As much fun as it is to fill a notebook with sketches of fast shoes and sexy cars, ID is definitely a digital field. As we trawled around the forums looking for interesting tech issues we noticed several queries about which programs beginning designers really ought to know.
One 3D-dabbling graphic designer seeking input about programs for modeling got several pieces of advice most new designers can use. In this case the asker had a bit of experience in Rhino already, but wondered whether having more programs or something like SolidWorks would be vital on a resume. Cyberdemon advocated staying the course… mostly:
As a surfacing tool, Rhino is a great place to start. Solidworks is also valuable, but ultimately as a young employee they would rather see a portfolio of what you can currently do fluently with any 3D tool, rather than read on your resume you are familiar with several tools, but not proficient in any of them. If you have been using Rhino I would keep up with it and develop your skill rather than trying to jump ship to a new tool. Key shot is probably the best choice for an easy to pick up, quick to get good results, renderer right now...The cheap version of Keyshot is probably fine (they also have a trial with watermark I believe) if you just want to learn the tool or do web-sized renders.
User Cameron agreed and took a step back to clarify how the programs are largely distinguished:
I'd Just keep getting better at the path you've already gone down. At this point, you might dabble in other programs for fun, but don't personally invest your own money in new programs. I'd say Rhino/Alias are the go-to surfacing platforms most commonly used, and Solidworks/Pro-E are the most common parametric ones.
RalphZoontjens also agreed, pointing out the increasing parametric options for Rhino:
I agree that you better work mainly on your design skills and creativity in this phase, and go along with one tool of your choice to get your designs ready for prototyping/production.
It has become possible to do parametric design with the recent (and free!) Grasshopper plugin, which works fantastic. It is a completely different way of modeling but I would highly recommend learning it if you're already familiar with Rhinoceros. It opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.
Hkoehl20 noted the efficiency of using a single program and the importance of considering the desired end product when choosing:
If you have access to solidworks, I suggest spending a little bit of time to get familiar with it. I tend to use solid works more because I can create a general outline of a design then dial in the details pretty easily and efficiently. The things I make in solid works tend to look a little more professional than the the things I model in rhino. Solidworks is especially effective when designing that you plan to create in real life because it is grounded in many of the manufacturing processes.
For career-tailored decisions, user Design-Engine suggested that learning which tools specific companies use can help guide your choice:
I suggest looking at manufactures that you would love to work with .... for example Trek uses SolidWorks, Caterpillar uses Pro/ENGINEER & Alias. Make your decision from looking at the job descriptions.
In a similar thread, a young ID grad asked about the pros and cons of how designers use SolidWorks and Rhino in their own workflow. While a lot of responses hinged on sheer personal preference, a lot of it boils down to the work environment and your end product or goal. Having an entire engineering team will change what you're expected to produce, and a model for a mass produced injection molded widget and a 3D printed object will have different requirements.
Many people use a one way flow from Rhino (or other surfacing tools) to SolidWorks (or other parametric options) to go from ideation to full on build mode. However, the determining balance between what you need to do and what you are comfortable using is inherently a subjective one. On one hand a lot of users resent the restrictive, sometimes labyrinthine structures of SolidWorks. On the other, as Cadjunkie notes:
...just because the program "allows" you to make something on the screen because a couple of buttons have been pushed doesn't equate it to being a good idea in the end. If you aren't thinking about the product with regards to some type of manufacturing process in mind then its a disservice in the long run to have to rebuild the model from scratch.
As Cyberdemon summed it up breezily:
As they say there's a right tool for every job. Not all of our jobs are the same. The guy doing concept modelling, the guy doing interior renderings, the guy doing automotive surfacing, the guy doing rotomolded garbage cans, and the guy designing a space shuttle all need 3D software but each one has its own particular nooks and crannies. A shot glass and a swimming pool both hold liquids. But one makes for a terrible swim.
Overall the advice leans towards deeper, rather than broader, knowledge of programs. Strength of portfolio comes first, and being really dextrous in a commonly used program will likely be more attractive than a cursory understanding of several. However, getting a feel for how other programs work isn’t a bad idea if they’re likely to pop up in your line of work. This is particularly well advised to make going from the sketching and surface modeling stage through to building a functional solid model.
In sum, consider your desired type of work and desired type of work environment, and then dabble, but deeply!
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This article is part of the Core77 Tech-tacular, an editorial series exploring the myriad ways that technologies are shaping the future of design.