Design &

Use of Digital Tools

The use of digital tools in different areas of design has become more and more prevalent. There are of course differences between various areas of design, but the trend seems obvious. In this article we discuss digital design in the context of industrial design.

The design process can be seen as linear, cyclical (iterative) or even both. During the early stages there are a lot of things that are not set or defined - even the initial brief can be challenged and updated. This means that the tools and processes used must be very flexible and time efficient. Information is shared, edited and created among the team. Whether it is the use of basic email, cloud storage, video conferencing or collaborative online platforms, CAD or image editing software are not the only digital tools used. The key word is information – this information is shared and used throughout the product development process and even after. So, it is important to take good care of the data – it is money!

During the early stages image editing software and CAD are used alongside “analog sketching”. The aim is to produce a lot of material for the creative process. CAD can be a tool for ideation and problem solving not just a transfer of design to 3D/production. Loose and rough models are a great way to map the design problem at hand. How to fit the components or optimize the material usage for example. 3D visualizations can be used to study the form, materials and how the object interacts with its surroundings (visually).

The further (and closer to production) the process gets the more in detail and technical the design focus becomes. What is the material, material thickness, surface finish/quality (smooth, textured etc.) - and the list goes on. There are a lot of things to manage! Product development is a multidisciplinary effort so having a clear system for data sharing, storage and editing is needed. Everybody in the team should know which are the latest most up to date files (for example) and what changes are being made or planned.

Generative design tools have made it possible to create complex designs not possible with traditional tools. 3D printed or CNC machined prototypes are often used to test the designs. Physical, tangible prototypes are important – many aspects of design are still best experienced in real life. But in addition, 3D models can be tested/simulated virtually. This saves time and money since multiple designs can be evaluated without producing potentially expensive real material prototypes. This can be a simple stress analysis (does it break, bend etc.) or multiple person mixed reality vehicle interior testing. Combining VR-tool with rough prototypes is an interesting way to marry the virtual with the real world.

Vector and raster graphics tools are used in various stages of the process. Visual communication is powerful so different presentations and even marketing material can be created by the design team – this is especially the case in many smaller projects where the industrial designer also has some graphic design duties. Logos and product graphics are an important part of the package many times sold to the customer. Creating a cohesive concept or brand is many times vital for success.

All in all, digital tools are a major part of modern product development. But not all projects are the same nor are all the designers, therefore it is important to remember that very seldom one person has all the required expertise. It is a team effort! Still, it is important that the designer develops a basic understanding of the broad possibilities of digital design.


Anssi Ahonen