns on a piece of paper. One column is for tasks you like and want to develop more skills, and the other column is for tasks you wish to avoid.

My Self-Assessment Chart

Now you have a list of tasks you enjoy, let’s start considering career options in the field of your choice. For example, in the interior design field, you can be a designer, an office assistant, a drafter, a renderer, a photographer, or a sales representative. All of these positions allow different levels of creativities and require different skills. Looking at my self-assessment chart, no wonder I started moving towards behind-the-scene tasks.

What is marketing? Why should we do marketing? What if you work for a company and have no contact with clients? Marketing or branding starts with each individual. Every drafting project is unique, and we as drafters do not need to be all the same. We need to create our own celebrity and distinguish us from others. We are not machines. We need to establish ourselves as real people and connect with our clients. Through branding, people will learn my style, my interests, and my specialties. This way, I attract only the right clients. No one can guarantee your employment will last forever. That is just the nature of the business. If you continually build a professional reputation, you can easily flow from one job to another. In this day of age, you need to have an online presence. Do you know how many Michelle Chiang there are on the Internet? I need to work extra hard. Most of you shouldn’t have this problem.

How do we market? First, you need to target a specific clientele. Then you start prospecting and networking. In my case, I am targeting small interior design firms as my clients, and I attend seminars and industry events either meeting new designers or building a relationship with showrooms. I have had been referred by sales consultants from showrooms. It is important to create value for your services. Clients want to know what is in it for them from working with you. Being unique and memorable increases your chance of being hired. It can be a non-design-related skill you have, or a signature item you hand out, or a specific way of working. Playing the piano is my hobby. It had allowed me to connect with people outside the design circle and help me to stand out. I have actually met a designer through playing the piano for a friend’s event and had worked with the designer on a few large projects.

Here are some tools for branding and marketing:

  • Business cards
  • Information sheets / brochures – This replaces traditional resume. My information sheet includes my bio, services I provide, and testimonials from clients. I do revise and update the information as needed and cater to a specific group. (Information Sheet Sample)
  • Portfolio – Printed, on-line, and on your electronic device you carry with you all the time.
  • Social media – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are three major social media websites.
  • Website / blog – I use my blog to express myself and establish my unique style.
  • Promotional gifts – I had my friend made me custom handmade soaps that matches my business card design and with the scent of my choice.
  • Email newsletters – I send out a list of industry events to designers on my mailing list. This is my way to stay in touch and showing I am interested in working with them.

Now, let me give you some general business tips & advice:

  • Invest in yourself & your business – I attend seminars and industry events whenever I can. It is important that my clients know I am up to date with what is going on.
  • Be a people person – No project is done by one person. You will need to be able to communicate and collaborate with others.
  • Be professional – It is important to be dependable and trustworthy. Your appearance also plays a big part. Remember, people don’t see you as just you. You are representation yourself, your company, your boss, and your colleagues.
  • Get support / join professional organizations / make friends – Belonging to an organization has been very beneficial for me. I also keep in touch with friends in the business to support and help each other.
  • Give back – Think about how much help you have received along the way, and give back however you can.

This is all I have today. Thank you all for being here. If you have any question or comment, I can be contacted by phone, email, Facebook page, and blog.

My Flash Cards