Digital Design Basics: What Programs do you Need?
I will freely admit I am a designer who was educated on the inside of the technology curve. My education was heavily colored by learning AutoCAD (also known as CAD, the most prevalent of the Computer Assisted Drafting programs available) and not just AutoCAD but a host of other computer programs. Google SketchUp, 3DMax, Revit, Photoshop, Rhino, 2020 Technologies, and oodles and oodles of plugins to the aforementioned programs all are part of the conversation. I would also suggest that services like Pinterest are more and more a part of the conversation. I learned working knowledge of several computer programs in school or had the opportunity to learn. To anyone who ever thought a design degree (of any type) is a bird course here is your education right now: If you have ever learned Adobe Photoshop, you have an idea of the difficulty of the learning curve on most programs that designers use. If you have not, I challenge you to open Photoshop (Or YouTube a tutorial) and look at all the tools, buttons, filters and options that are available to manipulate an image.
I strongly believe that to be a viable designer in today’s market you need to have at minimum working knowledge of a few of these programs (although I love to think that hand drafting and sketching still has a place). These are not programs that can be learned overnight or in one class, but a certain mastery is necessary. Mastery that is only developed over time and with experimentation with these programs (I personally keep on my desk a little stock of notebooks at my desk, each dedicated to a different programs’ tricks, tool and shortcuts). I also think a certain cross section of these programs are needed, and would suggest at least one from each of 3, perhaps 4 categories are necessary. Bird course no longer when competency in at least 3 difficult software programs is basic entry-level knowledge.
First, A CAD program is a must to prepare professional construction documentation. Many design business are starting to move on to building information modeling or BIM programs like Revit. This has become base line requirement in most design firms, even sole proprietor businesses in Architecture & Design usually have AutoCAD. It’s just too labor intensive in today’s world to have you construction documents done by hand drafting.
Next, to relieve some of the load in creating visual images for clients (so they can “see” what the final result will look like) a 3D rendering program is needed. These run from things as simple as Google’s SketchUp or to photo-realistic programs like 3D Max with rich lighting and robust textural data (and take hours and hours to render). We tend to use a mix from the 3D line drawings developed in the CAD plugin 2020 Technologies, and exporting CAD drawings to renders in Sketchup and its suite of plugins for the most detailed renderings.
Finally, I believe an image editor like Photoshop is the final piece of the puzzle to make adjustments and tweaks as needed. I’m in Photoshop all the time to expand the limitations of my other digital programs, make small corrections and rework information from one format to another.
Additional tools, like Pinterest, Designerpages or Palette App that collect data on possible products, manufacturers, inspirations and organize it are also a fourth group of software that could be and is becoming an important technology asset to designers.
This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination; just some of what I would suggest have become basic to design in the digital age. A few in our office have become intimate with database software used to help our Facilities teams (who we support as a contractor) manage their space more effectively. We all also use the standard programs Word, Excel, Powerpoint, ect just like every other business out there. Other firms use software that helps write specifications, order products, and streamline other areas of their design processes.
I’m sure in the next 5 years this list will grow and change. Like many industries, keeping abreast of the latest technology available to make workflow easier and faster is and will continue to be an important part of the design industry.