Visual communications: Giving life to complex engineering design

– As reported by the graphics gurus at Reid Middleton

A picture is worth a thousand words

This is particularly true in engineering, where the design is exacting, complex, and intricate. While engineering designs and drawings are absolutely necessary to successfully take a project from concept to final build out, the beauty and simplicity of a project sometimes gets lost in the technical details. This is where visual communications comes in. With forethought and attention to detail, a graphic designer can take complex engineering systems and distill them into something clear and concise, giving them life. Let’s take the example of a roundabout, a new, yet old design concept involving complex geometry and design considerations. To give these projects life and help everyone understand their complex nature, the graphic artist has a multitude of tools from the HO Scale rendering to roundabout instructional brochures.

HO scale rendering

First off, what is an HO scale rendering (other than a great way to explain the workings of a roundabout)? An HO scale is the most popular scale for model railroads in the world – a 1:87 scale.   For roundabout design, we create a color graphic representation as seen from the sky and print it in color on a flexible, fabric-like material to create an HO scale rendering. To do this, the graphic designer takes the AutoCAD engineering layout, strips it down to its bare essentials – the asphalt, curbs, landscaping, and striping – redraws it in full color, and prints it out. This done, the viewer can then see how the roads, the landscaped areas, and the paint striping all work together to efficiently direct traffic.

HO Scale Graphic Rendering

And so, rather than just tell people how a roundabout works, the HO scale rendering allows the user to actually “drive” vehicles through the roundabout using scaled versions of cars and trucks, as shown in this photograph taken during an open house meeting.

HO scale rendering being used at a public open house

The engineer can also generate true-to-life situations on a small scale, simulating various typical situations,  and play them out with vehicles for educational purposes.

Roundabout driving instruction brochure

And then, there is the brochure as a visual communication method. Because roundabouts are a relatively new intersection design for many drivers in the United States, the act of driving through a roundabout can sometimes be stressful. Public education is key to community acceptance of roundabouts.  The brochure shown was created by Reid Middleton graphic designers for the City of Issaquah as a tool for its residents to educate drivers on techniques for navigating through the East Lake Sammamish Parkway roundabout.

East Lake Sammamish Parkway roundabout driving instructions brochure

Graphic rendering overlay

Lastly, whether it be a large scale multi-lane or small 3-legged roundabout, the project always ends up being built in someone’s neighborhood, close to homes or property. Giving the engineer the ability to see and show others how the roundabout will function within the site constrictions can be of great value for allaying fears. To do this, the graphic designer can render the roundabout layout on an aerial image of the intersection showing the before and after site conditions.

East Lake Sammamish Parkway – Before
East Lake Sammamish Parkway – After

The designer can also render it on a street view of the intersection.

LaConner – Whitney and Chilberg Road – Before
LaConner – Whitney and Chilberg Road – After

In the end, good engineering and good visual communications, when used together, can enhance and give life to complex engineering concepts. They can build on each other, create consensus, and become tools for knowledge.