Happy Birthday

by Mick

One Year Old Today.


Today is the first anniversary of this Blog - started exactly 1 year ago today.

In the past year, more than 150 articles have been written covering a diverse range of topics from interesting 'gadgets' through to the more in-depth looks at what has been happening in the competitive world of 3D Cad.

This article discusses some of what has been noticed over the last year

Some random thoughts – Trends in man-machine interaction

I recently came across an article entitled 3D Modelling is not for WIMPs – a brilliant title referring, of course, to Window Icon Menu Pointer in regards to how users interact with computer applications.

Then I was reading an article “PAD Paper Aided Design” about the design process how it is easy to sketch out your design on a scrap of paper before committing it into a CAD system.

And it got me to thinking some more about UI aspects for CAD software.

Perhaps the next breakthrough for CAD is not actually concerned with the mathematics involved in creating the model – the technology already available from 3rd party suppliers such as ParaSolid and DCubed is quite robust - or even improvements in raw computing power (multi-core, multi-cpu etc.) but rather in the area of input and output devices to ease a user with the Man-Machine interaction.

The traditional approach has used the WIMP as the optimum input mechanism with output devices consisting of a 2D display screen and printers. More recently, 3D scanner devices and 3D printers provide an alternative form of input and output mechanisms.

Its possible to looking at the way other improvements have been applied to promote the use of technological developments, for example,

  • Predictive Writing - start typing a word and the system auto-completes for you, a major usability improvement promoting sms text messaging on mobile phones,
  • searching with Web search engines such as Google,
  • writing text documents with word processing tools (auto-complete, spelling correction)
  • Digital Camera technology - improving and automating the ability to take good (or at least reasonable) quality pictures - auto white balance, auto-focus, auto exposure and aperture control amongst many others. (Or does it now just allow you to quickly take hundreds of snaps in the hope of getting a good one without taking the time to frame your subject properly - perhaps it is a retrograde step after all and WHY keep all the hundreds of 'poor quality' 'rejected' images? - more junk.

That brings up the issue of Electronic Junk collecting - The volume of data in electronic form is now enormous. Recently I tried to spring clean information accumulated over the past years (sorting out junk in the electronic attic) - what should I keep, what should I throw away? An argument says to keep everything - storage is cheap,
but for What Purpose? but I digress ..

I followed a recent debate, noticed on a web forum for a forthcoming Rendering package, discussing the virtues of the User Interface provided with a selection of leading packages in the visualisation industry and comparing these with their own package.

What defines a 'GOOD' UI - is it the colour scheme, perhaps this is true at a certain level. Is a dark scheme better than a light scheme?

Does the UI get in the way of you trying to do your job?

How important is screen real-estate - clutter, distractions, impinging on other work areas

Workflow - the process you follow to get a job done. There is a natural workflow in all activities you undertake some of this being natural, you do it without a second thought, while in some activities the workflow is defined for you (typical computer software says you can do it 'this way'). Workflow definitions should NOT get in the way of the outcome you're trying to achieve.

What is a good workflow - something that appears natural to you. This may not be the same for everybody – certain aspects of SolidWorks allows a measure of freedom here in that there are multiple ways to achieve the same objective, however 'downstream activities' may dictate 'how' you should do the job to achieve an 'optimum' workflow - e.g. should you define fillets in your 2d sketch or as features on your 3D model?

Does workflow change depending on the job at hand? If I'm making a cup of tea, the steps to follow are generally the same every time - but you could add the milk before the water or the water before the milk - does it matter to the outcome?

We live in a 3D world so why force a user to work in a 2D environment. Screen displays are typically a 2D medium. Input using a mouse or keyboard is typically a 2D medium.

Technology allows wireless mice, keyboards etc. Ok, so now you don't have a spaghetti of wires covering your desktop.

  • Virtual keyboards projected onto your actual (physical) desktop.
  • Virtual displays - projected into 3D (holographic) space.
  • eReaders, Tablet PC's non-keyboard input devices, paper, digital pens, dialogless applications

So what of the future?

I see the trend continuing with the improvement of graphics devices that allow shapes to be formed on your desktop - not your Windows Desktop, rather the actual top of your desk. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what does a virtual model convey.

Input devices may evolve using a haptic approach to provide real-time feedback during the creation and manipulation of models.

But as with most things, a lot depends on the cost. If devices such as these can become low-cost commodity items everyone will be using them and not know how they lived without them.