Posts Tagged ‘Michelle Osburn Renn’

This feature is continued from yesterday…


8. Have a Back Up Plan
I know you have experienced this scene: first your eyes get really wide, you start beating on the keyboard, palms are sweaty … re-boot … re-boot! Then come the tears. The file is corrupted, missing, blank, accidentally written over (take your pick). You can and you must prevent this situation from happening during your Thesis class. There are a wide variety of approaches you can take for backing up your work but the critical steps are simple:

– Buy an external hard drive. A USB flash drive is not big enough or stable enough for your Thesis project. External drives are not super cheap, but you don’t need the largest one available – about 200 GB will be sufficient. They sell them on the Academic Superstore via the Harrington Portal and you can use your student discount.
– Assume you will lose that external hard drive you just bought with all of your Thesis work on it. You must save everything for your project in multiple places. For example, carry it on your external hard drive to the lab, copy files to your U:/ drive at Harrington and to the hard drive of the computer you are working on. Work off of the computer hard drive and repeat the process in reverse when you leave. Storing all of your work in one folder and copying the whole folder each time makes it easier. Making another copy on your home computer every time you go home won’t kill you either. 
– Save your files every time you complete an important task. During this project your days will run into night and then into the next day. There are times when you will lose 3 hours worth of work and it will feel like the end of the world. If you can set up your software to automatically save your files every 30 minutes then do it. If not, set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to save your files (and tell everyone else in the lab to save their work too). You should back up your whole folder after every work session. When you are tired and ready to go home you will be tempted to skip this process, but you must resist the urge to pack up and run out. There is no crying in Thesis – at least not over lost work.

9. Create a daily plan for the last 6 weeks.
The volume of work that must be produced as part of your Thesis project is more than you can organize and keep track of in your head. Your instructor will set up checkpoints for your weekly class, but you need to plan exactly how you will get it done. All of the points above have lead up to this one and that is creating a daily plan for the last 6 weeks of the class. You don’t need an iPhone app or Microsoft Project to lay this out – you just need a calendar. Start with the day that your project is due and list every day prior to that for 6 weeks. This is not a typo – 6 weeks. Be sure to include every single day of the week and weekend. First, fill in your known commitments for those 6 weeks:
– Work schedule
– Thesis class (because you always go!)
– Other classes you must attend
– Other finals and some time to work on them
– Weddings, parties, volleyball games, charity events, etc.

Then start filling in your Thesis tasks. How long will it take to print your materials? When does it need to go to the printer? How long do you need to do renderings #1, #2, #3? When does the AutoCAD model need to be complete? Working backwards from all of the final components will give you the full picture of what lies ahead and you will see how you can actually get there. You cannot afford to wait a whole week to find out that you are behind. In the final 6-weeks you will have daily Thesis tasks to complete and when you miss something you have to revise your plan and move that task to another day. You can easily gage when you are falling behind, when you need to skip an event, when you need to pull a late night, and most importantly you can feel good about what you have completed. After you create the plan then you have to look at the plan and revise the plan daily in those last 6 weeks. No one ever does as much as they wanted to do on their Thesis project. Having a plan will give you a way to discuss your progress with your instructor, determine priories as you near the end and it will give you the best chance of having a Thesis project that you feel good about.

10. Practice your presentation.
Seeing a really great design presented poorly is one of the most disappointing events you will witness on your final day in Thesis. Scheduling time on your 6-week plan to think about how you want to verbally present your ideas and practicing it can substantially change the way your work is viewed and in the future will make the difference that wins the job. If it means doing one less rendering then it is worth it to be prepared. If you tell yourself that you will just “wing it”, then you will certainly fumble around, forget to point out some great aspects that took you days to render and no one will notice. Despite what you might have been told, your work does not speak for itself. You will do yourself and your project a great disservice if you do not organize your thoughts to get the most out of your 10 minutes and truly convey the spirit and intent of your design.

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This feature is continued from yesterday…


4. Do not skip class.
In a perfect world you always get to class on time, you have completed all assignments, you are well rested, not hungry, and eager to learn. However if one or all of these are not the case … go to Thesis class anyway. You need to stay connected to your instructor, your classmates, and most importantly you need to stay engaged with your design. If you take a “week off” from Thesis (mentally or physically), it only makes the semester more stressful. Going to class or meeting with your instructor weekly helps to keep you on track, it makes you accountable, and in the end you will not have that awful feeling that you are falling behind. Every instructor at Harrington is willing to meet with you outside of class if there are special circumstances that keep you from the scheduled class. However we all know that is typically not reason for missing class. Just go.

