How Does Architects’ Software Get Designed?

The product team responsible for Revit solicits and incorporates feedback from customers like you.

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To a modern architect, nothing is more critical than than the tools you use to create and communicate your design, and in the digital world, this includes your software tools. Whatever program you are designing and drafting in, it becomes something like your closest collaborator. But, unlike your other collaborators, you probably don’t have a great idea how that software really works, how it came to be or where it’s headed. Even to those that use it day in and day out, software can be a bit of a mystery.

Revit, developed by Autodesk, is one of the most important building information modeling (BIM) software tools available today. It is developed through the effort of teams of product managers, experience designers, software engineers and testers who know that the architects, engineers and designers who use their product don’t always know what the Revit team does.

To bridge the gap between the product team and architects, the team at Revit incorporates many different feedback methods from their customers. One of the biggest inspirations for the software comes, perhaps not surprisingly, from the architects who use Revit every day.

revit screenshot

Revit allows users to model their buildings and automatically generate drawings, data and views from their files.

Revit solicits ideas from its users around the world. From online forums to in-person weekly meetings, the Revit team asks its customers what is and is not working about the product to get a better sense of what it should be building and fixing in the future. High customer satisfaction is, after all, what will keep people continuing to use the software year after year, so it’s in the interest of software designers to keep their users happy.

Autodesk launched an online Revit Ideas Forum so that users would have a place to give direct feedback and proposals for the product. Even before the Forum existed, the product team at Revit was finding that its users had a lot to say about the software. “We have a large constituency across the globe, and we were getting wishes from a multitude of sources,” said Harlan Brumm, a Revit Product Manager. “There wasn’t a single place where any customer could go” to give feedback.

Autodesk opened the Ideas Forum as a “sustainable and transparent” way to incorporate feedback and let users know what the team was working on. Product managers don’t just read the site, but they also participate, responding to questions, supplying answers and doing the best they can to keep the product development process as open and accessible as possible. Users can up-vote each other’s ideas to push them along. The Forum has been extremely active, with over 4,000 ideas created in total and 250 new ideas every month.

revit models

Revit models have continued to gain detail as the software has been improved with new releases

The Forum isn’t just a suggestion box left out to make people feel involved, either.

In every release since the Ideas site was launched, the product team has incorporated the suggestions into the product. In the 2018.2 Revit update release, many of the upgrades in the update came directly from suggestions posted on the Forum. Some had 200 votes, and others just a handful of votes. The team made the final decisions about what to incorporate based not only on what would be helpful, but also what would be feasible given time and labor constraints.

One of the ideas that was adopted was an update to fill patterns. Users asked for the ability to fill objects with two patterns. As the Revit team continues to work on making that happen, they discovered other fill- related requests and were able to satisfy them. “The Ideas site helped validate and provide an additional level of insight on where we need to focus our attention.”

While it is the most universally accessible, the Revit Ideas page is far from the only way that users can be involved in the software development process. Select groups of customers are involved in weekly meetings with engineering teams, where the users provide feedback on features in development and potential directions. The Revit teams use the Agile software development method, where various interrelated teams take on different product issues in one-to-two week long “sprints”. At the end of the sprints the select users come into the office or join remote video sessions and discuss the work with the software teams.

The best way for users to get involved is to participate in Revit’s Preview Release program, commonly known as beta testing. Over 13,000 customers have signed up to try out monthly updates. Once users are involved with the Preview Release, they can start giving feedback, and from there the most active users are selected for more involvement, like office visits and focus groups around the world. The most passionate and constructive users get noticed and are invited to work closer with the team.

This all isn’t to say that Revit and other software developers are just taking their cues from customer requests. Product development teams are made up of highly-skilled, trained professionals who shape their creations with the same care that architects shape their designs. New directions for the software come from a range of consideration, including, but not limited to, what people want.

The Revit Road Maps posted on the Revit Blog give users an inside look into what the software development team is working on. Written by real product managers, these articles are the best source for information on new builds.

dynamo player

The integrated Dynamo Player developed from user feedback and has been incorporated into the core Revit product

Revit’s global user base means that there are a range of different demands coming from around the world. Brumm says that their philosophy is to “act locally but think globally.” Different regional requirements and different levels of BIM integration mean that customer needs can vary greatly from country to country and continent to continent.

In the event that a customer crashes and is presented with the Customer Error Report dialog, the Revit team actively reviews and addresses these issues. “Real people read them,” Chris Yanchar, Director Architecture + Revit Core Product Line at Autodesk, said. The reports are actively used to tweak and update the software to improve the product. They are a sort of real-time feedback mechanism that helps inform smaller adjustments made on a weekly schedule.

revit mep

New features for Revit MEP, like multi-point routing, focus on facilitating fabrication

One of the most exciting features that the Revit team is working on now is the ability to support multiple monitors. Yanchar and Brumm recognize that many users are working across screens. Customer have clamored for the ability to set up views across these screens. The team has noticed.

Thinking longer term, the team is focused on expanding Revit from a purely design software into a construction and fabrication tool, as well. Yanchar says, “Revit started off focusing just on the architecture discipline. It has expanded into MEP and structural, and a lot of the requirements there tie into how we can fabricate from the model.” Having multiple versions for multiple disciplines is part of what differentiates Revit from other BIM software and ensures that the software is used by everyone on the building team, not just the architects. The Revit team is focused on maintaining the scale of Revit models — which include some of the tallest buildings in the world — while increasing the level of detail to fabrication-quality.

Part of the driver for this change is the fact that more and more disciplines are using Revit, from architects to structural engineers. Information has to pass quickly and easily between these fields and the files they work with. Brumm said that in the future, “hopefully you won’t see the words import or export.” Files will seamlessly move from one field to another. Yanchar echoed this. “Building is a team sport,” he said, and the team at Autodesk is better connecting its products together so that the data flows smoothly, helping architects to design more effectively than ever.

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