Best Apps for Architects

Do computers save you time? If you were around when AutoCAD replaced hard-lined drawings as the de-facto standard, you'll also remember the hype about how computers were going to save you time. Just imagine, a change is as simple as moving a few lines on a computer screen, instead of redrawing an entire drawing. And adding a wall poche – what a breeze!

You'll also remember of course, how computers failed to deliver on this promise. Well, they did save us time, but what we did instead of scaling back our working hours was to do the same amount of work with less people. Today the architect : drafter ratio is approaching 1 architect to every 1 draftsperson (1:1). With the tools of today, my drafters can pick up my red-lines faster than I can draw them! Sometimes it seems it would be more efficient if I just made the corrections myself. How about you? (chime in with your comment below)

20 years ago the ratio was closer to 4 drafters to every 1 licensed architect. Here's a graph to illustrate the conceptual relationship between technology and people needed to do a job in an architecture firm:

Time Savers for Architects
As technology increases, needed people decreases

And so the cycle continues. With more technology, we are continually being pushed to do more with less. Take BIM for instance. 20 years ago, a door was 4 lines on a piece of vellum; today a door in a BIM model has all sorts of information and properties. BIM has the potential to squeeze our production cycle even shorter, while at the same time expand exponentially the amount of data in our “product”. With these new tools clients are expecting and demanding more. The definition of “deliverable” is changing.

How will you keep up? One way is to keep abreast of the latest technologies. Another is to read this blog of course (enter shameless self-promotion). And yet another is to forget about it all together (sometimes I think this may be best).

What computers can do is take a lot of the tedium out of our lives and add richness if we add the right kind of information. Today there are thousands of computer applications (apps) that can help us do everything from organize our grocery list to find the cheapest gas in town on our smart phones.

The architecture, engineering and construction industry is riding a wave of change. While computers won't give us extra time anytime soon, they can make our lives more convenient.

To find out what some of our architectural colleagues are using to lighten their load, I reached out to a few of my favorite architect bloggers and Twitterers and asked them what favorite apps they use for productivity and convenience. Note that most of these apps don't relate directly to architecture, but are just great apps in general. And without further ado, here is our list of Architect Blogger's Favorite Apps:

1. Evernote   Courtesy Jared Banks (@shoegnome,

Evernote is the best way, hands down, to keep track of all the odds and ends of life.
Make a note, take a picture, or make a voice or video recording and access it anywhere, across all of your devices: at home, in the office, or on the road. Evernote is like a giant digital scrap book that lets you keep things organized by using virtual “notebooks” that can be searched, marked with tags, and linked to web pages. Keep track of all of your world-changing ideas or make a grocery list. I use it to take notes from books I'm reading, record action plans and goals, keep track of inspirational design images and articles and more.

Now here is something that can change your life if you do it, saving you hours every week: pair Evernote with the Fuji SnapScan for PC or Fuji SnapScan for Mac and you have a winning combination to organize job memos, meeting notes, and all those pesky receipts for deductible business expenses. The SnapScan is an amazing little scanner that scans both sides of a document at the same time and will import scanned documents directly to Evernote for filing (or any other specific location on your computer). Just press a button and your receipt or memo will be scanned on both sides and filed away for safe keeping. Evernote is free for the basic plan and $5/mo for a premium account. Click here to read more about Evernote.

If your desk is constantly clogged with stacks of papers, receipts, and memos to file and want to see how Evernote can help you cut down on the clutter, check out this 95-page e-guide to dominating Evernote, Evernote Essentials.

2. ArchiSnapper Courtesy Enoch Sears (@businessofarch)

I love getting out of the office to make a site visit, but I hate getting back and having to organize my pictures and notes into a field report! Well that headache disappears with the ArchiSnapper app (available for iOS and Android). You can carry this app with you on the job site on your smartphone or tablet. When you take a picture with the app, you can add annotations and mark up the picture right in the field!

When you get back to the office your field report is already done. All you need to do is send it to your consultants, contractors and other contacts who are involved in the project. Because all reports are saved ‘in the cloud', you don't need to back up this information and never need to worry about losing it.

3. iWork   Courtesy Neal Pann (@npann,

iWork is Apple's cloud-based combination of word processor (Pages), spreadsheets (Numbers) and slide presentations (Keynote). As with all of Apple's products, the iWork apps feature a slick interface and compatibility with your Mac, iPhone, and iPad. The iWork apps can be had for $9.99 each in the Mac App Store. Keeping your documents in the cloud means that they are always available on your smartphone or other device, and you don't have to worry about losing any data should your computer go down. @npann uses Pages  and Numbers for time and expense reports and invoicing.

For those on a PC, Google's free version of the same tools can be found on Google Drive.