5. Know what is required for your final project … exactly.
This is important for all classes but it is particularly important in Thesis because this is not (I repeat this is NOT) something you can execute in the last two weeks. You need to know now how you will be expected to present your final project and what components/drawings are required from everyone. Will it be a power point presentation or on physical boards/banners? Do you need a material board? How many renderings are required? Everyone’s project will be different and some instructors may leave this more loosely defined, but you do not want to be surprised to find out that you need reflected ceiling plans or that all of your work needs to be printed in 11×17 format the week before it is due. If the instructor allows you to determine how you want to present, then make that decision as soon as possible and review it with them. You cannot make a plan to complete your project if you do not know precisely where you are going.

6. Decide how you will produce your 3D renderings.
It would be hard for me to emphasize this point too strongly, but I will certainly try. Indecision on how to produce these required drawings causes more stress than any other aspect of the process and if you put this decision off or have unrealistic expectations about how much time is needed to complete these drawings you are inviting disaster (was that strong enough?).

Even though you are probably not at the point where you are ready to start renderings, now is the time to commit to a method of creating them. If you are a 3Dmax guru consider yourself lucky and focus on great overall views of your space that are large and high-resolution. Having fewer renderings that show expansive views and key design elements is better than using your time to model the powder room and putting vases on all the tables. There may be some people like me who learned 3Dmax (or VIZ), but have not used it in several semesters. If so, it is time to dig out your old class notes, buy a refresher book, and do some practice renderings. Seriously – now. You will at a minimum spend a day or two just trying to remember how it all works.
If you never learned 3Dmax, under no circumstances should you consider the path of trying to teach yourself 3Dmax while in Thesis and do not hold on to any delusions that you will be able to produce your renderings this way. Honestly, I would say the same thing about Photoshop if you have never used it. I know some people who successfully learned and applied Google Sketch Up during Thesis, but you need to start working in it early and realize it will take you longer to complete. Most importantly, be honest with yourself about how quickly you tend to learn and apply new technology. You always have the option of completing your 3D work in AutoCAD and rendering it by hand. If this is what you are most comfortable with and you can do it well, then by all means take that approach. A good hand rendering will be more impressive than an amateur Photoshop or Sketch Up rendering attempt. The key is to make this decision early and not to get cold feet and waste time making a last minute attempt to learn a new rendering tool in the last few weeks. Disaster, party of one, your table is ready!
7. Make Friends.
Do you know the other people in your Thesis class? Introduce yourself, know their names, trade phone numbers, be their Facebook friend, follow them on Twitter, do what you need to do to get connected and stay connected with them during this process. If you normally do your work at home, I would encourage you do start working at school either in the labs or in the Thesis room so you can be near others who are in your class. I was never someone who worked at school all the time, but during this project I parked myself in the 4th floor lab and made friends. I do not believe I would have made it through the long nights without the support and the camaraderie of the people in that lab who encouraged me when my renderings crashed, gave me ideas of things that worked for them, and celebrated with me when things were as beautiful on the screen as they were in my head. While your Thesis project is not a collaborative assignment, this is a collaborative business and you will struggle to solve the difficult problems without support. Invest in your network now and it will pay off, probably for the rest of your career.

Read the final points tomorrow!



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You may remember the Barcelona Trip feature from the beginning of this year… if not, check it out! Introducing Michelle Osburn Renn, Harrington ID Alumna, once more… Michelle has pulled together some advice for surviving your Thesis class!


