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I have been going back and forth with Eric Schimelpfenig, AKBD aka @SketchThis for a little more than a year … trying but failing to get him over on this blog. But when Eric recently released a kitchen plugin for Google SketchUp, I decided I just couldn’t put it off any longer.  I sent Eric some questions, and fortunately … he responded.  Below you’ll find our interview. ~jb

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Building Moxie :: I know you Eric mainly from your work with SketchThis.net. Can you tell us a little about what SketchThis encompasses?

Eric S headshotEric S.: For years I’ve been doing design and 3D modeling for architects, cabinet makers, and kitchen designers.  All of that work fell under the business name of SketchThis.NET.  A few years ago, I decided that I’d rather teach people how to design than actually build models myself.

Back then, I started a blog to start educating people on how to use SketchUp.  The idea was to put some knowledge out there to attract people that were trying to learn in hopes that they would then hire me to teach them.  This worked very well.  By putting this knowledge out there, I raised my social media profile significantly.  Consequently, many people hired me for my SketchUp training services.

Building Moxie: Okay, we both know that I have been trying to get you on Building Moxie for a while now … but it just hasn’t worked out. What else has been keeping you busy?

Eric S.: You name it!  I’ve been keeping busy with many projects.  As I said previously, I do SketchUp training.  I also write for Kitchen and Bath Design News magazine.  This year, KBDN relaunched its three year program to travel the country and educate designers.  I’ve teamed up with Ellen Cheever to deliver what I think is a really informative presentation.  Ellen does a six hour presentation on emerging design trends, and I do a two hour session on new technology and how you can use it in your showroom.  We’ve done two cities so far this year and have six more to go!

On top of that I run the social media for Clever Storage, a German hardware company (that’s been sold in the US for over 40 years) who is now trying to establish a marketing presence here.  If you see Clever Storage on any social network, I’m the guy behind that.

Also, I launched a plugin that I’ve been developing for SketchUp this year, but I’ll get into that a little more later.  Outside of all this stuff, I still find time to tinker around in my garage.  I actually just got myself a MakerBot 3D printer which has really made my hobbies quite interesting as of late!

Building Moxie: I don’t do so much design work where I feel I need to go CAD (perhaps I am little old school – pencil and paper sometimes), but what would the benefits of using programs like Google SketchUp be? Are these pro-only programs?

Eric S Instructing Releases a Kitchen Plugin for SketchupEric S.: CAD programs, like technology in general, have changed so much over the past ten years.  You could point to the specs of computers to articulate how much faster and more powerful they’ve gotten, and that’s great – but I think the real innovation has come in how we use computers.  Computers, ten years ago, were powerful enough to build a 3D CAD model of your project, but the technology was hard to use, expensive and only really able to be operated by the nerd elite.  Today there are so many powerful solutions to draw in 3D, but now they’re actually easy to use … nevermind that computers are faster and cheaper, which makes them easier to use and available to a much larger audience.

To answer your question “Are they pro only?”  I’d answer it like this – Think of CAD programs like a paint brush and canvas.  Ten years ago, you had to design, develop and build your own brush, canvas and paint.  Nowadays, there are fantastic off-the-shelf brushes and canvas, but does owning those make you an accomplished artist?  If you want to learn this stuff, the barrier for entry is much lower, but it’s still not the type of thing that your 12-year-old could pick up and design a house with (nor should it be).

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Building Moxie: As someone with near zero design program experience, how would you recommend diving in? Where do you start when attempting to use a program like SketchUp for say room design?

Eric S.: There isn’t a “magic bullet” answer here, but I’ll outline a few avenues for you.  SketchUp, like AutoCAD and many other CAD programs, is a very general CAD program.  You can design just about anything in it.  Because of that, and with the explosion of online video and self-help blogs, there is tons of information out there.  In the case of SketchUp, a simple search of YouTube will pull literally thousands of training videos on how to use just about every function available in it.

