Interview with Jonathan Pickup, Vectorworks Guru and Trainer

August 17, 2009 8 min read

Jonathan Pickup, Vectorworks Guru and Trainer

Every CAD system has its own group of fans and gurus. The excitement of CAD fans for their favorite design system doesn't stop in front of obstacles or barriers. Vectorworks fans are no exception. Among them the most knowledgeable and active is certainly Jonathan Pickup (website, blog, twitter). Despite living in the green land of New Zealand thousand miles away, on the opposite site of the planet from Nemetschek NA, he has become one of the most active experts and trainers of the Vectorworks community. His architectural background makes him extremely effective in creating a connection between the features of Vectorworks and its users. Jonathan's training sessions avoid technical jargon and speak the language of architects and designers. He has generously published most of his training online where it's available for free. Let's ask Jonathan some questions about himself and his favorite CAD system.

Jonathan can you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional activities?

I'd always wanted to be an architect and I love creating buildings

I trained as an architect in New Zealand. I'd always wanted to be an architect and I love creating buildings. After graduating the Auckland University School of Architecture and working in several places in New Zealand, I traveled to London where I worked for a large company called BDP. I was there for seven years working on many cool projects like the All England Lawn Tennis Club, National Maritime Museum, and shopping centers.
CAD was not a big thing when I got to London. Hardly anyone used it. Within a few years a few practices were using CAD. BDP had their own system. I was keen to learn the CAD, especially keen when the recession in the early '90's hit. There weren't many CAD operators and I wanted to keep my job, so I worked hard at being good. A few years layer BDP moved to MicroStation and they sent me away to learn how to use that. I was promoted to CAD manager on several projects.
It was about this time that I leaned MiniCAD 3+. That’s how long I've been using Vectorworks, since version 3.

What makes Vectorworks different from or better than other architectural design programs?

Vectorworks may not be better than other programs, but if you can learn to use it really well, it will feel better than other programs

At the time I learned MiniCAD, there were very few 3D programs. Vectorworks seemed so easy to use. Compared to MicroStation, Vectorworks was so easy to use. Now there are more programs that compete with Vectorworks. But Vectorworks still has a easy to use set of tools, and it has some powerful tools.
I have worked hard to build training resources for Vectorworks, and other programs do not have the resources we have. Vectorworks may not be better than other programs, but if you can learn to use it really well, it will feel better than other programs. My next door neighbor uses another CAD program and we've know each other for several years. We chat over the letter box at the end of the driveway. He wishes that his CAD program that the resources that I write, and the regular monthly training I provide. I told him to swap to Vectorworks and he could enjoy it too!

You have extensive experience producing training material. How are new technologies changing the way we learn and use our design programs?

a lot of people just don't realize how easy it is to learn a program with the embedded movies

When I first started writing manuals, I used Microsoft Word. It allows you to do a great deal, and write short manuals quickly. Combine that with a reasonable computer and printer and you can generate high quality manuals. Now you can create PDF files and get the manuals printed on demand.
I have been producing manuals with embedded movies for several years now. I think a lot of people just don't realize how easy it is to learn a program with the embedded movies. The movies let you get the whole picture, and get it quickly. Giving my clients movies has really improved.
The change in the last year has been my ability to provide online training. This has allowed me to offer small amounts of training when the client needs it. I run all my courses on line now. This allows me to be really flexible and it allows me to have students from all over the world.
I only have a few people at each course, I can see their screen if I need to, I can watch them work and I can correct any mistakes. This technology has been a big change for me and my clients. I have started to train clients all over the world.
This allows small amounts of training, bite sized bits of training. Small amounts of training allows the training to be digested before the next session. It allows practice between sessions, which reinforces the learning.
Before this, clients had to travel to my sessions, and I had to travel to different towns. Now I travel to their computer where ever they are. Should I mention the environmental savings?

Vectorworks users have access to several sources of information, from help files and manuals, discussion forums, online videos, and now, your book. Where does your book fit in this crowded set of options? Who should read your book?

my manuals are designed to show you how to compete a task

The Help Files and User Guides are great at showing exactly how to use one tool, but they are no good at showing you how to complete a task. A task uses several tools and commands. Some of these will not be obvious. My manuals are designed to show you how to compete a task. Each month I write a manual for my subscribers, and these show how to complete tasks that are not in any other manuals. For example, one month we covered a room finish schedule. from start to finish, all the steps need to complete the finish schedule, why some things work and why some things don't work. I like to give the reasons why things work, and the reasons why I do things. So, for example, if I'm talking about making layers and classes, I like to tell people why I use these layers and classes. I guess this is what sets my manuals and movies apart.
As for the 3D manual, it has been designed for people that want to get into 3D modeling. The manual starts with very simple modeling, covering all the basic tools and commands. 3D working is a lot of fun and I wanted everyone to see how easy it can be and how much fun you can have. So, if you want to use Vectorworks like SketchUp, if you want to draw a building with out walls, or you want to get into free-form design, try this manual.

