Research study on graphic techniques

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    David Barbarash

    I would like to invite you to participate in a research study aiming to assess comfort and perception of graphic production tools and methods. The short survey consists of single choice questions with short open response follow-up questions and should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. This study has received IRB approval (policy#: 1503015917) at Purdue University.

    The data gathered will be completely anonymous with no tracking of any identifiable data, so please be clear and honest in your responses. Feel free to distribute the survey link to anyone in the design fields (student, faculty, or practitioner) you know. Your participation and comments are greatly appreciated!

    Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or concerns.


    David Barbarash
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture
    Purdue University
    625 Agricultural Mall Drive
    West Lafayette, IN 47907

    Tosh K

    I’m curious – I know a few folks have expressed their views in other conversations but thoughts on digital vs analog graphics?

    Looking at some recent portfolios, I keep seeing more ‘bad’ digital graphics than analog.  Mostly b/c hand drawings seem to have been ditched in lieu of hand, but also there seems to be a more critical eye for manual drawings?  The lack of color palettes, perspective depth, manipulation of focus and editing in digital renderings drive me crazy – it’s fine if their meant to be collages (like the old West8/James Corner work), but it often just looks flat and dead.  More disturbing since there have been some nice ‘how-to’ books (by the faculty at LSU?) published recently.

    David Barbarash

    Not to pre-bias my own study, but this study hopes to be the first in a line to quantify our response to graphic representations created through various media. We can likely all agree that a poor rendering is a poor rendering regardless of creation method or technology, but the general consensus I am aware of is that a sloppy hand drawing has “character” while a sloppy digital image is simply “bad”. I’m not arguing that either is better or worse than the other, just that there is a perceived difference and I’d like to attempt to measure what that actually is…

    In that vein, I’d argue that there is a more critical eye for digital drawings (not necessarily in technical CAD drawings, that’s a different issue altogether). Whether that’s because of a loss of the basics of design imagery (horizon, line hierarchy, proper perspective, tone and color, etc.) or due to “uncanny valley” style issues with digitally produced graphics, is a question for a later study.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The final two questions on the survey were very poor in my opinion.

    Which terms would you use to describe hand graphics in general? “

      “I would describe digital graphics as being or feeling:”

    They forced stereotype responses and there was no choice but to pick one answer or another. I felt that they will automatically skew the results to make hand graphics seem warm and fuzzy and digital graphics to be stiff and cold.

    I find that academia and the organized parts of our profession cling to a lot of stereotypes of “what it takes to make it in this profession”. The biggest of which is the absolute necessity of being able to sketch everything all of the time with the notion that we can not truly feel the space unless it goes through our hands. The second biggest myth in my opinion is that better graphics win every time – whether hand or digital.

    I’m convinced that we who are in the profession and in training the profession put far more value on this than those whom most of us work for – not to say that there is no value, but it is absolutely situational as to what is adequate, what is competitive, and which type of media may be more effective.

    David Barbarash

    I appreciate your frustration with the questions, I can assure you that I don’t have an agenda with this study. These type of “forced choice” questions are common in social science research and the results gathered will not be used to try and point out that more people think one methodology is “better” or “worse” than another regardless of which association you’d place with each response set. Instead it is the proportion between responses that will matter (in this case). There are existing stereotypes around both hand and digital graphics, many formed from outdated methods of production and this study aims to see whether those opinions are still rampant today or whether trends are shifting one way or another. 

    I would argue that your point against the idea we have to sketch everything for others to understand it is valid. We communicate ideas graphically to clients in order to remove ambiguity and miscommunication in a built work. An image, whether it is a sketch, physical model, or rendered image is our information delivery vehicle. This study does not and can not take into account the variability in client experience (regarding what is “adequate” as you say), at least not at this stage. First, it should query the profession in order to help us understand what we ourselves are working with.

    I still thank you for your feedback and will take it into account during the analysis and description of the data. Thanks for your time!

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I agree that we need communicate ideas graphically. That is not the same thing as “hand sketching everything for others to understand” as you wrote nor “sketch everything all of the time” as I wrote.

