The Upside Down Approach to Restaurant Design

A little while ago I wrote this thread on Twitter about how chefs with a dream need to approach design and construction of their first restaurant (or one of their first few, for that matter). I was triggered by a story in the local news about yet another chef teaming up with a firm that has a long history of shaming chefs into spending more money than they should (or even have) on elaborate, crazy expensive designs with almost no project management to steer those designs to reality on schedule and on budget.

Now I’m triggered to expand on my Twitter thread by a tweet from Carl Quintanilla about restaurant chains gaining while independents are losing during this pandemic-induced recession. Not to digress (too much), but what it’s really about regardless of whether we’re talking chains or independents is places that serve amazing food (or even just so-so food) and make it effortless to get delivered or picked up curbside will kick ass right now, no matter if they’re big or small. For example, independent fine dining will suffer if they turn their nose up at this notion of delivery/takeout. Or big chain fast/casual will suffer if they don’t quickly pivot to a tightly integrated delivery experiences with phone apps and fast, reliable service. Almost everyone will suffer this winter, so we need to float restaurants during these months of shitty weather with bailouts too. Just give the people what they want…in a pandemic without any bullshit: restaurant food without the whole going into the restaurant part of it. Anyhoo…

…All of this adds to the pressure of a chef opening a one-off restaurant. Elsewhere, I’ve written about the disciplined approach to restaurant development that’s needed by independent operators, but my Twitter thread reflects what might be a better way of saying essentially the same thing. So let’s dig into the details of that now!

First Thing: The Space You’re Going Into Costs More Than Just the Rent

Setting aside the number one most important rule of real estate (location), the space you’re renting for your restaurant needs to be able to accommodate a restaurant. That’s potentially easier if it’s already been a restaurant in the past, even if the last tenant wasn’t a restaurant. I say potentially because it needs to have the infrastructure in place (presently or at a time in the past) specific to YOUR restaurant — and that infrastructure is driven by your menu, so your architect can help figure out what you’ll need based on what you’re serving. If you’re cooking at all, then like 99% of what fucks up your budget if you pick a space that doesn’t lend itself to restaurants is cooking exhaust — getting all the grease-laden smoke from cooking to the outside. This kind of exhaust is super expensive to design, construct, and maintain, so the shorter the duct going from the cooking appliances to the outside, the better off your budget will be. Spaces that don’t lend themselves to short, straightforward runs of grease exhaust duct get insanely expensive real quick. Another space-related money trap is who’s below your tenant space. If it’s anyone other than dirt and worms, it gets spendy to put in underfloor plumbing and make sure your very wet kitchen doesn’t leak into the neighbors below.

There’s all sorts of things about a space that can make it cheap and easy to build out or expensive and difficult. It’s not sexy, and it gets in the way when all you want to do is start putting your dreams “on paper” with your architect, but having your architect perform a thorough assessment of the premises is like having a mechanic look over a used car that you want to buy before you pull out your wallet. So do this before signing a lease if you can, that way you can talk the landlord down on rent or get other concessions based on what your architect discovers. The architect will also do a regulatory assessment to understand all the red tape that you’ll need to cut through to get this restaurant to the finish line — research that saves you a ton of time down the line when a contractor is engaged and the big bucks are getting spent on the job site. All of this research is the most important (if not glamorous) step in the entire development process. Do it!

Second Thing: Everything You Don’t Want to Talk/Think About is Most Important

More unsexy stuff: plumbing, HVAC, and electrical. Restaurants have gobs of this stuff (only hospitals have more and we all know how expensive they are). Almost your entire budget will be gobbled up by the guts of your restaurant. Cold, hard fact right there. This is another place where if you aren’t careful about how your restaurant gets laid out in the space you could screw your budget up before construction even starts. The most important money-saving moves you can make with expensive plumbing, HVAC, and electrical will be related to the initial design of the restaurant. Never let the contractor design this stuff for you, because not only does that disconnect expensive stuff from a design process that could save money, but very few contractors have the foresight to understand the consequences of their own on-site design decisions, which will have them coming back to you for more moolah after they’ve realized their design choices aren’t going to fit the budget and/or schedule. You always want these systems engineered up front while the restaurant is being designed by your architect. That’s smart spending.

