Technological Communication // Andrew Schopen
Abstract: The evolution of the internet and technology has allowed for the communication between individuals who would never have been able to work together without it. This facilitates more diverse architectural solutions. I will discuss my experiences, both positive and negative, while working amongst different communication and file sharing platforms that have allowed the relationship between Design+Make, El Dorado, Studio Build, and Botwin Commercial Development to get the point where a project is under construction.
Audience: People who are working on a multi-faceted project and are in different geographical locations – and want to avoid as much confusion as possible.
The internet is often seen as a distraction due to it being littered with social media. One could argue that most communication that happens over the internet is not as fruitful as a phone call or conversation in person. However, the Waldo Affordable Housing project stands as a prime example of how the internet can be used as a vital communication tool amongst professionals and students. Without our internet platforms there would be no realistic way for practicing professionals in Kansas City to mentor a studio of thirteen students located two hours away in Manhattan Kansas. Our mentor firm El Dorado is located in Kansas City along with our contractor Studio Build, and our client Botwin Commercial Development. One might wonder how we are able to coordinate our work when there is over one hundred miles between Kansas State’s Design+Make studio and all of our professional partners. We rely heavily on a few internet platforms to help us with this task; Facebook, Instagram, Basecamp, and Zoom. All of these programs have a practical use; however, often these programs are abused and are much less practical. I’d like to analyze how the benefits of all of these different platforms can heavily outweigh the negatives given the proper method of use.
Before I started this studio I had stayed away from Facebook due to the negative stigma that follows social media. There are currently 1.86 Billion people using Facebook on a monthly basis. The sad reality Is that in our society uses Facebook solely for sharing nonsense videos. This experience has shown me how useful of a tool Facebook can be when used for communication in a team setting. We have a group chat room setup for all of the students to communicate. Given our scope of work some of us are in Kansas City working on site while others are pre-fabricating in the shop and it is essential to have this forum to connect with each other. Through Facebook messenger we are able to keep ourselves internally organized before we even extend our communication out to our partners in Kansas City.
Along with the recently discovered perks of using Facebook as a way to communicate, I also have noticed some negatives that come along with this platform. The largest problem I’ve noticed while sitting in studio is someone will message the group and everyone’s phones will ding. I often see people read the message on their computers respond to it then get sucked into the vortex of distractions also attributed to Facebook. It then takes individuals some time to switch back into work mode and begin to crank on whatever they were working on prior to the innocent group message. I believe this is a problem with how Facebook chooses to market itself. Instead of marketing itself as a more professional method of communication it has become a method for people to share nonsense. Facebook is full of distractions even within the messenger portion. There are tons of GIFs and videos you can send that often lead the group conversations off topic. However, sometimes these light-hearted GIFs seem to be a morale boost and allow some form of team bonding.
The true hero of our design communication falls on the shoulders of a file sharing platform called Basecamp. Basecamp allows us to organize different projects into folders. Within these folders we are able to post drawing sets. Each PDF posted creates its own chat thread where all people involved are able to voice their professional criticism. This is a truly amazing feature as it completely bridges the physical distance between all of the people involved. Another feature offered is an integrated calendar. Software like this allows bright minds from all over the world to communicate and problem solve together. From my experience a more diverse team means a more diverse solution allowing for many solutions to emerge that would have never been created had we not been able to collaborate.
The biggest downfall of this program is not the platforms’ fault. All too often someone will come into studio and ask about things that have been posted on basecamp. Now if it was a recent post it doesn’t count. However, when people don’t know what is going on and there are numerous chat threads on Basecamp it tells you people are not sitting down and reading what is going on. Now I’ll give these people the benefit of the doubt because often times there is an extensive amount of information being transferred between everyone all in the same day. Sometimes it does get hard to keep up with what other groups are working on.
As great as Facebook messaging is and as wonderful as Basecamps file sharing works to keep us on task and moving during the week there is still some truth that personal encounters are more fruitful than that of messages and emails. This is because it is hard through text to read the emotions of the author. To satisfy the realm of personal conversation and problem solving we have set times that are mandatory for everyone to meet and discuss the work done since the last meeting and to get some legitimate face to face criticism so that we are sure what has to be done by the next meeting time. Given the business of this project with all of the travel to get to the site it isn’t unheard of for someone to be at in Kansas City working construction or consulting with some of our donors. When this occurs we yet again fall back on a program called Zoom meeting. This is a video calling program that is fluid and allows multiple people to call in. When someone speaks their face gets put on everyone’s screen. There is also the capability to screen share allowing you to share information and drawings you are seeing as a video call.
I believe all even given some of the downfalls of these different software that technology opens the design world up to many more possibilities. They open up lines of communication that would never be possible. Most importantly they allow multiple people to communicate in a team environment. When someone finishes a task and it is in need of refinement it can instantly be seen and commented on by everyone on the project team. With this quick feedback loop the design team is able to go through numerous iterations a week. This allows the project to become much more refined. Technology is absolutely an asset to our field of work and should be used to its most extensive potential.
When it comes to communication messages, Instagram, and technology are often misunderstood and seen as a negative thing. This experience has taught me that all of these things can be used as both tools and toys. It is when we use the internet as a tool for communication between professionals that these programs thrive. The reality is that these tools are often abused and the content is replaced by a mixture of nonsense and random information. Regardless without these different interfaces this project would not be possible. They have allowed for a great learning experience through collaboration with seasoned professionals and the final outcome, I believe, will reflect this.
Written by Andrew Schopen