Best software for concept design

Hi everyone,

So i am new to this site, but let me say, it is absolutely amazing…the stuff that is on here and the wealth of knowledge you all have. That being said, I am new to design and I am looking for a good design software that will allow me to create consumer products ranging from backpacks, shoes, to bookcases etc… Can anyone give me a hand here? I have been on-line and looked over Rhino and some of the CAD programs but I’m not sure if that’s what I want or need. I would prefer a program that would be easy to use but give me some versatility in the products I want to create. Thank you in advance for all your replies…


A few questions:

  1. Are you looking for something that would be used purely for concept development and say renderings. Were in the final design would be rebuilt in another program for manufacturing

  2. Is there a particular field that you are working in or is it general. ie furniture / plastics/ consumer goods / electronics…

  3. So you have a budget?

  4. What are all the things you want to do? i.e Form development / renderings / animations / engineering data base…

  5. Are you looking for one package to do it all or multiple package?

  6. What is you background?

No software needed my friend:

A piece of paper, ballpoint pen and access to a workshop.


Dont forget the main software-your brain :slight_smile:
Software will help you detail a little better, but you are better off coming up with the ideas and concepts on paper.
Photoshop, Rhino, Solidworks, proE (Crea?), model making all have their place. But if you can get the ideas correct with paper and pencil you are usually much better off.

Parametric modeling software is your best bet. Programs like Solidworks and Creo (Pro/E) are pretty standard in the industry. It’s usually the engineers who know this software, but these are very, very powerful programs and if you use them creatively you can get amazing results. Plus, you will have an easier time communicating your idea to an engineering department or a manufacturer because they can pick up and use your files directly, instead of trying to decipher your sketches.

The parametric element is important because it allows you to keep and organize the entire construction history of your model. For example if you are designing your bookcase and decide later that you want the shelves to be an inch closer to each other all you need to do is change a few numbers, hit refresh and voila! The entire model will update. You don’t have to start from scratch every time you want to tweak something. Best of all any dimension drawings of the model you made automatically update too. This can be a big time saver in the long run.

You’ll run into some occasional CAD resistance on these boards unfortunately. Personally I see nothing wrong with expanding your skill set to include CAD. The more you know the better you’ll be, and there is no law that says you can only design something using one technique.

If you are new to design, I strongly recommend that the only kind of software you use is the grey squishy stuff between your ears.

Just brain + pencil.

To design is to think and problem solve, and as a new designer you need to explore that and develop your thinking skills. Getting into any CAD or anything of the like will only limit you to solutions you can make with your new, limited CAD skills.

Once you are a full fledged, thinking designer, by all means use any tool (CAD, markers, clay, chainsaws, LEGO, etc.) you like as long as the tool enables, not defines your problem solving process.


Thanks everyone for the responses. As far as budget I am a student, however I work full-time so I can afford to spend a little bit, plus through my school i get a huge discount on software. My background is Industrial engineering, however I want to have not only the technical side but the creative side. I want to have the power of both designer and engineer when it comes to product development. I do not want to limit myself on one particular field, meaning consumer electronics, or furniture. I can tell you I dont want to do landscaping or buildings (not for me).

I guess my main point to the original post is this, what program out there is the easiest to pick up for rendering, modeling, etc? I would like to have it all in one, however I know sometimes you have to give a little quality say on rendering for modeling. So I am not opposed to getting different programs to complete all my work. I understand that drawing is crucial in getting my idea across, but I feel that a drawing is just a skeleton for me to finish my work on a modeling program. I must also clarify that I am using these programs for professional use, not to just create stuff and place it in my livingroom, It needs to have more meaning then that. Thanks again…

P.S. does anyone on here know besides youtube, where I can get some good knowledge of Rhino? And in your opinion, if Rhino better or easier to use than Solidworks?

Wow. What a (generally) glib bunch of responses so far.

I’m picking up what you’re putting down, but your advice seems a little off-putting. The end message is getting a little lost in the delivery.

Here’s what I’d recommend (starting loose and basic, and getting more complex)

  • Start paper-based, with pen and markers. Work at making clear, thoughtful sketches quickly and with quality.

  • When you’re comfortable with your paper-based sketching, work at either scanning the work in and using Adobe Photoshop to punch it up a bit (don’t overwork it - keep it alive and organic!) or use some sort of stylus-based input (Wacom or other) and start using digital ‘paper’. Again, keep it alive!

  • As you want to get tighter and more defined with your work, find some other 2d software to enhance and oftentimes ‘realize’ your ideas - I would suggest Adobe Illustrator, or other 2D vector tools (even Ashlar Vellum, etc.) and then Adobe Photoshop to help punch that ‘tighter’ work up a bit. Typically, this 2d kind of work helps tighten up loose ideas into some sort of realizable state, in preparation for some sort of next-step 3d work.


  • Work at creating real 3d physical models - foam/foamcore/wood/fabric/plastics/whatever. Find a material (some are easier to ‘work’ than others) and and learn how to shape it and use it to make your ideas. Find bits of real products out there to learn how they work, solve a problem or can help inspire you.

  • If getting physical fast isn’t your thing, this next part has a lot of choices - 3d modeling software. Lots of choices, range of costs, tradeoffs, strong points, etc. Look at Rhino, FormZ, Solidworks, Pro-E, Alias Studio and others. Some are very ‘engineering’ or reality-minded like Solidworks and Pro-E. These tools are used by designers and engineers to actually create products (with the proper grey matter) and can be used in a variety of ways to show concepts and completed plans for products. Alias and others like it are wonderful designer-based modelling tools that are geared more towards the designer than the engineer. A little more ‘flexible’ on the inputs and allowing the bending of physics a bit more to get a design-intent or idea across.

Again - start simply and master the basics before you jump into a complicated tool. The tool can define you, and can be used to put you into a specific box you may or may not want to be put in. Expose yourself to all these tools and more, and I will guarantee you that you will find the tool(s) that work best for you.

  • mid-westerner -

Not sure what you mean by this? I think all the replies thus far have been pretty informative and constructive.



Looks like you posted while I was crafting my response…some of my advice looks like it isn’t up your alley.

Look at Solidworks and Pro-E (CDRS? Forgot what the ‘design’ package is called now). Both will allow you to place loose concept sketches/concepts as jpegs or the likes into your modeling view to be used to trace CAD control lines around. Helps to bridge the gap from sketch to CAD model.

I know several designers who ‘design’ by only using Solidworks and Pro-E, so the tool can be used that way. Those tools also have the benefit of being able to realize the design as a real, designed and engineered product.

Per Rhino - it’s a good design tool, but it’s use really stops there. At some point, a design out of Rhino will be made real and ‘realized’ in a CAD program like Solidworks and/or Pro-E…

  • mid-westerner -


It seemed like some responses were focused more on ‘work on your brain and use a pencil to draw’ than giving some usable tools.

I think your advice is sound on a foundation-level, but I was getting the sense that folks were trying to slap some training wheels on for a person who wasn’t sure they wanted to ride a bike, a skateboard, rollerskates or drive a car.

I don’t want to arm a person to help them run before they can walk, but, regardless, it seems like folks weren’t offering many tool suggestions.

Just my $0.02. Please take no offense, as none was intended.

  • mid-westerner -

All good. I think the replies were just more of the “the answer to your question is to question your question” type that trying to be glib. That’s all.


Wow…I have a lot to learn. Thanks for all the info. Mid-Westerner, thanks for the help, I understand what your saying and i know there is a lot to learn. Thats why i am here, and I am blessed with peers like all of you to help guide me in the right direction (or at least give me advice).

Good luck! Keep in mind that some of these software packages have student versions that are cheap and allow you to learn the software without dropping thousands of dollars. You just can’t export the models you make in them.

I think why I want to learn the programs is because I sometimes have a hard time drawing what it is I am trying to get across (if that makes sense). With that being said I have messed around on Photoshop and Illustrator (by no means am I great at them) and it seems as if my talent or point that I want to reach is much more effective that way.

The product that I am trying to come up with is a backpack, do you think I can do this on a CAD so I can have the 3d, or do you think its better on something like Illustrator? By the way you guys rock! I will take all responses, even if they are straight to the point, they all hold value and I understand its your opinion so no worries.

I would disagree Rich, the original post was about software, most all the responders felt like it was their job to tell the person their opinion on what he needed to learn first and not actually answer his question :wink:

The biggest advice I can offer no mater what software you go with is to learn the technique first! What i mean is most all surface modelers are the same, this goes along with Solid modelers and renders. Keeping in mind that Surface modeling and solid modeling take two extremely different approaches. But if you learn how to surface in Rhino it will be very easy for you to pick up another surface modeler like Alias. Same goes for Solid modeling., you will just need to learn where the buttons are.

Also a good foundation or back ground knowledge will help you with the 3 types of software you are looking at.

Solid Modeling = back ground knowledge in machining and shop tools

Surfacing = back ground knowledge in complex form development, sculpting, clay modeling

Rendering = background knowledge in photography and physic.

The quickest method is to slap down some rough sketches even if they are just for you to understand and are not pretty. You will hear from everyone here the quickest way to explore a concept although sometimes the most painful is to get better at sketching and the only way to do that is practice practice practice. (base line response)

Now I know many successful and talented designers who will scribble down some of their ideas that are almost illegible to all but people with an eye to see it. And they they move straight to a CAID package to bring it to a level that all can understand. keeping in mind that even the scribble although not visually pretty is an awesome concept… but to get to their end results does take longer then the designer who has the same idea and can sketch like a Yo (just seeing if you are reading Yo :wink:

I myself fall between the two styles mentioned above and utilize CAID to help enhance and refine my sketch and concept development.

I think east-coaster was right on with the suggestions. Sketch and work through the basic concepts in a way that very little stand between you and a quick visualization. The more you can do the better to get familiar and explore A project the better. Later on you want to be able to present the ideas to someone and want something slicker looking, here is where the computer can come in if you are not a presentation style of draftsman.

Soft articles, shoe, backpacks, etc, are almost never modeled in 3D for real production. Those are all done in vector programs or drafted. Molded parts are modeled in 3D. Bookshelf, volumes that hold rectangular objects lend themselves to a solid modeler program.

I worked on a few backpacks, my personal (non backpack specialist) method was to use rhino to build a quick volume of the pack and the shoulder and hip straps, four view render in black and white and composite in Photoshop and fade to 25% values. Light grey on the page. Then print out ten pages, and with pen and pencil and some light marker, work over the images. Each design explored in the various angles. Suspension and linkages sketched over, panels and webbing. This gives a nice solid framework to each variation and keeps the proportions accurate.

Any tool can shape the way you think about approaching designing something. This is true across the gamut of design tools from manual to digital. Even a pencil and pen have a different approach. Modeling with surfaces, or with adding and subtracting solids, shape your creative brain into a certain kind of channel. Forming a 2d curve with bezier points shapes your brain. Try to keep in mind the flexibility of generating concepts, and meeting the needs of the end use, and not the cool seductive tools.

Nxakt and Chevisw thank you very much for the feedback. It helps a lot. I will keep everything that you said in mind. Thanks to everyone!