None of this has anything to do with finishes or layout function. An experienced restaurant architect will be able to juggle all the expensive guts while considering finishes and layout function in a way that preserves your budget by planning in great detail up front while things are cheap to do “on paper” so to speak, rather than figuring it out on the fly while you have a dozen or more laborers on site charging you thousands per day even when they have to sit around waiting for a decision to be made. This leads us to the next thing…

Third Thing: Applying Detailed Planning and Thought to Bare Minimum Documentation

Just like everything else, you need to be smart with how you spend your money on architecture and engineering services. We’ve discussed having your architect perform thorough assessments of the premises and regulatory conditions, and this is where you want to concentrate your professional services dollars because these services are all about uncovering as many of the potential money pits and schedule bombs as possible up front so that the rest of the project can be delivered with these hazards in mind and without excuses later on that blow up budget and/or schedule.

But you still need some documentation to go and get a permit and health department plan approval. This is where your architect can develop a bare minimum set of drawings to get you through these pre-construction entitlements. All of the important knowledge gained from the assessments can inform a simple, spartan architectural floor plan, reflected ceiling plan, and room finish schedule. The engineers will add a plumbing plan, HVAC plan, and a power and lighting plan with necessary schedules. That room finish schedule and reflected ceiling plan will include bare minimum finishes for the kitchen and restrooms to appease the health department, with all other finishes to be determined later. Spatially, the architect can still layout an interesting front-of-house in anticipation of finishes. Light fixtures can also be placed based on some desired level of illumination and then left to be specified later. Basically, the last thing that will happen on your restaurant project from a design perspective will be selection of finishes, furniture, and light fixtures because we’ll back into what you can afford for those things after two big milestones: 1.) signing a contract with a GC; and 2.) getting through the rough-in stage of construction. Getting through framing and utility rough-ins is a critical stage of restaurant construction because if there are any more unpleasant surprises to be uncovered once construction starts, they’ll likely all of been found (and more importantly, paid for) by this time. Then, and only then, do you have a sense of what kind of money you’ll have left over for all the fun stuff you envisioned when you first had the idea to open your own restaurant.

A quick note on what happens in between finishing those bare minimum construction documents and starting construction. You’ll go and secure your permits and approvals yourself and you’ll do that feeling well-informed thanks to that regulatory assessment your architect did a while back. At the same time the permitting is happening you’ll want to bid out your project to GCs. Talk to your architect about the pros and cons of having them involved in your bidding process. It all depends on your comfort level and willingness to not bend on the contract after your GC is underway with construction. Sometimes it’s best to have your architect go over bids with a fine tooth comb and make sure there are no omissions or other surprises while also qualifying the GCs. Other times, it’s better to have the owner play “dumb but firm” and if a GC comes back after contract execution saying they didn’t include something that owner can force their hand — it all depends on who you are and how willing you are to be firm.

Fourth Thing: Everything Else That Wasn’t Important Earlier in the Development Process

What the bare minimum construction documentation does is embed all the intelligence gained from detailed research into a quick and cheap set of documentation that can be quickly permitted and built. In a worst case scenario, you use up your entire budget just getting to the point in development of having a built out space with a raw dining room, but you’ll have an operating restaurant — even if you have to start delivery only or fill the dining room with card tables and folding chairs sitting on bare concrete like a garage, this joint will be up and running and able to generate revenue — let your great food and hospitality speak for itself.

But it’s more likely you’ll have a little bit to spend on finishes and furnishings. In exchange for a meal or three at your new joint, your architect would be happy to steer you towards selections that are appropriate to whatever’s left of your budget and schedule at this point. The best part is that this is all stuff you can likely order direct and even install yourself if you have to in order to save time and money. Because your architect planned everything so carefully up to this point, you’ll get good results with their guidance to get you over the finish line too.

In Conclusion: Don’t Fall for the Trap

The trap is anyone: architect, contractor, investor, whoever — that focuses you on the daydreamy part of your restaurant (think: sexy dining rooms with stainless- and copper-clad exhibition cooking lines roaring away in the background) rather than the harsh reality that this shit is expensive; and no, we’re not talking about the contract quality imported furniture (though that’s expensive too). The most important thing when you’re starting out is to get open fast so you can get cooking so you can get revenue so you can stay open. Don’t screw up the opportunity before you serve that first meal because of poor choices in the development process. Let an experienced restaurant architect help you avoid the pitfalls.

Everything in the process outlined here can be done quickly and inexpensively. Remember: the less you have to spend, the more carefully you have to consider and plan out each design decision up front.

Aside

The ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI – August, 2020

Let’s visualize AIA’s ABI as beer cans. Here’s last month’s ABI alongside this year’s previous numbers. For as long as we’re below 50 on these numbers, we’ll be stacking the cheap cans.

If you have a preferred (canned) beverage, let me know and I’ll include it in future visualizations. Remember: the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans.

Lessons from the Corporate World

I spent three years working as director of design in a corporation — a startup. It was a wild ride and I learned a ton. Going corporate is definitely something I recommend all architects try.

There’s a lot I can write about my time in the corporate world, but the most important takeaways from working with business professionals all center around lessons on agility and flexibility, whether to meet the changing needs of the marketplace or to adapt the corporate structure to a new business plan.

I’ve been triggered to write this by all of the recent reporting out there on how architecture firms think they’re locked in with Autodesk, who’s been ripping them off for decades. My corporate time taught me that anything can be changed if it pencils out economically (and basically everything except the most batshit crazy nonsense will pencil out). Not nearly enough architects or firms take a dispassionate look at big changes to their practices, nor do they have independent boards of directors pushing them to do so and asking tough questions along the way.

Great businesspeople are more creative than architects in an important way: they can dispassionately look at every part of their business and ask tough, honest questions with seemingly unattainable answers; then get super creative in pulling off plans to make the unattainable a reality. In architecture, we get so romantic about so many parts of our practice that we let any business judgement get clouded by these romantic notions of how we do what we do (see any discussion ever amongst architects about hand-drafting or sketching by hand). Businesspeople don’t get particular or sparkly-eyed about how it gets done, so long as it gets done on time, on budget, and it’s done correctly. Meanwhile, architects go on diatribes about shit that doesn’t matter in the production process.

As creative professionals, I can see granting us a little, tiny bit of space for our hangups preferences on how our production process works; but surely the first boundary around that space is economics. When something in your production process doesn’t pencil out because it costs too much money or time, I don’t care how hard you think it will be to change (and it’s never as difficult as you think it will be), it’s time to move on from a business standpoint.

It’s all one more reason why I laugh at these conversations in the wake of the angry open letter to Autodesk. In a corporation a conversation would’ve ended any attempt to even send an open letter in the first place:

Employee: “We want to issue this open letter complaining about license costs to our biggest software vendor. It’s cutting into profits and the software doesn’t even work that well.”

CEO: “Have you talked to this vendor before you considered an open letter?”

Employee: “Yes, they offered excuses and then ignored us on subsequent attempts to communicate. They also just raised prices…again.”

CEO: “Assholes. Let’s dump them. Someone else makes software that does the same thing or better for less, right?”

Employee: “Well…yes. But it would be too much work to switch, since everybody knows the other software.”

CEO: “How different can the two softwares be if they do the same thing? Pull together an ROI analysis and transition roadmap for Monday’s meeting before you go sending open letters out. Let’s figure this out.”

This is the spot where the employee would pull together numbers with their team and realize that the change pencils out rather reasonably.

