3D Modeling/Rendering - How critical is it?

Hello. I’ve been soaking up all the advice I can while I hunt for a job. I have been looking at my own portfolio critically and wondering if it is lacking the necessary 3D Modeling/Rendering expected these days for an ID job. To be honest computer work is not my favorite part of the design process, but I realize it’s importance in communicating ideas to others. Specifically I want to design contemporary furniture/housewares and make the prototypes. It is how I work out a lot of my ideas, just getting my hands dirty and confronting problems head on, instead of on a computer monitor. Is this going to keep me from being employable?

In the furniture field, maybe not as much - but think of it this way. If you are communicating a design for mass production - who is going to be doing the technical drawings for manufacturing? If you let someone else own that portion of the process it’s just one additional risk that your design intent might not make it into production.

Rendering side matters much less - but frankly with tools like Hypershot or Showcase, these days getting high end renderings is a no brainer, and it will jazz up your portfolio.

Think of it this way, if an employer interviews multiple people (and in todays world they will) then are they more likely to hire someone who can do everything including 3D modeling? I would say yes. Even if its not a big part of the job, it’s a big extra plus for an employer. It’s worth practicing and learning for now or the future.

Don’t think of it as just sitting in front of a computer monitor. Think of it as using an incredibly powerful tool that will help you communicate across the entire project. If you are mechanical and like handy work learn Pro/E or Solidworks. You’ll find that the detail drawings you create (with all your dimensions) will actually be more important than the renders.

Exporting a 3D file and emailing it to a rapid prototyper is a thrill as well. There’s nothing quite like going from on-screen to in-hand in a matter of hours.

Thanks guys. I started brushing up on Rhino with the free trial. Would Solidworks be a better program to learn for furniture and rapid prototyping? I’ve never used it, how is it compared to Rhino, Vectorworks, and Alias? I’m asking because I had 2 tortured semesters of Alias, that I barely got through. It wasn’t as intuitive as Rhino from my experience.

I think my main fear is having the 3D modeling/rendering be my entire day because it was the experience I had at my last job.

CAD skills: Basic or extra?

I would say extra because this skill seem the less important to me for a designer (that is in my definition of a designer: He who does the ideation/ conceptualization and guides the design/development…sort of an art-director).
To me it is far more important to have good sketching skills (to communicate your many ideas), ideation and out of the box thinking (again the many ideas). Prototyping skills (get in the workshop and feel the material/dimensions) and team-management. Off course it all depends on what get’s you off. Do you like 3D-modeling, rendering? I think not from what I’ve read. There’s also no designer who does all of the tasks needed in developing a product. (There’s some but they tend to go more for craftmanship/uniqueness than a regular industrial designer would do). The best designer is someone who knows something about everything and has a real good sketching pen to get his ideas broadcast-ed :wink:

Also I find that there’s a tendency towards CAD-fatigue. People get it for granted so It’s hard to impress someone nowadays with some 3D-model or rendering.

A nicely done presentation drawing will do wonders for selling your idea in the current days of computer-aided-design.

There’s off course also (stupid) people who want to see a photo-realistic rendering of the product before any real prototype has been made… :unamused:

So it really is up to you. No one will blame you for your lacking CAD skills if you have crazy, mind-blowing ideas and deliver them in out-of-the-world sketches or prototypes. But you do must know the basics of CAD to know what can be done…and what not.

Hope this adds to the discussion



for ID in consultancy (atleast over here in UK) you will need CAD skills. However, there will always be someone better than you when it comes to renders CAD models. So my advice if it’s not your cup of tea get to a standard of G2 surfaces in a parametric modeller and understand the workflow. I.e understanding how to create robust models, interms of laying down references, working of master geomtry. Quickest way to master CAD… learn how to sketch to a reasonable standard… Seriously pretty much constructing a CAD model when it comes to surfacing is the same as contructing your sketches, (until you hit 3sided\5 sided shapes)

Cdaisy is right though it is an extremely powerful tool, especially when you marry it with RP for quick test models.

Although dont forget gotta have the ideas first…

I’m just out of school and so this may not be the best advice but I was concerned about the lack of 3-D modeling in my portfolio. Almost every professional I have talked to basically said the same thing, 3-D is great but in the real world, most clients aren’t going to want to pay for it. Most have told me that being able to render in Photoshop or even Illustrator will prove handier in the real world. To your earlier post about Solidworks difficulty, for me comparing Solidworks and Rhino are sort of apples to oranges. If you are coming from Rhino, Solidworks will seem completely non-intuitive, UNTIL you get the basics down. After that its pretty easy to figure out. My advice is run through some of the included tutorials ( warning these are aimed at Engineers for the most part so they will be boring ) and you should pick it up pretty fast. Of course I had a really great teacher who kind of taught us the “philosophy” of using a 3-D modeler rather than button pushing. Good Luck!