While I am officially (and gratefully) a Harrington Alumna, one year ago I was just beginning my Thesis class and it was certainly the most challenging and rewarding semester I spent at Harrington. I know that all of the Thesis instructors have a different teaching style and may have minor variations in their requirements; however, in all cases this is the biggest and most important project that you will work on in your interior design undergraduate program.
You will go to class, your instructor will set the agenda and guide you through the process, but I believe there are some keys to success that are not always emphasized. I learned some of these the hard way during my own class and the rest are things that I witnessed my classmates go through. The guidance below falls under the category of “I wish someone had told me/him/her this earlier!” These are not tricks that will make Thesis easy, because it is not easy and requires hard work – that is the minimum requirement. But when someone does work hard and still falls short of expectations it can usually be tied back to one of the items below. If you are taking Thesis now or will be in the next year – save this link!
1. Re-organize your life (at least temporarily).
Really consider the semester that you are registered for Thesis and make sure that those 15 weeks are as clear as possible. Is your sister getting married at the end of the semester and you need to be maid-of-honor extraordinaire? Does it coincide with your busy season at work? Are you already taking four other studio classes? Do you really struggle going to class during the summer? Try not to make it more difficult by registering for Thesis during a time when you are likely to miss class, have other time-consuming commitments, or when you will not be able to devote significant energy to your project. Make no mistake; it is never a good time. I have not encountered anyone who has 15 weeks just lying around free and clear, but during this time you must to be willing to make thesis class a priority over other things in your life. If you have major commitments that will make this difficult you should weigh that heavily before registering. The good news is that it is only 15 weeks … but you need all of them.
2. Do not start over.
You have already taken your Thesis Prep class and you put a tremendous amount of work into concepts, building selection, initial space planning and maybe even a model. In fact, it took you an entire semester to do all that work. It is also quite possible that you are a little bit sick of it. Do not let that feeling cause you to scrap everything and start over. “I just don’t like this building anymore.” “I’m not inspired by this concept.” When you hear yourself saying these things do not take it as a cue to change from health care to hospitality or from a high rise to a rural development. Unless you require no sleep, live above the Dunkin’ Doughnuts across the street, and have no other responsibilities in your life you will not be able to start completely over with a new concept, building and design. It does not mean you cannot make major changes, but abandoning all of your Thesis prep work will not make your final project better – refining, clarifying, and working intimately with those ideas will.
3. Be open to change.
Wait … didn’t you just say avoid changes? Do not confuse throwing out all of your thesis prep materials with the process of making significant changes in your design. Making changes to your thesis prep work is not only important, but is a requirement. It is also possible that you loved what you came up with in Thesis Prep and unlike the people in the scenario above you actually do not want to change anything.
For both situations, if you do not take your ideas further in Thesis than you did in Thesis Prep then the class simply becomes an exercise in 3D rendering. Your final project may show some elementary ideas, but it will not have the voice that comes from seriously questioning your initial design and shedding components that are too confining or are no longer in-line with your developing concept. Good design comes from iteration and that is why #1 is so important. You need time to work with your ideas, to develop new approaches, and to add, subtract, multiply and divide until you have created the space you intended. This may mean changing your floor plan for the 5th time or radically reworking your color strategy. Change is critical and it gives birth to innovation. If your Thesis project looks just like your final Thesis Prep work then you missed the point.
Be sure to visit tomorrow and Wednesday to see the last 7 points!

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Yesterday I wrote about the precautions Gaudi took to leave behind adequate visual descriptions of his work.

In that same vein, most instructors of the Advanced Detailing class tell us to create our drawings so that a contractor could understand what we want even if we are not there to explain. I do not believe they intended to address the morbid scenario of us actually not being alive to give clarifications, but the point is that the design representations we produce are our design until it is physically built. While we will not experience the project timeline that Gaudi faced, there may relatively long periods from concept to construction to completion. What if the economy collapses and all projects are put on hold indefinitely (just a hypothetical :-)? In this situation your designs are getting stale, your memory and closeness to the details are fading, and when that project is revived 2 years later, how strong will your design be if it is only as good as representations that you created?

While there are fantastic digital tools out there to help us to document and visualize our design, it is many times our study models, circulation diagrams and sketches that really describe our design and more importantly, our intention. Of course, we must have construction documents in order to begin building, but that does not mean that the diagrams that got us there are irrelevant. I look at Sagrada Familia and I cannot imagine the size of the specifications package that would be needed to describe the elements involved. However with sketches and models after more than 100 years we still have a good understanding about the specifics of Gaudi’s vision.

I think the question for us as designers that we can take from Gaudi’s epic construction phase is how do we make sure that people understand our design intentions? Even if we are not there at the beginning and maybe not there at the end, could our design speak for itself through our representations?

Throughout my trip in Spain, I was consistently reminded of the lessons we learned at Harrington. Keep reading as I share more of my design experiences over the upcoming months from beautiful Barcelona!

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Gaudi anticipated the need to leave behind a direction for the next generation to follow for the continuation of his design in the Sagrada Familia Church, and did it with study sketches and many, many scale models. If you are interested, here is a nice summary of the construction process of the Sagrada Familia at www.gaudiallgaudi.com. Before his untimely death, Gaudi completed several studies for each of the magnificent facades, published several calculations including ones for the main dome, and tirelessly built 1:10 scale models of a large number of the interior elements.What I think we can take from his approach is that one view is not enough and not all methods of describing a design are appropriate for all elements. Anyone who has seen the built façades knows they are not two-dimensional, but Gaudi uses them to tell a linear story and therefore the study sketches of the scenes and the placements make sense. The models for the interior also seem appropriate given the sculptural nature of the elements. Maybe it was because he did not have the luxury (or the constraint) of building a full-scale BIM model that he had to be more efficient in his choice of design documentation. In any case, Gaudi spent a good deal of time at the end of his life making sure that there was adequate visual descriptions of his work that could be used to actually build the church.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about how what I learned in class applied to this concept of creating adequate visual descriptions.

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