What if layout design articles were written about people instead of a trackplan? How would that change the conversation? Author Seth Godin poses two questions that I think make a good starting point for our purposes:
What is this for?
Who is this for?
What Is This For?
Why are you planning /building a layout? What purpose will it serve? What outcome do you hope to accomplish with it? What story are you telling yourself about how life will be when you have this thing?
We seldom give any thought to such questions. What kind of experience of the craft might we create for ourselves if we did?
Who Is This For?
In all seriousness; whom are you building this layout for? Is it for you alone, or to entertain a group of friends? Whose input matters the most, your own or your friends? If you’re building for yourself, then the choices are greatly simplified, but if others have to be considered, then there’s a tendency to revert to the lowest common denominator for every decision. Do you really want to make people use a box or crawl on the floor to reach a portion of the layout?
How Open Is Open Enough?
The smaller the space, the more we fear missing out on something good because we automatically compare this space to the unspoken basement empire standard, we’re conditioned to want. What matters more, an extra lap of track that will take a train twenty seconds to cover, or a more comfortable design and space you can move around in freely?
How Will You Use The Space?
It’s a guess on my part but I’ll wager there are probably more layouts in spare bedrooms than big basements. In a spare room, how will you get supplies, modules and the rest of the hobby paraphernalia in and out? Is the door wide enough? Can you turn a corner with a large section? Do you want to deal with such headaches in the first place?
What about workspace for modeling? Where does storage for supplies and tools go? What do you need, and can you fit it all in and still have room to breathe? How comfortable do you want to be?
Design That Ignores People Is Poor Design
A layout doesn’t exist in a vacuum, yet that’s how we think about it. We’ll obsess over an extra six inches of bench work, telling ourselves how critical that miniscule amount is to our grand scheme and leave all the rest to chance if we even give it a second thought.
Yes, I’m biased. I prefer a layout that speaks to me in a clean, comfortable, roomy space that I want to be in. Back at the beginning, I asked how the conversation would change if we focused more on the human element. To make those choices, one has to know what’s important and that involves an understanding of what one wants. I’ve done that work and I admit that doodling around on paper is easier and even entertaining as a mental exercise. But then reality intrudes as it always does. Lines on paper or pixels on a screen don’t tell the whole story. What about you; who and what is your layout for? The answers aren’t written in stone, you get to choose them for yourself.