Novedge: Tell us a little bit about the Proving Ground team and what you do.
Nathan Miller, Founder of Proving Ground
Nathan Miller: We’re a lean team of building industry specialists located in Omaha, Nebraska. We serving up Data and Technology solutions and services to Building Professionals from coast to coast.
Novedge: What's the idea behind Proving Ground?
Nathan Miller: Proving Ground was founded on a vision of a data-driven Building Industry. We believe that leveraging data is an important part of realizing high-performance buildings and creating amazing environments. The idea of “proof” speaks to the need for processes that are evidence-based and quantitative. We think of “Proving Ground” as a place where new Data-driven ideas, Strategies, and Technologies can be tested and implemented within the Building Industry.
Novedge: What services do you provide?
Nathan Miller: As a services company, we work with our clients on a wide range of activities including the development of Strategies, the customization of Software, and creation of project-specific Workflows. This is an example of our workflow service:
Novedge: Who is your target customer? Who do you work with the most?
Nathan Miller: In general, the people that we work with are interested in making transformational changes to their Design and Building process. Our clients currently include Architects, Engineers, Manufacturers, and owners. Each has their own unique set of opportunities and challenges. For example, Architects usually want to know how they can use computational technologies and leverage data to create better design solutions. Building owners are often more interested in how they can use data to get insight into their operations and predict future building needs. There is enormous potential in the data-driven concept for buildings and we are brought to the table because of our own unique perspective and insight.
Novedge: Can you list some of the most popular software tools developed by you?
Nathan Miller: I have been publishing free and open source software since first starting Proving Ground as a blog. That has translated really well into part of our business. For example, our most popular tool is a plugin called LunchBox for both Grasshopper and Dynamo. LunchBox has been built up over time as a series of components that grew out of my own practical use cases in using computation. For example, panelization tools and Excel-based workflows are available in the plugin. Another tool we are currently on is a plugin called Conduit. Conduit is a Grasshopper plugin that allows users to create parametric data visualizations and dashboards as an overlay to their Rhino model. Dave Stasiuk has been leading this development and the tool has been published as an open source project. We also recently released an inexpensive product called Conductor which creates a task management control panel within Revit and Rhino that connects to Trello. We have seen a huge opportunity to improve model-based task management and we are big fans of Trello’s Kanban-style interface. We hope to release versions of this that support Navisworks and greater model integration as part of version 2.0.
Novedge: What's your background?
Nathan Miller: I have loved the idea of designing buildings since I was a kid and eventually went to Design school for Architecture. I practiced as a Designer for a number of years where I had the privilege of working on some amazing international projects for NBBJ. As a young professional, I quickly felt there was a significant misalignment between how Designers were working and how they could be working given the availability of data and new tools. I found myself becoming very interested in how Architects could use technology, specifically computational tools, to improve the building design process. Much of this interest was initially motivated by a selfish desire to make my own life easier and to explore new Design ideas that would have been otherwise impractical. Around the same time, I started publishing my own computational experiments to a blog called The Proving Ground and I eventually started released my own free software, including LunchBox and Slingshot for Grasshopper. Soon after, my Design career quickly shifted towards the world of consulting when I joined CASE and started applying my knowledge to a larger industry context. Two years ago, I decided to take the leap into business ownership and transformed Proving Ground into a consulting company focused on advanced uses of data and computational technology in the building industry.
Novedge: Is there a particular project you worked on that can you share with us?
Nathan Miller: Much of our project work is currently under nondisclosure agreements. For more in-depth technical case studies, I recommend that your readers take a look at our Research page. I also frequently publish op-eds on our blog discussing our approach and reflections on topics that interest us.
Novedge: Why is software customization so important?
Nathan Miller: Building professionals have access to more software and data than ever before. However, I view available commercial software as a platform to build from. Customizing the software means you can calibrate your tools to meet the specific needs of your project or business. I have seen many custom tools use cases that a software vendor could never have anticipated. Part of the reason why Grasshopper and other computational design tools have become so popular is because they have allowed professionals to design their process in very creative ways.
We take things a step further with our customization service by working with our clients to create tools that allow a business to scale the implementation of purpose built processes for maximum impact on the workflow.
Novedge: You also make it a point to contribute to research; what is the focus of your experiments?
Nathan Miller: Since much of what we do can be considered to be on the frontier of the building industry’s use of computation and data, we like to maintain close ties to the research community. We also like to contribute to the research community because we believe it gives our ideas more rigor. We often submit to peer-reviewed publications and conferences, such as ACADIA. Personally, I believe it is important to contribute a to research from the perspective of a working professional who is grappling with real-world implementations of new concepts. This is often sorely lacking in research venues today. Our published research has many themes we continue to explore. For example, the interoperability between digital and physical systems is something we are always investigating and is greatly informed by our professional work with designers and manufacturers.
Novedge: What part of your job excites you the most?
Nathan Miller: Simply put: I like buildings. I think they are cool. I am excited by the idea that a small team like ours can make a positive impact on how Architecture is designed and how buildings perform.