In order for a design proposal to become reality, technical drawings and documents must be produced to communicate with suppliers and fabricators. Writing takes a very discipline-specific form in this phase. Mastering the conventions of technical writing can take years of practice and I’ve found it particularly challenging to introduce students to what is essentially a foreign language. When first asked to explain why a note on a construction drawing should be phrased in a particular way, my response was ‘because that’s how you say it’. I hadn’t received much formal training in technical writing and my skills were the result of information gleaned from every designer, technician and tradesperson I’d encountered in my career.
Since every language is governed by a grammatical structure I attempted to distill the basics of ‘construction speak’ into some rules my students could use to guide themselves through the murk.
Application of these basics can easily be observed using sample drawings from professionals and textbooks, but engaging students in the material remains a challenge. Learning these skills is the ‘eat your brussel sprouts’ content of our program – we know it’s good for them but it can hardly be considered fun. Many will not realise the importance of this writing until they enter the workforce and the accuracy and clarity with which they write has real financial implications for their clients and employers.
In the same spirit of play as the diagramming exercise, I developed a similar one based on an idea offered by fellow WID participant Ben Lander. The jargon-heavy, coded language we use is ripe for ridicule, and examples from designers and technicians participating in the inside joke are easy to find:
Technical illustration – A 2-hour exercise that could take place in Furniture Design or Construction Documents courses (I’ve yet to attempt this exercise but am hoping to in the coming terms). Using technical illustrations, students are asked to produce an annotated drawing of any portion of a common nursery rhyme or fairy tale. Ex: 3 Little Pigs house construction, Hansel & Gretel site map of the forest, etc.
The performance anxiety of accurate technical drawing is removed from the process by placing it in the realm of fantasy. My hope is that this will also remove some stress from the task of writing in a technical voice.