    My point on the final two questions is that few if any are not going to select warm over cold for hand drawn or loose over stiff – vice versa for digital.  If one believes that any or all of the choices under those two questions could apply to a particular hand drawing and not to another or to a particular digital drawing and not to another then he or she stuck with having to chose one of the choices or its opposite to complete the survey. If you are not going to use the data, why would you collect it?

    The rest of the survey was great and I believe it will be very meaningful.

    David Barbarash

    Thanks for the support! Initial results from the student body at Purdue seems to show an equality in perception between the two styles (it’s way too early with too small a response set to make conclusions though). They so far seem to reject the notion that hand drawings are exclusively loose and digital renderings are exclusively stiff. Whether this is due to familiarity with various tools, improvements in digital input methods (pen tablets?), or a general comfort with digital products, is unknown. But the ratio of responses for both sets between the two extremes is where the analysis will be of use, not necessarily in a direct comparison between the hand and digital raw numbers.  

    It will be interesting to see how those ratios change (if at all) between age and experience groups as well. If responses show a more equal distribution between warmth and coldness (for example) of one style of drawing in one age group versus another, that might signal a trend that can change the professions production and presentation styles as older age groups retire. I will certainly use the data, just not in the most obvious “one versus the other” relationship.

    This also is the first survey towards what I hope will be a long line of research studies and I will be sure to refine my methods based on respondents feedback and on any conflicts or gaps in the data. Again, thanks for the comments!

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I think it is great that this is being studied.

    I hope that at some time someone can do research on how marketable different deliverables are in various segments of the profession. I was highly discouraged (this is the baggage that comes out) when I was in school and encouraged to change majors because I had very poor hand drawing skills. I did drop out, but returned twelve years later to learn AutoCAD and ignore discouragement.

    It was also very difficult to have confidence entering and trying to grow in the profession with almost everyone in it repeating the same mantra about hand sketching and high quality renderings. When I stopped worrying about that professionally and concentrated on producing decent looking plans within my skill set I found and continue to find that clients and prospective clients were far more interested in their landscape rather than the media that it is represented in. 

    Clients are also interested in controlling cost despite their big budget projects and our deliverables do impact the cost of design. I’ve never seen or heard this aspect of our deliverables discussed. There always seems to be an underlying belief that more graphics and higher quality graphics directly improves our marketability and profitability.

    This could be the subject of a Master’s Thesis as one of my professors used to say.

    David Barbarash

    Funny you should mention that, my masters thesis was on a very similar topic. Here’s a link to the short form paper: Graphics and detail

    The tl;dr version: For the general non-design educated public, a “middle” level of detail is adequate for delivering information about a prospective design, and in the absence of even that level of detail, a low-detail massing model style of graphic can convey a large part of a proposal.

    I’m working on gathering funding for another study that measures just what you’re talking about regarding public perception of different styles of graphics, both digitally and hand produced. We’ll see how that turns out…

    In the design studios I teach, I preach diagrams and descriptions over empty pretty pictures and for the most part, the students understand. There is certainly still a necessity for beautiful showcase images for marketing and describing character, but more often than not they seem to perform worse in information and concept delivery when compared to more diagrammatic imagery, at least during conceptual and design development stages regardless of production method… 

    Tosh K

    funny – i was told my handwriting wasn’t architectural enough while in undergrad…

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    That is a nice study. Thanks for posting it.

    I probably did not communicate it well, but my “suggested thesis” would try to measure how much the different levels of detail were valued economically by the person(s) paying for the work. Would one want to pay extra money to have his/her landscape plans at a higher detail or prefer to give up some of that detail to save on design fees?

    I’m finding that I am far more competitive in a market that is frequented by the Boston/Cambridge firms despite my extremely limited graphic abilities in comparison. My conclusion is that even some people with $5m summer homes  can be more cost conscious than I was trained to believe when it comes to paying for representations of their landscapes if they go beyond what they feel is necessary to get the job done.

    When all else is equal, most anyone prefers more detail when they are not paying for it. The question most in our profession never asks is whether we value graphics more than the paying consumer.

    Emily B. Rudin

    David, this is an excellent topic, and a priority for me as well. I appreciated the questions in the survey, and the chance to think and comment. I really look forward to your findings. Thank you so much for exploring this needed focus.

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