Are any 3D programs "intuitive"?

I’m learning SolidWorks 2004 and find it annoying. I hate having to switch between modes, such as 3D sketching and drawing on faces, then needing to exit sketching to morph a volume. I really don’t like how SolidWorks doesn’t let you do certain operations in some modes. For example if you are working in normal sketch mode (not 3D sketch) it seems you can’t do a “sweep”. It seems random when certain operations are not allowed.

I’m sure SolidWorks has some great qualities if you want to specify pipe fitings, but I find it to quirky for dealing with less predictable shapes.

Disclosure: I’m not an industrial designer. I’m doing an ID class at the moment to broaden my skill set, but my background is usability, hence my impatience with clumsey software.

What CAD is easiest, that still does something meaningful?

This is bound to get lots of personal choice responses, but so far I like the interface to Ashlar Vellum Xenon/Cobalt (using it on the Mac, but PC is supposed to be the same). It’s intuitive, has no dongle, and is relatively inexpensive.

…but really, none of them are totally intuitive UI’s.

Good luck

…intuitive and meaningful are relative i suppose…over the last 20 years i have had to learn seven different cad software packages (a-v not one of them, so i cannot speak to it)…surfaces create geometry something like a carpenter would (one stick at a time) and solids create geometry something like a sculptor or a potter might (remove a chunk/add a chunk)…an over simplification to be sure…solids do it quickly and surfaces allow more control…parametric solids take it to another level altogehter…most gui’s can be tweeked to your needs or preferences once you learn the software command structure…personally, i agree with the you on the module to module switching thing common to solids, so a good surface program like alias or rhino works for me and i can still do quick boolean ops with solids when needed…

I’ll vote for Rhino. Cheap, fast and easy, 3 characteristics that have often been mutually exclusive.



The Ashlar Vellum stuff is anything but intuitive when compared to Rhino.

I will vote for anything other than Vellum/Cobalt- it is easy to learn- but extremely difficult to do anything organic… and don’t even get me started on their trackball and awful scaling/rotating/moving tools.

Go with Maya- it is not necessarily “intuitive”- but powerful and capible of anything your creativity can conjure up.

the only software that i find to be intuitive is software that i already know how to use.

as an usability expert i think that you have your work cut out for you and the future needs you.

i think that a particular hurdle that 3d software faces is that the creators are always short one dimension in terms of the interface. there is nothing intuitive about squeezing 3 dimensional data into a 2 dimensional interface.

solidworks, being a parametric modeller, is driven by constraints, hence requires a very specific methodology for form creation. this does lead to what i would consider a very slow, and unspontaneous form creation process… but soldiworks was never designed to save you time up front, it was designed to save you time in the development back-end… through the tedious methodology of defining every constraint of plane, curve, radii as you build you create a powerful set of relationships that can save you a tonne of time as you have to tweak parameters for manufacture and update drawings for ISO standards or whatever. but if you aren’t going to capitalize on those features then all that you are left with is a tedious way of building. the same is, of course, true of all parametric modelling software.

Surface modellers like alias studiotools and rhino can be much more fluid in terms of form creation… if you want to pull something, you pull it. if you want to move something up and over, you move it up and over etc. What you give up for this fluid process is the ability to tweak relationships after the fact. Studiotools does have build history which can be exploited but it is not, nor is it meant to be, in the same league as parametric modellers. Artistically, these packages can help you to create some amazing forms that would be extremely frustrating to creating in a parametric modeller.

But in both cases, parametric vs surfacing software, you have to work through a learning curve in order to understand the paradigm that they have use to cram 3 dimensions onto a 2 dimensional interface.

As far as learning where features are and how to move the model around in space… well… you kinda just have to learn it. i would say that the Alias Studiotools interface is a good one… but that is because i know how to use it. For that same reason i find Rhino’s interface frustrating… because i wonder why the tools aren’t where they are in Alias. I can also work quite fluidly in Solidworks, but that because i’ve been using it for about 6-7 years.

Sorry, doesn’t really answer the question. I suppose the answer to the question “what 3d software is intuitive?” is really “none, they all have a learning curve”. I would suggest that whatever package will give you the final results you require is the one that i would spend the time investment to learn… as usual, you have to know where you want to go before you can get excited about getting there.


I’ve been a Studiotools user for around 7 years, and have fairly recently started to train junior members of the team from the ground up. I’d never noticed before, but for a new user, the ST interface can be pretty illogical - I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to explain exceptions to rules in the interface. Perseverence pays off though - and once you really get to grips with the radial marking menus (in particular) that allow you to select tools/modifiers with gestures of the mouse rather than hunting for icons, it makes navigating through menu trees or even doing an impression of ‘twister’ with your hands on keyboard combinations suddenly seem awkward and counter-intuitive.
For me, while there may be better alternatives to ST for the early stages of learning, an experienced user can design faster and more intuitively, because if you’ve lost interest in what you’re doing by getting bogged down by the interface, that’s going to show itself in the design.

Before Rhino, I had never used 3D software before Rhino and had only been using CorelDraw and SignLAB for 2D work. Even though I had my basic hand drafting, I only had an overview of AutoCAD.

It took me a day to get the basics of Rhino a week of fooling around to make rudimentary models. After a month, I knew most of what I needed to model most things.

Their on-line web newsgroup is one of the most efficient tech support solutions I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a problem go without a company response longer than about 60 minutes and the other users usually have a solution in 5 minutes or less.

I would happily pay full price with my own money to have this software.


Go for Rhino. I used Solidworks as well for ages, im quite sure that is a pretty accurate software, but its more for engineers not so much for ID. Try Rhino or Alias, theyre definitly more friendly and intuitive, the only limit for them is your hability

Rhino for easy to learn, but I am so used to Alias’s marking menus that I keep doing that even in Rhino when I need to jump back and forth between programs.

I experience the same kind of hilarity, trying to use Rhino’s CTRL/SHIFT/CLICK functions for zoom and pan with Word, Photoshop, et al.

As for accuracy… I model at a tolerance of 1E-06, export to IGES at 1E-05 and my vendors that have Solidworks, ProE, AutoCAD and SLA machines have no problem with importing.

As I’ve said to others many times, engineers need to take a few art classes and artists need to take a little math, which is what seems to have happened over at the Rhino camp.


a number of people have highlighted a big issue with usability… who is trying to use it and what are they using it to do?

the interface that is best for a beginner would be one that led them through the use paradigm slowly with (probably) layers of links that would guide them through to the feature they were looking for. it might be like a well constructed government website (if such a thing exists) designed to take the first time user deeper and deeper into the functions until they found what they were looking for.

such an interface would, of course drive an expert modeller, or video editor, or any regular application user crazy. it would be so slow. the trade off is the learning curve. my studiotools interface would look ridiculous to a first time user… not only because of the software itself but because i have, over the years, customized everything… hot keys, shelves, marking menus etc.

it fits me like a good pair of broken in leather shoes, that would give anyone else blisters. so for me customization is a key feature of a good interface.

Go for Rhino 3.0 as it is very inexpensive and has a very good performance. There is also alot of render engine choice :slight_smile:

I also used Unigraphics NX 3.0 at my job, but this is another liga. It is very expensive, but it is very intuitive. You can put sketch in 3D mode (not sketch mode), so you do not have to switch between modes.

Personaly, I do not like the rendering engine of Unigraphics. I use instead the free POVRay :sunglasses:

So in the end putting everything into perspective, software is as different as humans. Meaning that we all think a little different and interact with the software differently. I have seen people that can wrap the heads around Alias and work with it to the Nth degree. Put them on Pro/E and its like they can’t even get an extrude.

Of course I am exaggerating, but the point being that all of these respective programs are tools to get the job done. There are pros and cons to all of them. This is nothing new, we have all gone around in this circle in numerous threads.

To userinnovation…
If you are trying to do a sweep, the simple rule, you can’t be in a sketch to start it. This is consistent across the board. This is and has always been the way it has been done in SW. Once you get use to the paradigm of what ever program it will become 2nd nature.

Last but not least, look at all the programs, and how far it can take you. They can all be manufactured off of (i.e. if you build it right they can take an IGES and make it) but some of the programs can let you check the tooling paths, molds as they are being injected, and assemblies where you check for interference detection. Most designers don’t know the full extent of what it takes to manufacture with the tolerances and materials that they are working with, at least not in the beginning. It is something you learn as you go, because most schools don’t go too in depth when it comes to that aspect for designers. Of the 4 programs at the forefront, only 2 can do that. Solidworks and Pro/E. And in the end it is all about getting it made right the first time (as if there really is such a thing)