Digital Redlines for Architects: A Multifunctional Tool for Improving Communication and Workflow | Brandon Ro & Corey Bowman
Have you ever wondered how to improve communication among the entire project team in real-time? Or what about streamlining the implementation of redlines from owner review comments or coordinating your drawings with your engineers?
Seeking answers to these questions, various teams at VCBO Architecture have been experimenting with digital redlines and cloud-based document management applications.
For those not familiar with the term, when “redline” is used in an architectural office it is not a reference to the local bus or train line. Instead, it is an informal sketch with editorial comments – typically in red – on a set of architectural drawings that needs to be corrected before the drawings are issued either for an owner review or to the contractor. The goal of any architectural drawing, especially for what are called construction documents, is to provide the end-user with a clear, concise, and correct set of documents from which a building can be constructed. Redlines are a natural part of the design process to making this a reality.
First and foremost, the main difference between the typical architect’s analogue redlines and digital redlines is that one is produced with a red pen on a printed set of drawings and the other is marked up on digital documents such as a PDF (Portable Document Format). Digital redlines will often require a shift in thinking for some project managers who are accustomed to marking up a set of drawings with a physical pen, but in the end it will pay off and save time, money, and resources. Whatever software the design team decides to use to develop the project (i.e., Sketchup, AutoCAD, Rhino, Revit, etc.), there are opportunities to create PDFs of the architectural drawings during different stages of design where digital redlines can be used among the project team for different purposes.
While there are a number of software applications that allow you to view, edit, and markup (or redline) PDFs, what is needed for real-time collaboration and the ability to share a set of drawings is a cloud-based storage and document management platform. One such software that allows digital redlines to become a powerful multifunctional tool for collaboration is called Revu, Bluebeam Studio™ and especially what are known as “sessions.” A Bluebeam session allows a project manager to upload PDFs to the cloud and then invite attendees from around the world to view and add digital redlines in real-time. The beauty of a cloud-based platform is the ability to have all team members access the documents at the same time and collaborate in real-time. Any session activity, such as a markup (redline) or comment, is tracked in a record that is linked to its location within the PDF. Activity within the PDF can also be filtered by color, author, status, date, or page. Lastly, each digital redline can have its status set to either completed, accepted, canceled, and rejected similar to using a highlighter to mark off a completed redline. A team member can also reply directly to a comment or markup within the document if further clarification is needed.
When digital redlines are combined with cloud-based collaboration, an innovative multifunctional tool emerges that can improve communication and workflow all around. For coordination efforts between the engineering disciplines, for instance, digital redlines can be color coded to a specific consultant and then used to resolve conflicts between disciplines. When it comes to client-owner reviews or meetings (especially when individuals are attending the session from different geographic locations), the ability to collaborate and follow a specific attendee’s screen in real-time assists not only with team communication but streamlines the review process. Within the firm’s design team, on the other hand, real-time collaboration saves time and improves the project’s workflow. For example, a project manager can add digital redlines to a PDF set of drawings while other team members are simultaneously working on implementing those edits and then setting their status to complete. The process of using digital redlines can also serve as a sustainable practice to significantly reduce paper waste. While cloud-based collaboration and digital redlines cannot solve all of the challenges that arise throughout the design process, it can significantly improve communication and a project’s workflow.