4. TextExpander   Courtesy Neal Pann (@npann,

Once solely the domain of computer programmers, text expanding utilities are now more useful than ever. An app like TextExpander (TE) can be a real productivity-booster if used correctly. The key is to notice when you are typing the same phrase over and over throughout your day. TE allows you to map all of your frequently typed phrases (such as ‘Please don't hesitate to contact me for additional information') to custom keyboard shortcuts. So for instance instead of typing the previous phrase, you could just type your predetermined phrase, such as ‘pls', and TextExpander will convert this to the full phrase. Another use would be when drafting. I could save hours of my life if I mapped ‘5/8″ TYPE ‘X' GYP BD, TYP' to a shortcut. TE offers a bunch of other cool features like automatic filling of web forms and insertion of pre-formatted content. The only thing it won't do is read your mind. Thanks to Neal Pann for adding this to our list. Get Texter (free) for the PC.

5. Genius Scan   Courtesy Derek Leavitt (@architectderek,

Derek Leavitt from @modative says, “With ‘Genius Scan' I once scanned some documents into a multi page PDF while on the beach in Cabo”. Can it get much better than that? This smartphone scanning app is truly…genius. Genius Scan turns your iPhone into a pocket scanner. Scan and enhance documents to a PDF and send them right from your phone. Take a picture of a white board or power-point presentation and turn it into a PDF. Genius-Scan also has a ‘perspective correction' feature so you can take a picture at an angle and Genius Scan will auto-correct it to an orthogonal document. The Genius Scan website shows this feature being used on a building's facade – they must have architects in mind! And of course you can send all of your scans to Evernote (see #1 above). To find out more, go to Genuis Scan.

6. iGoogle   Courtesy Bob Borson (@bobborson,

Read on to find out how Bob Borson finds the time to stay dialed into Twitter, post on his blog every week, and be an architect, father and husband at the same time. No, Apple and Google did not get together and have a baby. Rather, iGoogle is Google's custom home page screen accessible when logged into your Google (Gmail) account. @BobBorson uses iGoogle to aggregate his daily does of information. With iGoogle one can add widgets that show the latest news, social media feeds, the weather and more. @BobBorson uses iGoogle to keep track of his RSS feeds (for those who don't know – RSS is the best way to get updates from blogs or websites you follow).

In addition to iGoogle, Bob uses Photoshop and Sketchup almost daily. These don't get their own bullet point because they don't need an introduction. If you haven't heard of these programs then you must be on the wrong blog. This blog is for architects. Photoshop can do everything from touching up that SketchUp rendering to brewing a cup of coffee (I think this feature is coming out with the next release). SketchUp is my favorite simple yet powerful 3-D modeling program.

7. TweetBot   Courtesy Jason Wagner (@threefourteen,

TweetBot is the iPhone app that Jason Wagner has used to dominate Twitter and amass a huge following. TweetBot makes updating a timeline and interacting on Twitter a breeze, lets you define custom tap actions and organize multiple timelines. Wondering how to sort through the fluff on your Twitter feed and get the updates you care about? Define a list and use it as a timeline in TweetBot. Now that Jason Wagner has shared his secret to Twitter prowess, your life will never be the same.

ConcCalc is a construction calculator that lets you use feet and inches (handy!). I couldn't find a website for this app, but if you know where it can be found, let me know and I'll add it to the list!

8. Rapportive   Enoch Sears (@businessofarch – me)

Don't like the ads in Gmail? Install my favorite Gmail add-in Rapportive and replace the ads with biographical information on the person who emailed you. When you open an email, Rapportive scours social media networks to give you up to date information on a person's latest tweets, facebook posts and other emails you may have exchanged. It even includes a picture! Rapportive helps me put some context with a name and gives me the latest social media information at my fingertips.

9. Buffer   Enoch Sears (@businessofarch)

Buffer is a great way to share great articles, blog posts and stories that you find on the web with your social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). Perhaps you come across a great article that you think others would like to read. Buffer gives you a small, ever-present button in your browser that allows you to add articles to your “Buffer”. Though out the day Buffer will post these articles to your social media streams at predetermined times. Buffer will also give you other valuable information about how many people clicked on the link and its potential reach. Find out more at Buffer.

I hope this list has proved useful for you as an architect to find some way to make your life easier or more efficient! Thanks to our contributors Jason Wagner @threefourteen, Bob Borson @bobborson, Jared Banks @shoegnome, Derek Leavitt @architectderek and Neal Pann @npann. Be sure to look them up on Twitter. Now for the most important part, where you tell me what we left of the list. Leave your favorite app below so I can add it to the list!



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

2 Responses

  1. We recently launched an iPad app called “Plaans” for construction site documentation and quantity surveys. This might be interesting as well. Here´s the app home page:

  2. Hey Enoch, we recently launched ArchiSnapper, an app for architectural site reports without the headaches! It lets you collect and document relevant data, pictures and even remarks with your smartphone or tablet during construction site visits. ArchiSnapper generates and sends out your PDF reports with a single mouse click.

    I’m curious about your feedback on this app. Let me know if you want to try it out with some of my help…

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