Now, since SketchUp is a general CAD program, the videos are going to be general in nature.  If you’re the type of person that can take a concept and apply it to the way you need to use a program, this can be a great avenue.  Think of it this way – If someone showed you all of the functions of a table saw, and then you all of the sudden started of coming up with creative ways you could cut wood with it, then this method is for you.

If you’re not that type of person (many people aren’t), you should seek out more specific training.  This can be a little trickier to find.  Going back to the SketchUp example, there are many trainers out there.  I teach people how to model rooms, kitchens, and woodworking.  That’s my specialty.  If you hired someone who specializes in landscape architecture to teach you SketchUp, he and I probably have equal skills, but we use the program in very different ways.

Building Moxie: I understand that you (and perhaps others) recently released a kitchen plugin for SketchUp which, it is said, will allow for more efficient kitchen design. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of developing it and how it works?

Eric S.: I did just release a plugin for SketchUp!  Before I describe it, let me describe the problem:

SketchUp is about the fastest, easiest to use 3D modeler out there.  It can run circles around most other 3D CAD programs in both the design and sales phase.  Back when I was working at a very high end custom wood shop we used AutoCAD to do all of our plans.  It worked, but it took forever to do anything.  After working there, I moved to a more retail, semi-custom shop that was just a dealer for different cabinet lines.  There we used 2020 Design, which if you’re a kitchen designer is a necessity.  Now, I could go into an angry rant about how frustrating that program is to use, but I’ll save that for another day.

Working in a much lower dollar, but higher volume setting meant that you needed to be able to put out good designs and plans quickly.  Instead of weeks to work on a design I now only had hours, if that.  Using AutoCAD was out of the question at this job.  2020 was a very fast solution because it had catalogs of cabinets that you could literally drag and drop onto your floorplan.  With a few clicks, you could change the size and slide them around.  There was no way I could go this fast in AutoCAD.

Then I discovered SketchUp. I was able to model kitchens pretty fast in it, but still not as fast as 2020.  Customers and fellow designers saw my 3D kitchens and thought they looked amazing.  I started to teach them SketchUp so they could make 3D kitchens too, but then I realized something –  I was really, really fast at SketchUp, yes, but even I couldn’t beat 2020 in speed.  So teaching people that weren’t as obsessed with 3D modeling (as me) wasn’t solving the problem, because it would take them way too long to make a 3D kitchen. Why?  Because SketchUp had no catalog of components that you could drag and drop from.

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It was then I set about to make my own catalog of 3D configurable components for SketchUp.  After I built my first set of these a few years ago, I handed them out to our group of designers.  Even in their unfinished state, I watched as other designers were able to build 3D kitchens in SketchUp faster than ever before.  And I knew I was onto something!  In the following years, I built and rebuilt these components to make them as flexible and usable as possible.

After I was done developing the components, I decided that they had matured enough that the general public could benefit from them, rather than just our office.  But I needed a delivery method.  I decided that in this day and age, I had to have a cloud-based solution.

I contacted a web developer and worked with them over several months to develop a completely web-based delivery system for these SketchUp components.  We wanted designers to be able to access all of my components quickly and easily right from SketchUp.  I also wanted to be able to allow for on-demand help as they designed with my components.  Alongside the components, I developed a video series that is embedded right along with the components.

So, as of a few weeks ago, I released a cloud-based plugin for SketchUp that has access to this library of kitchen design components.  All you do is simply install my plugin, and the next time you open SketchUp you have access to the entire library, videos and all.  Since the catalog of components is hosted in the cloud, every user gets all the updates, additions and improvements instantly, instead of waiting to download and install the next update.

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Thanks again Eric, I wish you luck with everything you are doing.  To Find Eric’s plugin, you may download it from the home page at SketchThis.net.  The download is free for most of the components, and if you want access the pro ones the subscription is $29.95 per month.  For more examples of the instructional videos embedded in the plugin, here. Google SketchUp is available through www.Sketchup.com.  

Thanks all and thanks for reading. For more engaging interview with intriguing people in the Remodeling Industry, please see our category – Interviews.  ~jb