Instead, I’m counting the days until the newsfeed brings us a story about a firm tacking on an Autodesk Surcharge to their fees to cover them getting gouged because, well, Revit is just such an integral part of their practice and it’s what people know. 🙄

PS
This isn’t about being anti-anything in terms of software, it’s about whiney architects being chickens. Design however the hell you want to, just don’t expect to get taken seriously when you choose to let a software vendor key to your design process walk all over you because you think change is impossible. I ain’t afraid to make a change when I realize the time has come to do so.

Revisiting Software Costs

I saw this recent article speculating on Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost’s claim that his bullshit license costs for Revit did not represent a significant portion of revenues for the firms in the now-famous open letter to Autodesk. Not that we needed any analysis to know that Autodesk is full of shit, but it helps.

We know that architecture firms are too chicken to switch BIM authoring tools, which is why it doesn’t matter what Andy or the angry architects say to each other, but I thought it would be fun to see how low we could go with annual costs and see if we could match Andy’s claim that licensing fees equate to only 0.63% of revenues for the complaining firms (in this exercise it won’t be Revit’s fees though as we’re not going to get the math to work with their insanely high costs).

I’ll base my math on the same fictitious firm as the other article, which requires five licenses of everything. I’ll align my software selections as best I can to these categories which were created by the author of the other article:

Here’s my visual representing the annual software costs:

Everything here is US pricing in US dollars, excluding tax. Here’s my breakouts and footnotes for those costs:

  • Archicad: $800 x 5 = $4,000 2
  • Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, Affinity Publisher: $0 3
  • Freshbooks: ($20 x 12) x 5 = $1,200
  • Twinmotion: $0 (included with Archicad)
  • Linea Sketch: $29.99 x 5 = $149.95
  • Google Drive: $0 (included with G Suite)
  • G Suite: ($6 x 12) x 5 = $360
  • Smartsheet: ($25 x 12) x 6 = $1,800
  • Freshbooks: (see above)
  • Google Chat: $0 (included with G Suite)
  • Google Meet: $0 (included with G Suite)

The annual costs related solely to the firm’s BIM authoring tool licenses (Archicad) come out to 0.62% of revenues (you’ll recall from the original article that annual revenues were $650K), slightly ahead of Andy’s claim for Revit. I was able to get the total software licensing costs down to 1.2% of the fictitious firm’s annual revenues. Maybe Andy was talking about his competition’s costs instead of Revit??? 😉


Footnotes:

  1. I was truly baffled by the inclusion of this category and especially SketchUp in the original article, so I put in my favorite sketching app figuring this is kind of what they meant with this category 🤷🏻‍♂️
  2. Archicad has an initial cost per perpetual license around $5K which represents one-time up front costs
  3. The Affinity apps have initial costs of $49.99 each app, per perpetual license that are one-time up front costs
Aside

Introducing the ALL CAPS “Will I Get Paid?” Index

I’m on a roll with the economic indicators here, so…

I thought about this out loud on Twitter a while back and now I’m ready to introduce this novel(ty) index that tells us how likely active clients are to start defaulting on our invoices, an important tool to have in “these challenging times” for sure.

Here’s how it works: I’ll take the AIA’s current ABI and CCF numbers, have shot of Stolli, and then I’ll put on an album from Yello and dance for a few minutes. From there, information pops out that tells us something about the likelihood of getting stiffed on an invoice. Pretty magical, huh!?

And Now, The Inaugural “Will I Get Paid?” Index

Index Readings

The Index uses a five-point scale:

  • 5 – 🤑 Hell, invoice the next 12 months — it’s ALL GREAT!
  • 4 – 😁 The accounting staff have never had it so easy!
  • 3 – 🙂 Normal times, no worries.
  • 2 – 😦 Better wrap up invoicing quick, it’s not looking good out there…
  • 1 – 🤕 Oh, shit — emails to client bounce and their phone is disconnected!

Aside

The ALL CAPS White Claw ABI – July, 2020

Let’s visualize AIA’s ABI as White Claw cans. Here’s last month’s ABI alongside this year’s previous numbers. As the industry continues to struggle, we’re stuck in the low-brow aisle of the liquor store. Hopefully the ABI will be back at or above 50 soon so we can use some classier cans.

If you have a preferred (canned) beverage, let me know and I’ll include it in future visualizations. Remember: the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans.

Fun with Design Budget Austerity

Here’s the design challenge: You’ll use the exact same palette of building materials that everyone else working on a design in this particular building typology is using. Your only variables are the color/pattern selections you make for these materials and the way you work with the materials in the space.

The building type is a restaurant, and this challenge explains why so many restaurant concepts in the fast food and fast casual market segments look similar (if not identical). It’s primarily driven by money (shocking, I know), because no matter where a given restaurant chain is at relative to their average unit volume (AUV, or revenue generated per location on an annual basis), the calculus used to determine the amount of money to invest in a new location essentially backs the design and construction teams into a budget number that’s identical to the number reached by every other concept with the same AUV. That AUV is the determining factor of the investment amount. From there, you get a lot of follow-the-leader in terms of design cues, which exacerbates the sameness of it all, so do try to avoid the cliches with your design proposal…if you can.

I find it a welcome challenge to work within these confines and sometimes wonder what architects and firms accustomed to much larger budgets would do with these kinds of constraints.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the material palettes relative to AUV so you can think about how you’d use them for our challenge — remember, everything is a design opportunity…

Note: Though everything I’ve discussed thus far affects exteriors too, we’ll focus on interiors for this exercise. I’m excluding the kitchen and restrooms to really zero in on the dining rooms. Also excluded are construction methods to help us focus on finishes. Know that these exclusions do vary by AUV too, and I may cover them in another article.

💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $700K

  • Flooring = Vinyl (sheet, tile, and/or plank) or Quarry Tile
  • Wall Base = Vinyl or Quarry Tile
  • Walls = Paint
  • Wall Protection = Wainscoting made from Plastic Paneling or Vinyl Wall Covering
  • Ceiling = Lay-in Gypsum Acoustical Ceiling Panel in Steel “T” Grid, up to 20% Painted Gypsum Board Hard Lid
  • Lighting Budget = $2.50/square-foot

💰💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $1M

all finishes from $700K range available plus…

  • Flooring = Polished Concrete, Porcelain Tile, Epoxy
  • Wall Base = Metal, Porcelain Tile, Wood
  • Walls = Wood Planks or Ceramic Tile
  • Wall Protection = Wainscoting from Metal, Wood, Porcelain Tile
  • Ceiling = Exposed Structure, Architectural Lay-In Ceiling Panels in Atypical Sizes with Steel Reveal Grid, up to 50% Painted Gypsum Board Hard Lid
  • Lighting Budget = $5.50/square-foot

💰💰💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $2M

Who cares! It’s so luxurious that it’s not a challenge to be different and cool.

The Labor Factor

No matter what the budget, labor is of course a major factor to be considered by the designer. There’s often a desire to express these limited material palettes in unconventional ways as a means of differentiating a design; but that too is limited, particularly at the lowest budget tier where labor is the driving force behind the selection of particular materials. So keeping the installations inline with industry standards is key. Sorry.

Global Economic Forces Will Screw Up Everything

Stuff like labor disputes, natural disasters, global pandemics (ahem), recessions, trade disputes, and corporate bankruptcies can screw up supply chains for all projects, but wreak a unique havoc on chains as they look to maintain consistency of cost, lead time, and appearance. So designing a backup plan for your look is mandatory in this challenge, since you can guarantee you’ll have to alter something in your material palette as soon as you debut your masterpiece. These are the forces that further limit the available materials too, so even if you find a unique material not listed here that fits the price point, it has to be widely available with reasonable lead times from a stable supplier with a good reputation since you’ll be going back to them over and over for more orders over time.

You’ve Got the Kit, Design Your Space

We’ll skip them for the purposes of this challenge, but there’s even more variables that can impact these budgets. For example, the amount a concept chooses to spend on equipment, food, and labor can take a restaurant with a higher AUV and shift its budget for building materials into one from a lower AUV (or vise versa). Another variable is material quantities — commit to a big enough order and expensive materials suddenly get more affordable. I tried my best to be very middle-of-the-road here. So go forth and see if you’ve got what it takes to stand out despite the constraints. Tough challenge, right?

Searching the Soul of Your Software Developer

The juiciest story in the BIM community at this moment is the open letter to Autodesk complaining about how shitty Revit is in terms of cost, licensing, feature set, interoperability, and day-to-day use. The letter came from a bunch of British architecture firms and was published in AEC Magazine. If you haven’t read it, you should. Autodesk is a (consistently) poorly-led company that uses acquisitions, restrictive proprietary technology, and marketing to return shareholder value instead of innovation and keeping customers happy. This is an important reminder that when looking for a new software solution, we should look at the companies behind the software first — why do they do what they do? Why do they exist? Who’s running the show? Then, we can look at the software itself, which is a lesson I learned very early in my career.

The BIM wars are tired because they focus on comparing features and functions of one BIM authoring tool against another — and rarely do they involve architects who have used both of the software titles being compared. In 2020 it’s safe to say that any BIM authoring tool out there is probably quite capable. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, they all have their blind spots that will shock and appall those who use different software. They all do stupid shit from time to time that will have architects ready to throw their BIMs out the window. No one of them is perfect, but they’re all capable. From there it’s more subjective in terms of UI and the intuitiveness of the experience, so whatever floats your boat.

It’s more interesting to look past the software itself and into the company that develops and sells that software. I’ve always thought this was an important thing to do when it comes to software that drives your practice (obviously it’s not as important for software that plays a bit part in your workflows). In school, I learned AutoCAD, which in the early 1990s ran on DOS or System 7. I liked it and it was exciting to be learning CAD. When I started working, I continued using AutoCAD on DOS. Version 12 was current at that time with version 13 coming out soon. My coworkers were excited about that new version, which made me excited as well. Then AutoCAD 13 came out. I still remember the firm’s IT consultant deploying its multi-diskette installation and changing out digitizer pad templates. AutoCAD 13’s UI looked noticeably different and ran on DOS or Windows only. Those were dark days for Apple and I wasn’t surprised that Autodesk dropped support for the Mac, but it still sucked: strike one. Anyone who’s used AutoCAD 13 remembers that it was a notoriously horrible version full of bugs, incomplete or missing features, and it was a frequent crasher at a time when recovery of lost work was overtime hours instead of restoring a recent past file. This was still in the first half of the ‘90s and it took the piss right out of everyone who was so excited about CAD technology in architecture. From then forward, getting excited about new releases of AutoCAD was strictly the realm of the CAD managers and tech nerds — the average production person at an architecture firm was just going to use whatever version of AutoCAD the firm had to get their job done and that was, more or less, it — no passion or excitement about CAD anymore.

AutoCAD 13 changed the way I looked at software in general and at Autodesk. I went from loving AutoCAD to hating it in rapid succession. I would read the CAD industry magazines and see Autodesk staff brush over the troubles they brought with AutoCAD 13 (though they did fix some things with AutoCAD 14, which took years to finish and release after the 13 debacle) and make promises about new versions. When it came out a while later, I tried AutoCAD Architectural Desktop and felt like blah-blah-whatever — it was too cumbersome for its own good. During this time, our Autodesk reseller hosted some training sessions to help expand people’s knowledge of AutoCAD’s feature set — they were mostly awful, and the last of these sessions was so bad we got a refund. By this time, the Autodesk promises were coming out hot and heavy, but with no substance and little in the way of delivered product. I began looking to get away from Autodesk. I was met with doubts and resistance, as people were scared that we wouldn’t be able to work with engineers, or be able to open DWGs from clients.

