GeoDesign is a wonderful new term ESRI has coined for a lot of what CommunityViz software does. At the recent GeoDesign Summit in California, about 300 invited guests and luminaries from the fields of planning, landscape architecture, design, and (of course) GIS spent two and a half days extolling its virtues, imaging its future, and trying to come up with a definition for what exactly “GeoDesign” actually means.
The short description of geodesign is the pairing of GIS and design. The slightly longer one is something along the lines of the process of sketching possible plans, getting fast feedback on their impacts, modifying, and making decisions.
At the GeoDesign Summit, Bran Ferren, Chief Creative Officer of Applied Minds and former head of Disney Imagineering, scolded the group for not having a better definition and then went on to say that education is the world’s greatest woe and one that geodesign tools might redress. Carl Steinitz of Harvard described five methods of planning and how geodesign helps every one of them. And Tom Fisher, Dean of Design at the University of Minnesota, declared that geodesign is an essential tool for the fragile world we live in. The excitement in the rooms was palpable, and those of us who attended had a strong sense that we might be in on the beginning of Something Big.
Well, not exactly the beginning — geodesign already has momentum, success stories, and enabling technology in the form of CommunityViz and tools like it. The thousands of people who use CommunityViz often start by sketching their ideas for possible futures, using capabilities like Scenario Sketch Tools and Land Use Designer. They get instant feedback on consequences via real-time analysis including visual presentations like dynamic charts and color-changing maps. Analysis often crosses disciplines and the “smokestacks” or “stovepipes” of particular domains, as impacts of many kinds are modeled and displayed in side-by-side charts. Users can go from 2D to 3D views quickly and easily, making proposals and their outcomes easier to understand. And in the end, people are making more informed, collaborative decisions.
CommunityViz isn’t the only geodesign tool around. There are others that do bits and pieces as well, and the GeoDesign Summit was full of cool demonstrations and fascinating examples of what can be done when design and GIS come together. What feels most new and exciting to us, along with the name, is the growing understanding of how powerful and important these capabilities really are.