I can’t even count how many times people have told me about construction projects gone wrong.  Most of the projects I hear about are small commercial or residential projects that involved finishes only, and didn’t need permits, so didn’t have good construction documents.

Every time the storyteller is finished, I say, “THIS is why we do DRAWINGS” or “THIS is why we write SPECS!” 

It’s good to hear these stories; it’s always efficient to learn from others’ mistakes.  But I hate seeing the frustration on people’s faces, and hearing the anger in their voices, especially since most of these situations could have been prevented by issuing better construction documents.

The other day, while on vacation in a warm place, I sat by a pool supervising my 6-year-old.  I overheard a woman telling 2 of her friends about a project in her home – a tile job that the installer had botched.  The 3 types of tile that the homeowner had supplied were intended to be installed in horizontal bands – a band of one color at the bottom of the wall, with a band of the second color above that, capped by a band of the third color.

The homeowner left home for a while after the installer began work, and she came back to find the project nearly completed, and totally wrong.  The tile had been installed in vertical stripes instead of horizontal bands.

She was so indignant as she told her story.  I was marveling about how an installer could have screwed up so badly; I was thinking that he must have completely ignored the drawings.  One of her friends said, “Well, maybe you didn’t get it in writing.”  She assured them that she HAD gotten it in writing… and it slowly dawned on me that the intended tile pattern was described in WRITING, and not shown in a DRAWING.  The situation was totally different than I’d initially assumed; the homeowner had communicated the design intent to the installer in a completely inappropriate way.  And I started feeling really sorry for the installer who was the victim of a totally preventable miscommunication, and as a result, probably lost money on the job. 

The written word can be interpreted in so many ways when it comes to things like tile patterns!  THIS is why we do DRAWINGS.

Properly-annotated construction drawings have been proven to be the most effective way to communicate the desired results for the appearance of visually important components of a construction project.  Written descriptions alone, or worse, verbal descriptions alone, of the desired results for a project (no matter how small) are ineffective.  Drawings alone, without proper notes, are not as effective as they could be.

People interpret different types of communication in different ways.  For the purpose of construction, verbal communications leave WAY TOO MUCH room for many different interpretations.  Written communications alone leave too much open to different people’s interpretations.  Drawings and other images are pretty good at communicating the desired results.  But a combination of properly-annotated drawings, project specifications, and project procurement and contracting requirements, is the best way to demonstrate the expectations for construction.

So how do you, as a design professional, know what properly-annotated drawings or good project specifications for your project are?

As you gain more insight into the different ways your documents may be interpreted by the people bidding, estimating, or constructing your project, you will gain a better understanding of how to properly prepare these documents.

There’s SO MUCH to learn – all of us in the construction industry are constantly learning (or should be).  Much of this knowledge can ONLY be gained through experience, but not all of it has to be.  A really good way to learn about how your documents may be interpreted by the users is to prepare for a CSI certification exam, starting with the CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) exam.

The more you know, the more you can learn; once you have built up a good foundation of knowledge and understanding, you will find that you can learn FASTER and you can learn MORE than you could before.  If you have a little bit of experience working in an architecture firm, you can study for and pass the CDT exam.  Preparing for and passing the CDT exam can be a shortcut in building this foundation of knowledge and understanding.  You may already have a good foundation, built up from your years of experience.  Take the CDT exam and supplement your experience; at the very least, it’ll be a good review, and there’s a chance that you may find out you have some gaps in your knowledge base. 

When I took the CDT exam, I discovered gaps in my knowledge base – and filled them in!  I also realized that not all those lessons learned the painful way, through experience, had to be learned that way… I wish I’d taken the CDT exam earlier than I did.

If you’re already a CDT, take an Advanced Certification exam (Certified Construction Contract Administrator, Certified Construction Specifier, or Certified Construction Product Representative).  It’ll be a good review at the very least.  Or, it could turn out to be a refresher for you; you may have been doing things a certain way for years, and maybe some things have changed in the way people are interpreting your documents!

Even when documents for a project are good, I still hear construction-gone-wrong stories.  No construction project is perfect, but when the documents are clear, concise, correct, and complete, all members of the project team (Owner, Design Team, Contractor) have the opportunity to determine what’s expected, and therefore, an opportunity to do their best work.  CSI’s certification exams can help you be a part of the group working on IMPROVING construction communications, and reducing the number of those silly construction-gone-bad stories people are always telling me.

General CSI Certification Information:

Registration link:

  • Exams will be offered April 2 – April 28, 2012, in the U.S. & Canada.
  • Early registration deadline: February 2, 2012
  • Final registration deadline: March 2, 2012 

CDT Information

General information about the CDT exam:

  • Cost Before Feb. 2: $235 (member) $370 (non-member)
  • Cost after Feb. 2: $295 (member) $430 (non-member)
  • Cost for qualified students: $105

The CDT exam is now based on the CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide:

Advanced Exam Information

Cost of an advanced exam:

  • Before Feb. 2:  $275 (member) $410 (non-member)
  • After Feb. 2: $340 (member) $475 (non-member)

CCS information:

CCCA information:

CCPR information:

  • This is the last year this exam will be based on the Project Resource Manual (

You don’t have to be a CSI member to register for an exam – I wasn’t! – but if you join first, you get the member discount!

One thought on “THIS Is Why We Do DRAWINGS!

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