Simple is Powerful

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"Simple is powerful."

It was a small part of John Bacus’ keynote address to the 400 people gathered at Vail Cascade Resort for the 2014 SketchUp Basecamp Conference. But these three words have been stuck in my head ever since. I’ve always admired that SketchUp is simple enough for an eight year old to use it. In fact, it’s so simple that some building industry professionals think of it as a toy, i.e., not suitable for “real” work. But if there’s a single lesson that Basecamp 2014 made clear to all in attendance, it’s that people all over the world are using SketchUp for important work in architecture, construction and many other fields.

I was honored to share some of Fat Pencil Studio’s work on transportation and litigation projects during a 45 minute session titled SketchUp: On the Road and in the Courtroom. I was also humbled to be on the speaking agenda with so many brilliant professionals. Here are two of my favorite presentations:

Upon reflection, I’ve come to realize the meaning behind those three words in John Bacus’ keynote is that a tool’s power can in fact be derived from its simplicity. How? By keeping the interface from interrupting our creative thought process. Things like the Google search box, and Apple’s iPhone home button have become standards for that reason. They are intuitive, useful, and don’t stand in the way of getting stuff done.

On the last day of the conference, there was a charrette to design a new library for a Boulder elementary school that was badly damaged by recent floods. I watched fellow Portlander Dug Ketterman go from project brief to conceptual design renderings in just two hours. Roof, windows, interior layout, finishes…everything was fully detailed, and easy to understand in his 3d model. Two hours! Try doing that in AutoCAD. So there you go: simple is powerful.

For a more complete conference wrap-up, and a list of videotaped sessions, check out the SketchUp blog wrap-up.


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio