Simplify the establishment of CADD standards.

For decades, the establishment of CADD standards has been a universal problem. Everyone wants the benefits of having standards in place, but methods for accomplishing this have been ambiguous. The primary reason that successful implementation of CADD standards fails is that it is left up to the wrong people. Typically, users are handed a 2" thick manual containing all types of wonderful layers and cleanly printed pictures of symbols. They are then instructed to follow each page in detail as they set up their projects and work on their drawings. The burden of implementing CADD standards should not be placed on the individual user. We have learned that this is a mistake!

While under fire to get a project going, little time is allocated for proper project kick-off and setup. Sometimes a designer will establish the new job by using a file from a prior project as a “seed” for the new project. Of course, they inherit both the good and the bad from the previous project and now wrong or incorrect standards are embedded forever. Additionally, only some of the standards are brought forward in this way.

Many organizations invest significant time and money into creating an impressive CADD standards manual, publish it and then distribute it to employees. I’ve even seen some waved in front of clients to show how “CADD literate” their firm is. It is ironic that this manual is soon placed on the bookshelf or used as a doorstop where it gathers dust from that point on. Management then wonders why each office or department generates drawings that appear so dissimilar, or why somehow design is performed using the wrong units or settings.

The Goal of CADD Standards

Before I propose a solution to this problem, let’s discuss the simple goal of why we want to standardize in the first place. CADD standardization allows anyone in the organization to access, interpret and disseminate information rapidly and in a uniform manner.Standards should enhance the ability of people to work on a project and should not be cumbersome or require users to wade through manuals. Rather, they should be automated, digitally installed and implemented automatically. Users should not have to go out of their way to install CADD standards; they should have to go out of their way to change them!

The Solution

The civil/surveying industry now has the ability to install computer aided design standards directly into the software, allowing users to inherit them automatically. The software manufacturers have been paying attention to this problem and have developed a diverse array of solutions.

Unfortunately, in too many situations, awareness of what should be included in the standardization is dubious. When CADD standards are discussed, I notice that managers are proud to announce that they have a strong set of layering standards. Imagine their surprise when they discover that layering standards are only a small subset of what falls into the term “CADD standards.”

A prototype such as this one should be developed when establishing CADD standards.

Definition of CADD Standards

The following components should be considered when establishing CADD standards:

Layering/Level Standards—This is a multi-discipline set of standards that reflects the various phases of the project. It must allow for flexibility to accommodate change requests but be simple enough that staff and management can actually use it without referring to a naming convention manual every time a new layer is required. Layer naming conventions for “small” projects should be evaluated and contrasted against those for “large” projects.

Layer Management Standards—We have had enormous success in building Layer Management Systems that allow for quick swapping of layer states as needed and on the fly. In this way, the layers for a Utility Plan and Profile drawing are automatically flipped on and inappropriate layers are flipped off, consistently and on demand. This standardizes the appearance of all of your utility plots. Now generalize on that idea!

Foundation CADD Software Settings Standards—These standards will set up different types of CADD drawings for the work intended. As an example, some of these settings comprise Imperial or SI units, precisions, angle types, the view resolution, dimension settings, text styles, maximum sorting, and scores of other predetermined responses built into every drawing. These may be modified for different scales and drawing purposes.

Linestyles And Custom Linestyles—An assortment of linestyles (both standard and customized) should be established for the development of review and construction plans. With our industry’s plans being as dense as they are, a strong set of linestyles helps distinguish various features.

Menu Customization—Most application software packages have a fine facility for integrating menus together and should be looked at to provide a strong method for sharing the in-house developed LISP routines to all users. Customized toolbars containing useful commands not readily found in the standard menus should be made available to users as well.

Description and Line Code Libraries—An “evolution-capable” set of description codes must be established, the appropriate field code (or description code) and line code libraries must be built for use by the software. This is most effective when done for the different disciplines on the project (e.g., survey, planning, design and as-built). Your system should be developed to permit users to flip between these libraries on an as-needed basis, depending on which group is working on the drawing. Sometimes it is advantageous for each discipline to be “locked” into only their own settings.

Symbols and Details Libraries—Symbols, blocks or cells for each feature code need to be developed and made accessible to those needing them. This too should be done for each different discipline as needed. For instance, planning may need an elaborate symbol for illustrative purposes whereas survey may simply need to locate the object and use a simple graphic. We now have excellent tools for creating and managing these standard symbols and details. This allows your organization to centralize its symbology and related details by client or function.

Plotting and Pen Tables—The staff should be using established and centralized pen tables to govern how line thicknesses are plotted.

Engineering and Surveying Prototypes—A variety of prototypes containing the actual engineering, planning or surveying settings should be developed. These are critical because they control the algorithms and formulas used in designing the project.

File Structure and Naming Standards—The structure developed for file naming should not be one that is forced on users for the wrong reasons. They should not be developed because IT doesn’t have enough space on the hard drive or because the same sloppy user never learned how to drag and drop correctly. They should be developed to work with the user, the project, the application software and your project accounting system.

There are other components that should be included into the overall set of digital CADD standards that are adjunct to the project.

GIS and Geospatial Standards—Standards for dealing with GIS and geospatial data must be included due to the additional capabilities of our industry’s software. Access to external databases and raster drawings, and the ability to “assemble” construction plans from diverse sources and centralized, master drawings requires a re-thinking of how standards development is impacted.

Standards for Object Usage—These standards become increasingly important as manufacturers and users increase their usage of them. The clients, subconsultants and contractors who will use your data need to be guided in the ramifications of Object technology.

OLE Standards—Object Linking and Embedding standards should be established to guide users in this increasingly used area of CADD.

The Project Audit Trail—Standards for creating and maintaining a project audit trail are required to ensure that computations can be duplicated and reviewed as needed. Everyone should know which files to assemble or re-assemble for external deliverables.

Proprietary Software—Your organization’s software offerings should be standardized and automatically loaded into the project upon launching. This might include customized menus, LISP, Visual Basic or MDL routines, etc.


Once the details of the standardization are settled on, I advocate that they be installed as “digital CADD standards.” Users should inherit the engineering and surveying standards automatically upon project creation. They should inherit the drafting and plotting standards automatically upon drawing creation.

This function then, is the single most important role in establishing CADD standards in your organization. This will allow the user to concentrate on design, planning and surveying tasks. Constructability, accountability and production will all be enhanced.

You can now use the old CADD standards manual to prop up your desk that wobbles every time someone leans on it.