Lately, I had an exciting discussion with a few BIM managers regarding user-friendliness, specifically, user-friendliness surrounding BIM Track. They told me its amazing ease of use, learnability and the degree to which BIM Track can be used by specified BIM users to achieve good building information models with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in the context of multidisciplinary coordination.
But what makes a BIM Track user-friendly? Here are 7 criteria by which you should be judging everything you roll out to your BIM users, as well as anything you might be using yourself.
Simple to install
This applies to everything BIM, from cloud platforms to software plug-ins. Installation is the first point of contact for BIM users, so it had better be a friendly process. Otherwise, they’re going to be out the second they begin using the BIM tool. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a collaboration platform or a single-client user application, the installation should be simple and well documented. The second the installation becomes complicated, users will bail and move on to something easier. That’s why BIM Track doesn’t need any plugin to run in a web browser. We decided to make it plug-in free with native browser support for Chrome, Firefox, Internet explorer, Safari and more. As for our addins, they are installed in the windows user profile, so users can install it by themselves without any additional IT permissions required.
Easy to update
As with the installation, a BIM application’s update process should be easy. If updates are complex, users will more than likely skip the process. This can often leave behind a trail of bad results, as many updates which patch issues, or add new features. Updates need to be simple enough to ensure that BIM users continue to benefit from the hard work of the developers of the BIM software. When users don’t update, thus exposing issues, the BIM software becomes less and less reliable and secure (as well as missing out on new features). For BIM Track we decided to add an update button in the BIM Track addin as soon as new versions of the addins are available so that users don’t have to search for the installer. As for the BIM Track web platform, the updates are seamless and users can see a notice when a short downtime for upgrade must occur.
A BIM software is only as good as its user interface. If the user interface is not well thought out and well executed, people will have issues with using the BIM product. A well-designed user interface can often overcome a less-than-friendly underlying structure (or poor coding). But don’t bank all your hope on a good user interface, the software still needs to work as expected! Believe it or not, when BIM Track UI guys started designing the platform, they used to count the number of clicks users had to do to achieve the results to make the workflows as efficient as possible and don’t worry the code is a good looking as the interface!
Not only should a piece of BIM software work as expected, it should also be efficient. It should be optimized for specific tasks, it should be quick, and it should work seamlessly with underlying tasks and other BIM software part of the project workflow. From the users’ point of view, the BIM software should be an efficient means to completing their jobs (modeling, coordination, analysis, ect). A BIM software should not get in the way of completing a task, nor should it set up any roadblocks for users. The efficiency of a piece of BIM software is tied up with its intuitiveness. BIM Track focuses primarily on open standards for interoperability to ensure bi-directional and multi-platform workflows are as efficient as possible.
Pleasant, easy-to-navigate user interface
The look and feel of a user interface is a slippery slope that BIM software designers tend to tumble down. When a BIM software designer opts to go with trends instead of what works, it makes for an unpleasant experience for the end user. The “Ribbon interface” design has worked for years but is long overdue for an update, but this update should not come at the expense of intuitiveness. A user interfaces’s primary purpose is to make an end user’s job easier. If the edgy BIM software interface design is counter-intuitive and inefficient, it fails the user-friendliness test. BIM Track nailed it with its edgier software interface which reminds “Google colors” to help user find relevant issue quickly.
Easy to troubleshoot
No software is perfect. And when something goes wrong with a piece of BIM software, it’s important that the end user can call support and that support can resolve the issue. If the BIM software offers nothing in the way of troubleshooting, how is the end user or the administrator going to be able to keep the BIM software running? BIM Track has a forum and a live chat to help users troubleshoot their issues.
Adheres to standards
Standards are created for a reason, to make inter-connectivity between BIM applications easy. Problems begin to arise when BIM software developers do not adhere to standards or develop their own file formats. The IFC format is an example of BIM format standard, but it often suffers because BIM software don’t comply immediately with standards set by governing bodies like buildingSMART. When users are affected by a lack of compliance to standards, they’ll face an unfriendly experience trying to get their BIM tools to communicate with BIM tools that do follow standards. BIM Track has released its support of the latest IFC4 format lately and currently support the latest version of BCF. There is no native file format with BIM Track so you can back up your data by exporting open formats at the end of the project.
How do you define user friendly?
Do these criteria fulfill your idea of what makes for a user-friendly BIM software experience? If not, what would you remove or add to this list? Share your thoughts with our BIM Track users.