It was the late ‘90s when I heard about Graphisoft Archicad and its “virtual building” concept, which seemed really intriguing. But at the same time I was researching Graphisoft, I got a CD-R of a 3D drawing tool called SketchUp dropped on my desk. SketchUp was fast and easy; and even though it was dumb and disconnected from AutoCAD, just bringing 2D work to life in 3D so quickly without having to deal with AutoCAD’s clunky 3D bullshit was exhilarating for us AutoCAD users. I look back on those SketchUp years as a complete waste of time though. SketchUp was an enabler of Autodesk dependency in a weird way, as it was really just a shortcut to 3D from AutoCAD (for the record, I thought the people of @Last Software, who made SketchUp, were great and very, un-Autodesk-y).

It was 2006 when I got back on track and purchased licenses of Archicad for the firm to try out. This was after Graphisoft sent an actual architect to show us their software instead of some slimy Autodesk reseller. They offered training coupled with template and content development provided by an architect as well. The experience with the company behind the software was noticeably different from the Autodesk racket. Not to start pitching Graphisoft here either, as the point I’m trying to make is that your experience with the developer of your software is vitally important and it tells you something about their motivations. What I got from Graphisoft was a community of architects who were passionate about virtual building, which was quickly being rebranded as BIM…

…Long side-story short, I used Autodesk Revit at the same time that I was rolling out Archicad. I got to work with some talented Revit users and we learned and grew our BIM knowledge together. In retrospect it was nice to be able to use these two tools side-by-side. Revit made good progress during the early aughts and got more stable and useable. But for me at least, it was not nearly as nice to use as Archicad…and of course there was still Autodesk behind Revit being unbelievably shitty about support, licensing…everything…

…I was young and still learning the industry during Autodesk’s rise to a billion dollar company in the 1990s, but I could clearly see that their CEO at the time, Carol Bartz, was more interested in pushing new versions out the door and charging us for them even if they didn’t work well, than she was about making sure we were happy customers. Now, the shareholders on the other hand, were very happy during this time and made Autodesk a superstar on Wall Street. It took me a while and I got distracted along the way, but even in the early years of my architecture career, I eventually made the change away from Autodesk. This is why I’m always amazed that people still use Autodesk’s crapware and tolerate the abuse of this company’s licensing practices. Nothing — not one single thing — has changed since Carol Bartz set the tone back in the ‘90s. So, if you started a firm since that time and still got into bed with Autodesk when it came time to buy software, it’s hard for me not to laugh after reading the open letter in AEC Magazine. Those firms aren’t even contemplating leaving as they try to fix an unfixable relationship. There’s plenty of other great choices out there and no one will die if your firm no longer uses Autodesk software to get the job done, we “outsiders” all manage to grow beautiful designs in our own little plots of heaven-on-earth outside of Autodesk’s walled garden.

As for the software developers that didn’t just get written up by an angry mob of users? Remember what brought us to you in the first place: the fact that you weren’t Autodesk and didn’t act like Autodesk. Keep it that way or your next.

Aside

The ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI – June, 2020

Let’s visualize AIA’s ABI as beer cans. Here’s last month’s ABI alongside this year’s previous numbers…

If you have a preferred (canned) beer, let me know and I’ll include it in future visualizations. Remember: the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans.

Aside

Grab a drink! Let’s peruse Architecture’s PPP Data!

The federal PPP bailout program’s loan data from the first round of stimulus has been made public by the SBA and conveniently compiled into a searchable database by ProPublica here.

In my nerdy opinion, this is as much (if not more) fun during these boring times when everything is shut down as a good Netflix binge. I started late one night and stayed up way too late because it was so fascinating. Here’s some quick highlights:

  • The great news is that our beloved profession was likely able to preserve thousands of jobs because of PPP 👏🏻
  • I’m guessing there’s a lot of paperwork errors in this data — there was a rush to get applications filed and you can see some stuff that just has to be wrong like big firms with hundreds of staff saying zero jobs retained or roofing companies categorized as “architectural services”

Juicy Tidbits

Here’s a link to ProPublica’s database that takes you straight to all of the architecture firms who took more than $150K in PPP moolah.