To Customize or Not

Customization can be helpful, but it can also be detrimental to a workflow.  Instead of looking at actual cases of customization, let’s consider this argument: to customize or not.

What Is Customization? 

As I often like to do when looking into these types of topics, I list the definition. Customization is the action of modifying something to suit a particular individual or task.  Obviously in this case, the something in this conversation is going to be the software and the people using it.

There are many different types of customization that can be applied to Autodesk software.  If you do a Google search for Autodesk customization, you will get a few (hundred thousand) returns on the search.  Autodesk does their own customization, companies specialize in doing customization, users can create their own customization, and so on.

Is Customization a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

There are good and bad uses of customization.  Early in my career I worked for a company that had purchased a customized toolbar that ran in AutoCAD® to apply all company standards and layers as well as typically used blocks.  This tool was very helpful for the speed of the workflow, but when it broke, it destroyed the workflow.  The problem was the CAD users had grown so accustomed to using only that toolbar to set their layers that they forgot how to do it natively in AutoCAD.

Customization is good when it helps improve the workflow and the time to deliver  the client a finished project.  It can be helpful on a repetitive task that takes a tremendous amount of time.

It can be bad when it “dumbs down” the person using the software, much like at that job from years ago.  If the person can’t utilize the native software without the customization, then we are doing a huge disservice to the user.  If the customization doesn’t work, and the user can’t work without it, then nothing gets done and it will definitely impede the workflow and the deliverable for the client.  We are always looking for ways to speed up the process, because time is money and we want to get the project out the door on time or early, but at what cost?

Is There a Difference Between Personalization and Customization?

The simple answer is: absolutely.  Most software users customize their toolbars, ribbons, and tool palettes to work in the most efficient way for them. Who amongst us hasn’t changed the keyboard shortcuts to work in a way that makes sense to us? Who amongst us hasn’t panicked when we upgraded and our shortcuts don’t work anymore?

Can there be over-personalization?  Again, the simple answer is: absolutely.  As a CAD/BIM Manager, I can attest that working on someone’s machine that has been over-personalized can be frustrating, especially if the user isn’t available to walk you through it.  Sometimes over-personalization can cause programs to not work properly or even crash.

Am I against personalization?  Simple answer: absolutely not.  I do it with my software, but I still want people to be able to use my software if they need to.  Remember when the ribbons were updated in Autodesk software and many people immediately reverted to the old style?  Over-personalization can make the software unfamiliar to other users, much like the ribbons did when they appeared on that new install.

Is Automation a Form of Customization?

Where does automation fall into this?  Writing routines and scripts, using programs like Dynamo?  Is this customization or is this a tool that helps the workflow? Utilizing automation to make your workflow more efficient is a good thing.  Taking the mundane and assigning automation to it is beneficial as well.  These tools were designed with the intent of helping the processes we have in place, not replacing them and eliminating the important part—the person behind the computer.

Content Customization?

When I think of content customization, I think of all the vendors in the market that supply content for use in models.  I think of all the companies that produce lights, HVAC equipment, plumbing fixtures, and the like. I think of the disappointment when I can’t find anything but a 2D CAD or PDF of a family! 

This customization is super beneficial to a project and really gives an owner a great expectation of what the completed project will look like.  It also aids in the coordination of projects, when you have devices that are graphically and dimensionally accurate so you know how tight you can make an area.  Also, when the connections of these families are accurate, you know where your supplies and returns are coming and going.  We need more customization of families and the like to be incorporated into a model.


This is a short article and just grazes the surface of customization.  So what is the answer “to customize or not”?  The answer is yes, to the extent that it benefits your process, your workflow, your client’s expectations, and your overall deliverable of a project. 

To customize for the sake of customization isn’t a good reason.  I believe that you must reap a benefit from the customization that has been sown in a tangible way so as to benefit the overall project and client.  Remember, you could get run over by a bus and someone else is going to work on your computer, with your software on your project—make it so all can jump in and run with it.  Think of the overall team and the process of the project so all parties can play well together.  Until next time, happy customizing and collaborating!

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