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Autodesk Civil 3D is a veritable feast of essential capabilities for civil engineers and surveyors. We may argue whether the resultant Civil 3D complexity is about the considerable depth of function built into the software or whether the sheer number of potential Civil 3D workflows is itself merely an obstacle.

We could also debate that any such attention is unwarranted. The emphasis is only necessary because of the strange mix of old and new software interface design tools presently mashed up in Autodesk Civil 3D. The Civil 3D diva has been performing for a while.

Regardless of any of that, our productivity inside the Civil 3D software is what we get paid for.

Civil 3D Productivity Remains Our Responsibility

It is easy to forget that simple, and not so obvious, things may make the Civil 3D interface a challenge for us. The current screen in our current drawing tends to dominate our focus. I remind folks to ask themselves,

Whose Data Behind Are We Watching?

As with many issues in life our expectations can become our downfall.
Inside Civil 3D, we must remember to consciously adjust and readjust the focus of our attention.

The most skilled Civil 3D folks somehow manage to watch themselves work.
All skilled Civil 3D users frequently change the focus of their attention unconsciously.

True. We learn this art of  change of focus experientially – aka the hard way – often painfully.
A new Civil 3D user simply doesn’t know where to look when - or worse even - they focus on the wrong thing altogether.
I see this all the time in Civil 3D training. None of us are immune. I stumble over this myself.

What went wrong?
We looked in the wrong place and missed the obvious. Dooh.

Civil 3D Driver Training

The classic defensive driving cycle we all learned back in the day in Driver’s Education works:

Window>> Review Mirror>> Side Mirror>> Speedometer>> Window

In Civil 3D, we could replace that basic pattern in the defensive driving metaphor with:

Screen>>Ribbon>>Command Line>>Toolspace>>Screen

I would argue the Screen is often far less important than we might expect.
In Civil 3D our work is about the project not a drawing.

Most of the time the following Focus Cycle pattern works better as far as the data behind is concerned:

Toolspace >>Ribbon>>Command Line>> Screen>> Toolspace

We get the point.
These basic Focus Cycle patterns will help us avoid many self -inflicted and idiot operator accidents.

Project Explorer Changes Everything

Project Explorer (PE) is available to all Civil 3D subscribers these days. We can swap the Toolspace checks with focus cycle peeks at the various and specific PE panes.

PE Pane>>Ribbon>>Command Line>> Screen>> Another PE Pane

One of the best things about the PE, is we can tune those panes to deliver better results that match our current information needs. The improved PE design and reporting interface doesn’t cover everything in Civil 3D, but we get more access with each new Civil 3D Update.

Cycle Focus or Lose It

To be truly productive in Civil 3D we need to be – CAD Pilots. We have more to worry about than the next curve on a NASCAR oval. Up in the wild blue yonder things come at us from front to back and side to side but also from top and bottom.
The Civil 3D interface may tell us there’s a problem, but we must know when and where to look.

It is our responsibility to manage the focal point of our attention.

“The command line is asking you to pick a point.”

More than half the battle with a new Civil 3D release or the latest Civil 3D Update is to identify the new focus patterns and subtle changes to the old ones.

Call me dumb. Like I said - I still neglect to change my focus if I haven’t done a task in Civil 3D for a while and particularly when I am learning something new or a new workflow. Can I hear an Amen?

Work the Task to Space

Complex model-based software is really more like piloting a high-performance aircraft than a car. Different interface elements on the instrument panel become critically important to introduce into the basic Civil 3D Focus Cycle at different times.
Landings require different information and controls than takeoffs.

These change of focus effects can be obvious and nuanced.

  • Corridor design requires different tools than Parcel construction.
  • Corridor Roadway design requires a somewhat different interface and focus approach than Corridor Site design.
  • Survey Point or Figure QAQC and the familiar Civil 3D Surface building tasks are best done with different sets of interface tools.

The basic Civil 3D interface attempts to steer us with Civil 3D Feature-based Ribbon Tools. At times this selective programmed help can be a distraction. It can be like an alert on our phone.

When we work in Civil 3D, we must deal with lots of different data behind Buckets. “What’s a Bucket?”

A key point from that famous post -
How fast we learn Civil 3D is a non-linear function of how quickly we can learn to identify how to get to specific Civil 3D Feature Buckets and the specific Feature mini-buckets in the interface.

Put another way…
“How do we edit the Slope parameters of the Profile of an Offset Alignment?”

This is both a pattern recognition problem and a physical habit challenge.
The kinesthetics are often the dicer problem of the two.
Our brain is engaged but our hands and eyes do not know what to do.

What we pay attention to must change.
By the way, to get control and manage that, is part of what workspaces are in there for in Civil 3D. Should we consider the Project Explorer (PE) a new workspace as well? Just sayin’.

Focus Cycles a Learnable Skill to Practice

As Civil 3D users, we are accountable to control the WTMI (Way Too Much Information) challenges and our Focus Cycle problems appropriately.

This brings us too…

The Most Important Civil 3D Training Tip

Read a different part of the Civil 3D Help file(s) for 1-5 minutes a day every day.

It doesn’t matter what we read.
It doesn’t matter if we understand it.
That may be impossible…at the moment.

The Power to Make Civil 3D Work
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