CAD usage in an architectural office: From observations to active assistance

Suresh K. Bhavnani, Ulrich Flemming, Diana E. Forsythe, James H. Garrett, Doris S. Shaw, Albert Tsai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The functionality and resources provided by CAD systems have been increasing rapidly, but productivity growth expected from their use has been difficult to achieve. Although many surveys describe this productivity puzzle, few studies have been conducted on actual CAD users to understand its causes. In an effort to arrive at such an understanding, the first author visited a federal architectural office and observed CAD users in their natural setting. This paper describes preliminary results obtained from the study, which used ethnographic techniques developed by cultural anthropologists. The study revealed that users had leveled-off in their learning and experimentation and were using the CAD system in suboptimal ways. By asking why users were not using many resources available to them to improve performance, the observer uncovered issues of communication and management that needed to be addressed. Based on this understanding, the authors provide explicit recommendations to CAD users and vendors. In addition, they hypothesize that users might benefit from a system that provides active assistance, that is, intervenes spontaneously with advice, assistance, and relevant information while the user interacts with the CAD system. They conclude with some issues revealed by the study that should be considered when developing such active assistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-255
Number of pages13
JournalAutomation in Construction
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Active assistence
  • CAD usage
  • Participant observation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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