I started with Assemble on day one building this first-of-its-kind product for visualizing and aggregating Building Information Model (BIM) data for architecture, engineering, and construction groups. I helped build this product from the ground up. My responsibilities included user experience, visual design, user research, front-end development, some product management, and everything else, as required (as you do in a start-up).
The response to our product has been huge, and we've landed some very big players in the industry who find new ways every day to integrate the information they can find and manage in Assemble into their downstream workflows to complete construction projects.
I've included here a few of the key pieces of the product from the first few years.
Nothing fancy here. The project list is a simple visual list of all the projects you have in Assemble. We kept it super simple at first, offering just a way to identify projects and sort them, and are gradually improving it with searching and grouping abilities.
One of the biggest challenges at the beginning was the information architecture and basic interaction patterns. Not a lot of people in the industry had ever explored much of their BIM data in aggregate. We started with a more generally applicable approach, views, that would store different ways of looking at the data for a model. People could save a view by setting what they cared to look at in a model and how they wanted to see and aggregate it. Then they could come back when new data was available and see it in that form, or they could share a link with a teammate and show them information in a specific way to coordinate on the project.
For each step in the construction lifecycle—design review, estimation, scheduling, construction, etc—there are complex, specialized software products that support the work of that step. We didn't want to replace those products, we were poised to provide normalized, quality project data to support those activity tools.
So we built the view concept to store the various ways people wanted to see the data during the project lifecycle. Grouping, columns, filters, properties, and layout were stored in these views, to be called up at any moment, and exported in that form to push into other products.
Here's an example view, Model Inventory, showing most of the Architecture model, grouped by category and type, and exportable to Excel or Navisworks.
The example below shows a user selecting and working on objects in the model. Depending on the grouping of objects, you can select a set of objects, say Ceilings, and manage properties in aggregate for those selected items—properties which could make their way back to the model design tool and other products. For example, you might want to change the Unit Cost for selected items based on an estimate you received from a subcontractor bid.
Additionally, as shown below, selected objects in the grid are reflected in the 3D viewer, allowing people to get a sense of the space and complexity of objects they're working on.
Comparing Model Versions
One of the most powerful pieces of Assemble is its ability to track changes to the project over time. A general contractor (GC) might get a new revision of the model from the Architect weekly during the early stages of the project. If the GC misses an important, expensive change, that could significantly affect the GCs bottom line down the road when soliciting bids and committing to a contract with the owner.
To this end, we keep track of the versions of models published over time. Customers can quickly quantify and identify in the 3D model where changes were made, and then followup with the architect or owner, as needed. It's kind of a GitHub for construction and design.
The Guided Tour shows the major tools and concepts to users the first time they open a model. Influenced by our support and sales teams, and by researching early user behavior, we built this tour as a stopgap until we could really beef up our introductory experience. It turned out our customers loved this tour so much they began using it as the basis for lunch-and-learns to introduce Assemble to coworkers. With such a response, we kept it in :)
People have been using Assemble for 4 years now. It gives them insight into their projects they never had before, provides a platform on which they can communicate visually with stakeholders—accessible anywhere in the world via a browser—and saves them money and time by reducing risk and churn.
It's good to hear from my sales team that the customers continually talk about how easy it is to use, but it's quotes like these that make the effort worth it: