Sometimes you have to work in Sketchup models you didn't create. Sometimes this is fine, and sometimes this ruins your day. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to create an quick indoor seating area for a shopping center entry. No problem! I figured I'd just pop into the model, use a few tried and true lounge pieces, and export some views for the team to review.
If only! The Sketchup model was a mess, it took forever to open, nothing was labeled, and what should have been a thirty minute task took two hours of my afternoon. It was a disaster. My best guess is that multiple people had worked on it sporadically for short periods of time, and any systems or naming conventions set up by one user were destroyed by the person that followed.
Though it was frustrating, I am giving the designers the benefit of the doubt. A sloppy Sketchup model is not the work of a bad designer, it's the work of an uninformed one. I have made (and been chewed out for) many sloppy models because I didn't know better. I thought that because I was the only person working in the model at the time, it didn't matter how it was organized...as long as I knew how to navigate around. Wrong! So wrong. We get requests all the time for additional furniture pieces on past jobs, and it's a real buzzkill to go into a file you made a year ago and not know how to get around anymore.
Luckily, there are a few best practices to help prevent this from happening. To save my future self (and other designers) a lot of trouble, I try to adhere to these rules at all times. Even if the likelihood of someone needing to access the model is low, you just never know!
Here are 10 traits of a good Sketchup model:
1. No live geometry. Never, under any circumstances should there be floating lines or planes in a model. Everything that is drawn should be a part of a group or component. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main reason is that loose geometry sticks together. So if you place an ungrouped chair on a loose floor plane , the two will become one entity. This means that you will never be able to move or select that chair without moving/selecting the entire floor!
2. What should be grouped has been grouped, and what should be a component is a component. This can be a confusing distinction, but when done correctly, it's a huge lifesaver. Put simply, a group is something that will only occur in the model once (floors, a special skylight, a weird staircase, etc). Anything that will be repeated throughout the model multiple times should be a component (cafe seating, lighting, columns, doors, etc). Both entities behave the same way, but are edited totally differently. Editing a group affects only that group, while editing a component affects all copies that exist in the model. So instead of editing a column 100 times, you only have to do it once.
3. Everything is organized into layers. Layers allow you to turn off parts of the model depending on the needs of a particular view. Layers are important when you have multiple floors, multiple design options and lighting. They should be clearly labeled and organized. Our firm uses the same AIA naming conventions as CAD: A-FLOR, A-FURN, etc.
4. There is a "Save" scene. Have you ever tried to open an enormous model with the shadows and textures on? It can take hours! To avoid the trauma, do yourself a favor and create a "Save" scene. Set the model to Wireframe, turn the shadows off, and zoom way out. I usually put this tab at on the far left side of the "Scenes" bar so its easy to access. Before you get out of the model for the day, switch to this scene and save. This will make the model open way faster!
5. All materials are named appropriately. The other day, I opened a senior designer's model and the Materials window default opened into "List View." To my amazement, every single material was aptly named, organized, and categorized. It was incredible. He didn't have anything titled "Color 008 (4)" and it was clear that everything had a specific purpose. Even though I had never been in the model before, I knew exactly where to find each material without explanation. It was gorgeous.
6. All components and groups were purged before going in. This one applies to interior designers more than architects because we handle more furniture models than they do. As a rule, I never download components from the 3D Warehouse straight into my model. I always open them in a separate file to make sure they aren't bringing in any weird materials, components or layers. Doing a quick purge before you copy it in is just a good habit to get into.
7. On that note, make sure the whole model has been purged. Every once in a while, go ahead and purge the model to get rid of extra components, materials, and layers. Especially after multiple furniture options have be copied in, sometimes furniture pieces can leave crap hanging around even after you delete it. At the bare minimum, be sure to purge before you save at the end of the night.
8. Someone who has never been in the model before could figure out where things are and how to navigate. When it comes to setting up scenes and naming layers/materials, pretend that you are completely unfamiliar with the project. Make things as simple as possible and don't name a scene "R-01" when you could name it "Reception." Sure it takes up more room, but its way easier to understand.
9. The Style doesn't make my eyes bleed. I have talked about this before, but there are few things that make me want to scream more than a bad Sketchup style. It has no impact on the model whatsoever, but it sure does look bad.
10. It should be no more complicated than it needs to be. Simplicity is key. There is no need to go into elaborate detail on parts of the model that will never be viewed by the client. Adding too much geometry will slow down the model and over complicate things. Sometimes you need detail, but sometimes you don't. Keep that in mind!
There are lots of traits that make a Sketchup model workable and keep it from getting too slow, but if you follow these ten rules you will be off to a good start.