The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding Construction Contracts – Brief Overview

By Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq. / Attorney & Architect

On September 28, 2012, I posted a query on select LinkedIn groups regarding possible interest in a series of articles I’m developing under the title The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding Construction Contracts.  The response was surprisingly enthusiastic.

Therefore, I’ll post the first article of the series shortly on my website here at, and will announce it on my LinkedIn groups and direct contracts, Twitter, etc.  Thereafter, the articles will be posted on a regular basis and in reading lengths that make them conducive to online publishing – like short chapters of a larger publication.

But in response to some of the comments I received on LinkedIn, a little more about these articles:

These articles teach design and construction professionals visual thinking techniques for quickly organizing, absorbing and comprehending legal documents, using as a first example the AIA B101 – 2007 Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect.  But learning these techniques isn’t simply a matter of reading a few pages of instruction – it’s about developing core cognitive skills by leveraging existing ones.  And it will take some practice, though I always enjoy using them because they require a vigorous visual imagination.

For the motivated who learn these techniques and become proficient, I think you’ll be surprised at what you can do in a short time – I certainly was the first time I learned them.

These techniques involve the higher development of several core cogitative skills involving organization, visualization, focus and memory, to commit the substance of legal documents not merely to paper as graphics – which I don’t believe would be particularly useful – but to working memory and actual knowledge.  Information stored only on disc or on paper is just information – but if it’s also stored and can be readily accessed from the mind, it becomes working knowledge.  Developing proficiency with these techniques will make your mind your hard drive, which, of course, you carry with you and can access anytime – though I admit there’s always the danger in our businesses of losing it.  That’s a law joke.

Individually, these techniques are simple – even fun – but may at first seem a little awkward, which is why I’ll break them down to their individual skill components and then build up slowly with examples and exercises, with time in between the articles for readers to develop comfort and proficiency before advancing to the next step.  Anyone can learn these techniques – including lawyers, who tend not to be visual thinkers, but who do excel in organization and focus.  But because design and construction professionals already visualize well, it may be particularly suited for them.

These techniques also work very well for test preparation – I used them for the LEED exam study recently.  I developed them during six years of architecture school, three years of law school, used them to prepare for the Architects Registration Exam – and credit them heavily for allowing me to score in the 98th percentile of the Structures portion and pass the 12-hour Design portion of that exam the first time – two state Bar exams, and more mid-and final exams that I can count.  I modified them for my legal practice and continue to use them regularly.

Architects and contractors are knowledge workers – their market value is strongly related to what they know and produce from their knowledge base, and what their competition doesn’t.  Practical creativity springs, in part, from raw accumulated knowledge.  And the more you know, the more you can know.

However – and I say this from personal experience – the thinking skills that work well in design and construction do not always lend themselves to absorbing and understanding the law.  That requires a different way of thinking – hence, The Visual Thinker’s Guide to Understanding Construction Contracts.

And if you’re concerned that your focus and memory may not be what it once was, mastering these techniques may actually alleviate those concerns.  If you enjoy developing your memory and cognitive skills for personal and professional reasons, then these techniques may be for you.  But if you don’t, you probably won’t enjoy reading these articles.

Though there’s a very good chance your competition will.

Copyright Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq. 2012

Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq. is Chicago-based Illinois and Florida-licensed attorney and Illinois-licensed architect.  He practices design & construction law, real estate law, historic preservation law, accessibility law, is an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association’s Construction Division, is a Certified Mediator, and is a consultant and an expert witness in civil construction, historic preservation and federal accessibility litigation.  He can be contacted at

[DISCLAIMER:  This document is for informational – and sometimes entertainment – purposes only.  Neither this document nor the information contained within shall be considered legal advice, nor shall its distribution or reading form an attorney-client relationship between any reader and the author Gary L. Cole AIA, Esq.] 

  • The thesis makes sense looking forward to the articles.

  • Jerry Garcia

    This is very interesting. I look forward to learning more about how it works….

  • I’m anxious to learn about your methods!