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Welcome back to Savant! I am guest blogger Dave Huffman. I am a professional engineer with over 30 years of experience in the design field. I have worked for architects, contractors, and engineers, and I ran my own business for a number of years. I happen to be much older than most of my colleagues in my current company. I understand how it can be difficult to break from habits, traditions, customs, and the way we, the older generation, were taught to perform our jobs and appear professional at the office. Today I’m discussing one of those older traditions: the briefcase.
I think architects and engineers should ditch the traditional briefcase, if they haven’t already, and adopt carrying a backpack instead. I am including the “man purse” or over-the-shoulder satchel with the briefcase for the sake of this blog. Unless you’re a delivery boy riding a bicycle down Fifth Avenue, the man purse, or “murse,” looks ridiculous.
Briefcases are excellent for carrying papers and notepads to meetings – if you’re an attorney or an accountant. As architects and engineers, we rarely just carry legal pads, notes, a few pens, etc. When we have meetings, whether they are in an office, on a job site, or in a coffee shop or bar, we usually bring the current tools of our trade: pens, pencils, markers, calculators, presentation boards, and laptop computers – not to mention large rolls of drawings. For a jobsite meeting the list can be even longer, including a camera, tape measure, laser, etc. While some of these may fit neatly into a briefcase and are light and easy to carry, not all fall into that category.
Consider the possibility today of heading to a meeting carrying a traditional briefcase and a roll of drawings. Both hands are probably occupied with the briefcase in one hand and the drawings in the other. What happens when your cell phone goes off or you have to open a door? Do you try to hold the briefcase and drawings in one hand while you answer the call or open the door? Do you stop and set the briefcase or drawings on the ground? Would you ignore the call? No matter how you resolve the situation, it will most likely be inconvenient.
If you’re old enough, you might remember the Hertz Rental Car commercial staring OJ Simpson. His flight lands late so he is running through the airport (no, he wasn’t in a white Bronco), and he is hurdling chairs to get to his rental car. And of course, he is carrying his briefcase. Maybe an ex-NFL running back can do that, but I know I can’t.
As an architect or engineer, the very worst time to be saddled with a briefcase is when we perform field surveys of existing buildings. When you’re carrying a briefcase, one of the first things you do upon arrival at the site is look for a clean and safe location to set your briefcase down. On some job sites, this is virtually impossible. This may make for some very awkward attempts at taking and recording building information and measurements. Have you ever tried to climb a ladder and crawl through a roof hatch carrying a sketch pad, roll of drawings, tape, camera, and other tools of the trade? Not fun – especially if you’re like me and scared of heights. Using a backpack leaves your hands free to measure and record your observations during site visits. You don’t have to set any of your equipment down in a pile of construction debris or try to awkwardly juggle it all in your hands.
Hopefully this will help you see the benefits of going hands free with a backpack.
Until next time, I’m Dave Huffman.
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