Our new Setup experience: Setting you up for success

Jesper Staahl
Jesper Staahl February 2, 2021 5 min read

This month we said goodbye to one of the last relics from Spacemaker’s earliest iteration, the old version of Setup. With its removal, we are banishing one of the last bastions of the waterfall workflow within our platform. Our new Setup experience will take its place. Like its predecessor, it allows users to easily set parameters such as site boundaries, noise sources, surrounding buildings and much more. Most importantly though, the new experience is another step towards changing the site planning workflow into one that is truly iterative. 

Stopping the waterfall

We have a lot of opinions at Spacemaker, and respectful debate and discussion is part of our everyday life. We enjoy challenging each other and listening to different perspectives. But one thing that we all agree on is that the waterfall model in site planning just has to be stopped. 

The waterfall model consists of breaking down a task into linear, sequential, phases. The issue with this approach is that it requires you to lock in decisions early in the process, and makes it expensive if you try to make changes later. For example, consider your site’s surrounding buildings – you may, later in the process, find out that a neighboring site will also be undertaking construction. You will have made a huge number of assumptions based on the existing building. In the waterfall model updating these parameters would require  unravelling and re-doing of the entire process up to that point. It can be exhausting and inefficient. If you’re interested, our CTO talks further about the issues of the waterfall model here.

Instead, we believe that a digitalized, data-driven and iterative workflow is the future of urban planning. By using digital technologies like AI, generative design, and fast analyses, we are enabling our users to play around in a site, confident that they can adjust parameters and discover options on-the-fly. 

Why do we bring this up? The old Setup encouraged a more waterfall-like approach to site planning – many of our users utilized it just once, at the beginning, and then never went back. It was the epitome of “set and forget”. Instead, the new Setup experience is persistent – it is meant to be accessed at any point, whenever you want to try something new, or whenever you need to adjust a parameter. 

Of course, we recognize that people can’t just transform their workflow overnight. Like a real waterfall, when a workflow has been around for such a long time it can embed itself deeply in its surroundings. It can take time, effort, and a lot of encouragement. So, we built the new experience from the ground up, with a focus on making the iterative workflow feel as natural as possible. 

We’d need a small book to describe all the ways we met this challenge. But here are two simple examples: 

Furthermore, rebuilding Setup gave us the opportunity to review all its functionality with fresh eyes. We distilled all the experience, challenges, and feedback and considered how we could improve upon the various features. For example, we realized it was impractical for users to fully appreciate the impact they were having in the traditional 2D view – particularly when adjusting elements such as terrain elevation or the height of a building. So 3D is now the default for users. 

We’ve made other, smaller, tweaks, like bringing certain functionality to the foreground, where previously it had been hidden away in a menu. After lots of hard work, we hope that users will agree that jumping in and using the new Setup experience feels organic and seamless. 

Set up for success

The new Setup experience has been something we’ve been working on for over 12 months. In “startup-time” that may as well be 120 years! This gives you an idea of just how much work we’ve put into it. We launched our first version of the new experience in June 2020, and have spent the time since then iterating on it. We’ve ensured feature parity with the old version of Setup, but have also continually been garnering and reacting to feedback. Throughout its development the new Setup has had a dedicated team, which has been a massive help in terms of both functionality and speed. 

It’s with a tinge of sadness that we say farewell to the old Setup experience. It may not be relevant to Spacemaker any more, but there was still a huge amount of work put into creating it, and it was a mechanism through which we learnt where we truly wanted to take the platform. It was through elements like the old Setup experience that we discovered just how much we had an aversion to the traditional site planning workflow, and it was another step on our journey. 

We do see the deprecation of the old experience as fundamental in achieving our vision – but we’re modest enough to understand that the new Setup experience will continue to evolve over time. As with pretty much everything in the Spacemaker platform, it was rooted in customer feedback, and we’ll be continuing to listen to suggestions and ideas as we look to expand, iterate and improve Setup well into the future. 

Ragnhild Frøyen Milter designs the features of the Spacemaker design tools. Ragnhild holds a master’s in Interaction Design from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

Simen Solemdal Hellem works on product development and strategic planning for the Spacemaker design tools. Simen holds a master’s in Industrial Economics and Technology Management from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

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