How important is CAD in the creative process?

By Incbald School,Design Education,January 21, 2019

By Tony Taliadoros, Senior Lecturer.

“But surely CAD is critical for our portfolios, ” say my students. Certainly, it’s important: once mastered it is an easy and professional option but there are other considerations in the creation of good design. As a tutor, I have heard this comment many times and I am certainly not alone; design tutors everywhere will be familiar with the resistance to drawing skills, the reliance on digital technology.

So before the Digital Crusader derides my point of view let me explain. I am not against technology and the advent of the digital age.  In fact, I encourage and welcome it, but in the student’s evolution into professional designers, there are other important lessons to be learnt.

It is a tutor’s responsibility to encourage students’ investment in vital core skills and these include conceptual thinking, supported by drawing and sketching. These are attributes which will lead to a proper understanding of their profession, including their role as a designer and their responsibilities to their client.

I was encouraged recently by an article in the RIBA Journal (April 2017) by Pamela Buxton reviewing the work of Deanna Petherbridge.  A passionate advocate of drawing throughout her working life, Petherbridge describes the importance and relevance of drawing when discussing her work, expressing concerns about the ‘loss of value placed on drawing as designers increasingly rely on computer-aided design – particularly the loss of the immediacy and sense of scale that drawing on paper encourages’. Pertinent for me, however, was Petherbridge’s observation that, whilst using CAD, designers are ‘always at second or third hand – the (computer drawing) system has been set up by someone else. You think you’re controlling it, but it’s controlling you’.

Increasingly within the teaching environment, I find myself straining to express the relevance of investment in fundamental core skills before the countenance of digital software.

The design profession must take some responsibility for the determination of students to be more ‘Tech-Savvy’.  Studios automatically assume CAD skills when interviewing prospective employees. Whilst this in itself is a necessary and valuable skill, it should never be at the expense of the development of young designers.

Too often the disappointing result of students’ work is the consequence of a rush towards ‘an impressive digital presentation’, with students seemingly convinced that it will sway opinion in their favour when pitching for their first position of employment. It certainly helps but there is much more in the training of a designer.

Cultural awareness supported by reading, personal experiences gained by travel, and the capacity to make mistakes and recognise them as such are key development factors. These are all discussion points capable of further elaboration within the learning environment and they provide a framework to build upon.

Thus I would urge more time spent on research and drawing skills, both important and primary functions for any student.  Swanky digital presentations can easily obscure the true substance in the work. Experienced potential employers will see through the superficial success and make decisions about how they perceive employment capability.

Consider the further impact from the new ever-emerging technologies such as virtual reality presentations, currently a big buzz in the profession.

The ability to immerse clients directly into the spaces that they will inhabit, walking from room to room, able to make first hand decisions about what they are likely to receive from the designer can only further engage the dialogue between the two parties. However, it remains the case that without core skill developmental capabilities, it may also highlight the lack of substance. The challenges we face in our personal development are really about continuing to challenge ourselves.  Debates about what software to master, whether it is AutoCAD or Vectorworks, are not really the debates that we should be having.

We must never lose sight of the ability of these digital programmes to enhance, but only enhance, the viability and visibility of our own, cultivated, potential creativity.

Computers are the brilliant products of a brilliant mind. Computers do not design.