Blog Menu

3D Design for Everyday Consumers

October 25, 2008

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,education,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:39

In The Boston Globe article “Next software for the masses? How about three-dimensional design,” author Scott Kirsner explained that computers were once used only by PhDs and videocassette recorders were designed for television broadcasters. He went on to say that the mobile phone, GPS, photo editing software, and Internet were intended originally for professionals and academic types.

Kirsner suggested that 3D design software may someday become common among non-professionals and I agree. When playing with Google SketchUp, it doesn’t take much time to see what is possible. However, before 3D design truly makes it to the mainstream, it will need to become even easier than SketchUp, and it will. Take, for example, Spore Creature Creator from Electronic Arts. I was able to create elaborate 3D creatures in the first few minutes after installing the software. What’s more, these models are fully closed, water-tight solid volumes that can be manufactured.

The key will be for software, running on your computer or web server, to help you along so that it becomes effortless. I don’t expect for design software such as SolidWorks or even SketchUp to achieve this level of ease. I envision, for example, software designed for a very specific purpose, such as designing bicycles. The process might start by allowing you to select a style from a library of frames. After selecting one, you could change its shape, but within limits, making it impossible to produce designs that would not accommodate wheels, a seat, handlebars, sprockets, crank, and so on. It knows that you are designing a bicycle and not an electronic device, football stadium, or something else, so everything is built around bicycle design with libraries of parts that you can change. 

We are at the early phase of having access to software that allows almost anyone to create 3D content with little effort and no design experience. The models may not be as sophisticated as those produced by users of Catia, Inventor, Pro/E, or SolidWorks, but that may not matter. The majority of these models would be used in educational or entertaining ways, such as adding them to a document, video clip, or computer game, or manufacturing them on a 3D printer.


  1. Hi Terry: CAD, with a limited but guided set of options, is certainly much easier. I envision the use of CAD by ordinary people without training. Parametric CAD systems that can be pre-configured with a sort of template/example object that you can adjust to your needs. In a way, this is already done by, a new start-up at the Philips High Tech Campus in the Netherlands. They have the ‘shapeways creator’, with which you can design a beautiful slightly translucent candle holder in one minute. The object actually consists of a poem that you can write. The letters are the object.

    Comment by ErikDeBruijn — October 25, 2008 @ 12:15

  2. Better late than never to comment. We are 3D design for the masses. What Adobe has done with PDF for 3D – we see our ActiveSolid product as a Microsoft “3D Office” solution. Something akin to Adobe 3D PDF. What we can do inside Microsoft Office with 3D is unique. We can embed our whole application and GUI within an Excel or Word doc, or use it over the web and users have full editing and Excel data interaction capability with the 3D model (as well as view/mark-up only if that’s all that is needed) – all under just a few megs.

    Jeff Nelson

    Comment by ThreeD-ify — October 6, 2009 @ 12:33