by Don Friedman on November 7, 2018

This one is a little off my usual topics, but important. We’re currently reviewing drafting standards in the office. Nothing major, but we need some tweaks to keep up with changes in NYC Department of Buildings requirements, to keep up with changes in our drafting program, and to keep up with changes in our thinking about how we present structural information.

One thing that won’t be changing is our drawing typography. We use a traditional serif font in upper and lower case for notes, call-outs, dimensions, and so on. The logic behind this is simple: traditional typography has developed over the more than five hundred years since the printing press was invented to provide clarity to the written word. Of course, our drawings are drawings, not texts, and most of the information they convey is in the form of two-dimensional line pictures. We also occasionally use photographs and we occasionally use axiomatic three-dimensional drawings, but what all of the graphics have in common is text. Without labels and notes, the drawings are useless. Some drawings – particularly our general notes sheets – are very text-heavy.

First, all-caps is hard to read. If the purpose of our drawings is to convey information, why would we want to make it more difficult? This is a standard in certain design offices, particularly engineering offices, for no good reason. I suspect the standard had its roots in Leroy sets, which saved room on the stencil by only having capital letters. In any case, a drafting standard that interferes with the purpose of drafting is a bad idea.

Second, oddball fonts are hard to read. The worst are the single- and double-line fonts that AutoCAD created decades ago to work with pen plotters. Pen plotters are long gone but those terrible fonts (Simplex, for example, and most of the fonts ending in .shx) are still around. Almost as bad are the fake-architects’-handwriting fonts. I used one of those for drawings in the early 1990s, when CAD was still a minority compared to hand-drafting; then came the day that an older architect complimented me on my skill at lettering and I decided that I needed to switch to an actual typeface.

Finally, let’s call look at…call it the philosophy of drafting. When we create a report, we try to make it look as good as possible. The content is what we’re paid for, but a readable and good-looking document doesn’t hurt. The same logic applies to our drawings.

What Engineering Is Not, Part 3

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Drawing* is important to engineers. It is, generally, our main form of communication with other engineers, with architects, with contractors, and with anyone else. In the simplified form of sketching, it is a tool we commonly use for site investigations. That said, it’s nowhere near as important to us as it is to architects. The […]

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A Permanent Short-Term Fix

February 13, 2018

When Hurricane Sandy submerged a chunk of lower Manhattan, our office was on Broadway, on the ridge at the center of the area. A little over a year ago, we moved to the corner of Broad and Stone Streets, in a lower area where a lot of neighboring buildings flooded to some extent. Various large-scale […]

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Possibly Futile Clarification

August 17, 2017

These maps of subway stations have been getting a fair amount of exposure lately. I suspect that in part it’s because they are beautiful drawings. Considering them just as abstract art, they’re great to look at; the fact that they are reasonable accurate and detailed maps of subway stations makes them incredible. Subway stations are […]

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A Thousand Words

August 7, 2017

From Beyond My Ken: There was an interesting demonstration of the relative inadequacy of language during my trip to Governors Island last week. If you click on the photo above, which shows the Governors Island ferry tied up on the island as seen from the Manhattan shore, you can make out the configuration of the […]

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Drawing Pulled In Two Directions

July 31, 2017

I found this to be an interesting article on the use of iPads in creating and working with drawings. We use iPads pretty heavily for field survey work – taking notes on PDFs of drawings, taking notes in general, creating annotated photos – but have not got very far into using them as drawing tools. […]

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New And Obsolete Beauty

July 23, 2017

Very few people draft by hand any more, and I haven’t done so in 25 years, but I still want this brand new drafting table.

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Three Thoughts In 285 Words

July 21, 2017

I read Doug Stowe’s blog regularly. There’s a pretty good size gap between his work and mine, but what he has to say is always interesting and he says it in a way that both informs and entertains. His July 4th post is a good example of why I read his┬áblog. In a very small […]

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Mental Mapping

July 13, 2017

This article from the Architectural League on avoidance mapping is interesting in itself – it has a lot to say about what different people feel is important in their local environment – but it’s also interesting in what it has to say accidentally about how people see those environments. Some of the people interviewed have […]

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Graphic Representation

July 11, 2017

Perspective elevation of the Fifth Avenue front of the New York Public Library: This article at ArchDaily on the graphic representation of construction details is interesting in two ways, one serious and one frivolous. The frivolous issue is that only six of the original ten illustrations are present, because the article is an incomplete translation; […]

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