Not sure what field those professionals are in, but I would not be employed without the ability to bring ideas into 3D. You can get away with 2D for highly orthographic projects or projects where the client just wants you to do some initial iteration in sketches, but if it comes to making the real thing you should hope that you have the ability to think and work in 3D. I can’t tell you how many 2D renderings I’ve seen that are completely un-resolvable in 3D. A quick gradient here or there and viola - shiny rendering of an impossible object.

As a designer, no cad is not critical. Just think of the hundreds of years (or even 30 years ago) all the designs that were made without cad. It’s only a tool, though of course pretty powerful. As a practicing, employable designer, however, that is a different question and most like cad is a critical skill.


It depends on what level and where you’re working. At smaller consultancies, they can’t afford to pay 3 different people for what one person can do. So in those places, you better know CAD really well. If you’re at a larger corporation/ consultancy, then you may be able to get away without having much experience in it, or at all. At the very least, I think you should have some working knowledge and be able to block in some rough models.

Exactly - and certain fields can exist fine without 3D. But these days it’s expected any college grad will have some amount of exposure to 3D. So if theres a bunch of great designers who are also good at 3D, and you - another great designer with no skills in 3d, you better have the rest of your skills so honed that it stands out.

3D is also an accelerator - some fields it may not matter like I mentioned earlier, but for anyone doing any kind of physical product thats going to wind up in someones hand, SOMEBODY is gonna have to do the 3D eventually. That step alone leaves a lot of risk for some engineer to ruin your design.


Why on earth would an up and coming designer NOT want to learn CAD? I’m so sick and tired of the “pretty picture” bullshit that people throw around on these boards. Brilliant people spent YEARS creating this software that can do absolutely amazing things. Take advantage of it. I’ve sent 3D models straight to Chinese vendors and gotten exactly what I want in return. This includes everything from a small plastic part to a full size chair. I don’t even need technical drawings half the time. You can’t do that with a sketch. Period.

Another point is if you are designing furniture, you have to take into account size and angles that have to stay in a range for comfort and function. A sketch can lie to you. Something may look great on paper, but when you apply all your ergonomic parameters it can look a lot different than what you originally intended. I often start a project like a chair by drawing a few basic lines in Pro/E that represent the size and angles I want. This way I have a guide to work with. I also prefer spinning my model around as I create it. This way I see it from every angle, instead of being locked down to one view at a time in a sketch.

I would say learn Solidworks or Pro/E. I prefer Pro/E because it can do a lot of things that Solidworks can’t. ISDX in particular.

Well, i’ve been turned down for an internship due to only having one 3D surface program on my CV.
I used Alias, they used Rhino and so did their other candidate. Just took up learning it, and I’m kinda kicking myself for not doing it earlier. It was a lot easier than I thought.

I suppose that it’s interns probably will do a quite a lot of the CAD-legwork, so it might be a bit more important there. But that is just an unqualified guess.

I agree with cdaisy, a CAD rendering is a lot more than a pretty picture, and while its not the only thing you need to work on, its an important part of the process. Factories in China take things very litereally, so providing them with a rendering can be very helpful in the sampleing process. I also often find myself finding new solutions when using 3D CAD that I don’t think of when I am sketching(often by mistake). Take the time to learn everything you can because at the very least it will help get your foot in the door, and not having the skills will close a lot of those doors.

Just for the record I did say that I was told by working consultancy designers that 3-D “great for the real world”. Obviously a product can’t be built by going off a 2d sketch alone. But what I was trying to say was that hand sketching and rendering skills with a 2d program can sometimes prove more useful in the real world (as I have been told) Just offering my .02 here and not trying to say that all CAD/modeling programs are useless.

Konstantin Grcic has built his success (and some awesome products) on a combination of creativity and maintaining design intent by being very hands on in the prototype/virtual modeling phase. So, it isn’t just for CAD monkeys.

CAD monkey is such an offensive term. Let’s go with CAD ninja. :wink:

CAD Monkey = obligatory “I pump CAD” Link

Don’t be that guy

CAD is a brilliant tool in a the hands of a designer who drives it and doesn’t let it drive them…