Best tool for building a new space: Google SketchUp

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Team Duarte

As a designer, some of the most challenging clients are the ones with a design background—they catch everything. So it was with great empathy that I jumped in to help the wonderful architects who had been asked to visualize our new office for two of perhaps the most challenging clients of all—our CEO, Nancy Duarte, and our Creative Director, Diandra Macias.

To give some perspective, designers like Nancy and Diandra are very visual people. You can describe what something will look like, and show all the fancy engineering drawings you want, but until they see the finished piece with their own eyes, it’s meaningless.

So how do you truly show them what the finished project will look like even before it’s built?

My tool of choice for projects like this is Google SketchUp. It’s easy to use and helps communicate the feel of a proposed space better than anything, short of walking through the real thing.

Fortunately, our architect had been working in SketchUp, and in an exquisite act of trust toward a complete stranger, she sent me her file. (And I’m sure she regretted the decision more than once during the process.)

3D model

The entire floor plan in SketchUp.

As soon as I had the file, Nancy came over to my desk to check it out. I manned the model while she did a bit of back-seat driving. Within about five minutes, we noticed that not only was the space designed to account for nearly zero headcount growth, but that there were also a whole lot of opportunities around the new facility for us to execute some beautiful installation art. It was like dodging a bullet and finding a pot of gold at the same time – all thanks to our virtual walkthrough.

Over the next couple of weeks, the 3D model became instrumental in getting people throughout the company engaged and invested in the hundreds of decisions needed to design our new place. We had department heads provide feedback and signoff on how their teams’ spaces were laid out, we had the chance to see how different color choices flowed through the space, we had an epic late-night brainstorm to solve all the opportunities for installation art, and we conducted a company-wide virtual tour of the new space to open-source anything we might have missed.

photo brainstorm

The evidence of a five-hour brainstorm. We voted for our favorite stuff with orange stickers.

So how’d it turn out? We’re finally in the new facility and it looks amazing! It feels like a spaceship.

Of course there were some frustrations on both sides and few things needed to be redone along the way, as would be expected in a project of this scale – but we were able to avoid most of the design-related disasters. And because we had so much buy-in during the process from employees throughout the organization, there has been minimal grumbling about the decisions that were made.

So we at Duarte would like to extend an extra special thanks to Google for putting a powerful 3D modeling tool into a package even a layman can use. Hats off.

Check out some photos of our new space along with their SketchUp siblings here:

3D model compared to real life outcome

The main hallway, looking left from the entrance.

3D model compared to real life outcome

The kitchen that’s so big you can ride your bike in it. (And Jack, riding his bike in it.)

3D model compared to real life outcome

The entry hallway, and the edge of the bathroom core.

3D model compared to real life outcome

The hallway from the kitchen.