Earlier this week I was reading a blog post by Steve Stafford on the state of Revit content, specifically content available from Autodesk Seek. The post is framed as a critique of Seek contents’ usability within a Revit project – bloated file size, incorrect category assignments, overly detailed visual modeling, etc. – and it ends with a statement that we’re still living in “the wild west” when it comes to Revit families.

After several years in this business, I’d have to say that I agree with Steve’s general assessment. We’ve written before on this blog about the lack of clear and comprehensive standards for Revit families. Even among the standards that have been published, we have yet to see any significant adoption by Revit users or product manufacturers. For the most part, people seem to do whatever they think makes sense based on whatever experience and understanding they have of Revit.

So what is the role of content creators in this “wild west” of Revit families? You could argue that we should be playing the role of sheriff, riding into town on our trusty steeds and bringing law and order to the people. Yet even among content creators there isn’t broad agreement on what constitutes best practices for Revit families. You can see this in the comments on Steve Stafford’s post. One of the comments from a content creator talks about the need to include a schedule with manufacturer-specific content (which means including shared parameters in the families), whereas we have written before about how the best approach is for manufacturers not to include any shared parameters in their families. Another comment from a content creator talks about including model text within the family at the request of the designers for whom it was created, even though that text nearly doubles the family’s file size. While we think there are better approaches to including help text with Revit families (i.e. through a separate text file), we’ve been in the same situation of having a customer specifically request embedded text and having to comply. As a content creator, sometimes you have to abandon your own best practices in order to satisfy your customer.

Taking a step back, I would ask whether we should be surprised at this fuzzy state of affairs when it comes Revit families. After all, Revit is still in a relatively early phase of adoption throughout the AEC community; it is a completely new kind of platform relative to its predecessor; and “Revit families” itself is such a broad category (everything in Revit is a family!) with such broad applications that it would be another kind of mistake to think we can find a one-size-fits-all set of rules and standards for how a Revit family should be built.

To a large degree, I think that developing and applying coherent standards will always be a slow and iterative process, and we need to be patient with it. At the same time, I do believe content creators have an important role to play in facilitating and accelerating that process. As a kind of nexus between end users, manufacturers, and Autodesk itself, and with a wider range of experience with Revit families than any of those parties, content creators are in a unique position to foster dialogue and debate on standards. The best thing we can do is publish our views on the subject and encourage public discussion on specific points. For example, let’s return to the question of whether manufacturers should include share parameters in their Revit families. To us, there is no doubt that it’s an exercise in futility for manufacturers to include shared parameters in their families. In fact, we believe it does more harm than good. If someone thinks we’re wrong about that, then let’s hear the reasons why and see if we can reach some consensus about what standard would make sense for this issue.

With only a few days left until AU 2011 begins, I’m excited to attend sessions and engage in personal conversations where I can hear the perspectives of other Revit practitioners and content providers on the subject of Revit family standards. I’m looking forward to a week of lively discussions and hopefully to making some measure of progress in settling the Revit families frontier.