Our Image as Surveyors—Part 3

In the last issue we examined the impact that oral and written communications have on our image. Surveyors, like other design professionals, leave behind other writings as evidence of their character, such as plats and plans. While usually overlooked when considering our image, the drawings of surveyors provide important clues to their perspective on the work at hand.

Graphical communication will always be a part of our practice because of its efficiency in conveying large amounts of information. The adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words," is not an idle observation. Today’s plats typically contain much more information than those of 100 years ago, the trend being toward showing not only the resulting opinion, but also the basis for that opinion. This is appropriate. But there is no dignity in unduly complex and cluttered plats; a neat, well organized drawing speaks well of its maker. Great skill is required to present the information effectively. Most surveyors know that it is easier to convert a manual drafter to CAD technician than the other way around. Why? Because, of course, there is more to effective graphical communication than merely putting ink to paper. As the responsibility for the correctness and sufficiency of the document ultimately rests with the surveyor, he too must possess skill to direct the process.

Finely Crafted Plats

Historically, most firms took great pains to prepare their plats—an indication of their importance. Finely crafted, hand-drawn plans were the norm, with many hours spent in their preparation. Hand-lettered plans and plats have at least one drawback however: drafters do not naturally have the same style of lettering. So, when revisions became necessary, either the same drafter had to make them, or they became very obvious. There have been at least two solutions devised for this. The first, mechanical lettering using machines such as Leroy, cured the consistency problem, but (in my opinion) at the expense of panache. The second, while more expensive, invested the plans with more character. Firms trained their drafters all to have similar lettering styles.

As labor became more expensive, most firms resorted to using "stickies"—appliques generated by photocopying typewritten text onto translucent material that could then be stuck onto drawings. This process avoided the expense of lettering, but carried with it a slapdash undertone—similar to the difference in image between pre-fabricated and custom-built.

The Rise of Utilitarianism

Computer-assisted drafting turned survey offices on their heads—to the delight of many surveyors. Gone were the worries about erasing the matte off of the mylar during the fifth revision of the plat. Banished were concerns over dissimilar lettering. It was a remarkable enhancement to the surveying process. Unfortunately, CAD also brought with it a number of complications, and, as with any new technology, a few years passed before surveyors really began to understand how to wring the most benefit out of it. The most immediate casualty was style. As a result, plats began to reflect a starkness that was previously unknown. We began to settle for drawings with every line having the same weight and with dashes that were too large. All the text was in an ugly font and symbols were all out of proportion to the scale of the drawing. While no one wistfully remembers the 50s and 60s for their elegant style, the typical plat of that era had an appearance far superior to most plats drawn in the last decade—and CAD is largely to blame.

And then came the excuses. "Computer-generated plats cannot look as nice as hand-drawn plats, so why bother spending any effort on their appearance?" This attitude overlooks two things. First, since our products will be viewed as an extension of our character, any effort spent on their enhancement will directly accrue to our image. Second, and this may come as a surprise to some, computer-generated plats can look as fine as hand-drawn plats. Given the same amount of care and a moderate knowledge of the tool, CAD drawings can take on the look and feel of a finely drafted plat from decades past. But, we hear, "no one can afford to be fancy anymore. Our budgets are too tight." This complaint really has no foundation in the computer age. While many would argue that budgets were never loose, our tools now have the ability to leverage a small amount of work into multiple uses—effectively spreading the cost of development across dozens of plats. Details that add interest to a plat can be created once and used again and again. Of course, we must be convinced that the effort is worth it—which brings us back to character.

Style Run Amok

I realize that discussions of style cannot be founded upon objective precepts. By its very nature, style is a creature of taste, which itself is subjective. Nevertheless, some observations can be made. First, style must be tempered with common sense. Unfettered by reasonableness, style can evolve beyond the point where it adds interest and enter the realm of detraction. Second, and this is where our discussion intersects the issue, we must remember that our character will manifest itself through our drawings—to be observed by those reviewing the work.

How does this impact our image? Consider the inferences drawn by readers of the drawing. Inattention to detail, for instance, will be regarded as an indication that details were unimportant to the plat’s creator. Confusion reigning on the drawing will imply confusion reigning in the mind. Disorganized plats point to disorganized surveyors. On the other hand, boring plats come from . . . well, you know.

In the end, it seems that nearly everything comes down to character. Our appearance, the care with which we execute our duties, the manner in which we deal with others—all begin and end with our outlook on life. Image, we discover, is simply the realization of others of what we’re all about. And that’s the way it should be.

Copyright © 1998 By Joel M. Leininger, LS