Architectural design comes late to the world of 3D modeling. How do you explain this delay?

the problem is that many architects do not see that 3D modeling with a CAD program is useful

I'm not sure I can explain it. I started 3D modeling in MiniCAD 3+. That was a long time ago.
Not all of my employers have been keen to allow me to work in 3D. One employer was quiet strong on preventing me working in 3D, but I did anyway and he used to the 3D model to solve several design issues. So, maybe it's just the the employers do not think that 3D modeling in any CAD program can help them. Vectorworks has had some pretty cool 3D abilities for a long time. I could be wrong, but I think we have have had NURBS modeling since Vectorworks version 9.
So, I don't think the problem is the lack of software. The problem is that many architects do not see that 3D modeling with a CAD program is useful. After all, they have been drawing and sketching all these years without a CAD program.
I used to work for an architect. I taught him and his office Vectorworks, and I also worked for him as an architect. We were working on a renovation and extension project for a school. The architect had sketched the 3D look of the project, and had decided how the connections and junctions between the old building and new building should be. I was told to get on with the drawings, there is no need to much around with the 3D model. However, I noticed that the sketch wasn't accurate. The buildings were not relating they way the architect wanted. So, against instructions, I spent ten minutes to work on a 3D model to show the architect what the real situation was. When he came over to see me there was the 3D model, and the connection problems. He was happy to see the model and we spent thirty minutes working on the project, resolving all kinds of issues. At the end he was really happy with the solution, and it wasn't the same as his sketch.
I've always thought that 3D model to speed up the construction drawings, but more importantly, we should use the 3D model to improve the quality of the design. The challenge for a lot of users is learning to model the design when it is not a traditional building, or how to create a fast block model, like I did for the architect. That is where my 3D modeling manual comes in. Clients that buy this manual will learn the basic tools first, the ones that are quick to use, and they will learn how to take a block and cut it, pull it and shape it to make a concept. And, they will learn those cool curving shapes.

Many design software programs sustain an of ecosystem of blogs, online communities, technical books, etc. Vectorworks users are only now recognizing and organizing themselves online. As one of the most active Vectorworks users, can you help us understand the new surge in online participation?

When I started to blog […] I wanted something that would be useful for my clients and other users of Vectorworks

Many younger people are especially active online. When I stared blogging a few years ago, there was a lot of people already blogging, but it was mainly for personal reasons. Now there are a lot of blogs for business, and many more are blogging now. An online presence is now an essential part of your business.
When I started to blog, I didn't really want to make my blog about me and my life. I thought that might be too dull! But I thought I could make my blog about Vectorworks tips and tricks. .
Vectorworks have started to invest in the community board and they have really made an effort in blogging, and social media. You interviewed Jessie Newburn recently, she is amazing with the effort she puts in and I think that is bringing more users online.

How did you approach the task of writing a technical book such as "3D Modeling in Vectorworks"? How did you select the content and organize it?

when my students start to have fun with Vectorworks, they start enjoy it more, and they learn more easily

The 3D side of Vectorworks has always been the most fun. When my students start to have fun with Vectorworks, they start enjoy it more, and they learn more easily. I have been teaching simple 3D modeling for a long time, since the days of MiniCAD (the name before VectorWorks). It was fun to teach and fun for the students.
A simple introduction to 3D modeling has always been part of my Essential Tutorial Manual, but I had requests from some clients that wanted to see more. As I showed more techniques with 3D modeling, the students asked for more. This manual is the result. Like all my manuals, the students tell me what they want to learn, and I develop exercises that make it simple.
For the manual I used these exercises, and developed more basic exercises to explain all the basic 3D tools and commands. Then I developed a bus stop exercise that was designed to bring together several techniques. I used the bus stop because it would suit several people, architects, landscapers, urban designers and exhibit designers.

I would like to thank Jonathan for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have any questions for Jonathan or for Novedge, please leave a comment below and we will be glad to answer.

Franco Folini

Jonathan Pickup Sample Training Jonathan Pickup training books are available
from Novedge (Look on the Training section)

Franco Folini
Franco Folini


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