When I talk to Planning students, I often get asked “what programs do I need to know” or “do I need to know how to use CAD?” The unfortunate answer to that second question is yes… Or at least kind of.
Here is a run down of the programs that I use regularly, or have used regularly at some point in my career. This may differ from office to office, but will give you an idea of the programs you may want to be thinking about.
The good news is, you probably already know how to use a number of these, and most of the others are easy to learn.
InDesign – A document layout program. You can use Word, but it’ll look like crap. This is the program that I use most. 90% of the materials that I produce are made using InDesign. If you can get ahold of a copy, this is a pretty easy program to learn (but tough-ish to master). I could literally spend hours everyday just chosing colours, aligning paragraphs, and cropping photos (but I don’t, because budgets). My greatest advice if you plan to learn InDesign… USE PARAGRAPH STYLES.
Illustrator – A vector drawing program. I don’t use this as much anymore, but used it quite frequently when I first started working. Great for making map overlays and colouring CAD drawings (like street sections). Relatively easy to learn, though making curved lines initially seems impossible (but becomes very intuitive once you learn it).
PowerPoint – I’m assuming you’re OK here.
Word – See above.
Excel – See above.
AutoCAD – A 2D drawing program. This is probably the most difficult program on the list, but is actually not so bad once you get the hang of it. It’s sort of like if your pencil used MS Dos. I’m still not great at CAD, but can find my way around a drawing. And this is why it is important to know CAD. Even if you never have to draw anything, you will often be given base mapping by a client and will need to be able to open it, take measurements, etc.
GIS – The new (but old) kid on the block. While it has been around for a while, GIS seems to really be making a comeback these days. Many clients will now provide GIS files instead of CAD, and while they can be converted, why not just learn GIS. I’ve only just recently started learning GIS, and highly recommend taking any courses that are available to you.
SketchUp – 3D modelling software. This one I learned on my own while putting together my thesis project. I built a huge model of Pier 21 in Halifax. It took me forever, and with the skills I’ve acquired since, I could’ve done it in a third of the time. I used this a bit when I started, but haven’t used it much recently. Still a program I love, and I recommend learning it (it’s easy, my niece was using it when she was 6). If nothing else, you can use it when remodelling your own house. The architects at our office have moved on to bigger and better things (Revit, Rhino), but us planners can leave that to them.
Those are the programs that I use most, or think it would be good for you to know. If you are interested in doing fancy renderings, this list will be much longer for you (and I am the wrong person to guide you). One thing that I should mention is that I didn’t learn how to use any of these programs in school. I was fortunate enough to volunteer for a year where I was lucky to have some very patient coworkers to help me learn.