Cad Monkey.. Felt tip Fairy... Research drone...

Have you guys heard of these slangs? In my department, these terms seem to be flung around a great deal! So whats the verdict? Do these jobs really live up to the negative hype?

I don’t doubt that there are people out there that have exceptional skills in these areas!

Is there anywhere to look up the average salaries of these specific trades?

I’ve thought about this for a while now.

Lets use the “CAD Jockey” as the primary example.

It has many a negative connotation, and is nearly unanimously understood as being a “low rung” or “bad” position.

here’s my thoughts…

because it sucks to do one thing all day, everyday, all year. having your multi-faceted Industrial Design degree cut down to just one simple task is a slap in the face. its like telling a CEO to eliminate all other tasks in their work day, and just make copies. or telling a well-trained French chef that his only duty from now on is to mince garlic, nothing else.

sure, there are experts at mincing garlic, but thats only one of their skillsets.

theres no doubting that these “CAD Jockeys” are gods among the rest of us, but they’re not toned in the other steps of the Industrial Design process.

diversity is key with Industrial Design. thats what keeps me going personally. Right now I’m working on a shoe project, a business brief/bag project, and some secret little products for Nissan. when I get a bit exhausted from say… the 2d rapid ideation for the business brief/bag, I can switch over to research for Nissan cars, and then to model making for the shoe project. different projects, and different steps in the design process.

the pursuit of any Industrial Designer is to practice the Industrial Design process, and practice is well, and fully, not just one step of it.

I could definitely see it as being ‘typecasted’. A Samuel Jackson or Mr T of the Industrial Design world!

Experienced “CAD Jockey” in my neck of the woods (Upper Midwest)

Not too shabby… (via

I could definitely see it as being ‘typecasted’. A Samuel Jackson or Mr T of the Industrial Design world!

Exactly. well put example.

I always wonder about these actors who are classically trained, have gained their experience on Broadway, and then are type-casted into these “funny dumb guy” roles forever. I wonder if they’re always begging their manager to find them challenging roles.

A sell out of the soul and to their talents for the big bucks.

We’d all like to think we wouldn’t do it, but one would never know until put in that position.

Would I be a 3D CAD modeler 5 days/40hours a week for the rest of my life if I was paid $250k a year? Probably not. $1 million a year would be harder to turn down. Still, I don’t know if I could accept. Quality of life and personal worth/value are important to me, that’s all.

You make some great points there Taylor. I think the more creative minded you are the more difficult these stereotypical positions would be to stomach for a long time period. As you mentioned, it sucks doing 1 thing and only 1 thing all day everyday. Having had a CAD jockey position in my past, there is a little more to the job, but not much.

I agree with much of the above. I have been in this position before as more of a Rendering Jockey than a CAD Jockey. With renderings it gets really hard because you start to think of creative things to do in the renderings, but when it really comes down to it, it is just a picture of one concept, that usually is not yours. This can be really hard when you do not either agree with the direction of when you see real opportunity to change it and do not have that authority.

My advice to any one stuck in this position is to speak up. Part of being a designer is being able to sell your ideas and yourself. Sketch out some quick solutions and present them to the designer or whoever may be giving you the work.

If that does not work than have a positive attitude and think of it as being great experience in that particular software. Do mass amounts of sketching and other work in your free time and keep your skills up. This way when you go to find a new job you can say that you are an expert at X program but that is not all you can do and then show them your own personal work. Trust me I was there for a year and half doing 3DS Max and now I manage someone that does it for me. It helps that I have great knowledge in the program.

I am not a draughtsman, CAD Jockey etc I love the short creative phases and often view the threee months of calculations, engineering and refinement as less exciting, where as this is the sort of thing engineering types live for. I always think it depends on the type of person you are and the company you work for. I used to view people who just did CAD as monkeys/jockeys, engineers who wouldn’t understand beauty if it slapped them in the face, or designers who just wern’t good enough to cut it etc but I now realise they can add masses of value to a project/end product in refining, detailing, considering all the really little niggly things I get really fed up with etc.

There is a tendancy to view cad (B surfaces) as the bit you have to do to get your idea to market, not the bit that gets your product to market and takes it from an average poorly detailed part to something really well thought out inside and out. If you work for a company who’s managers view CAD draughtsmen as Jockeys then the job will be a drudgery. I worked for a company where Draughtsmen were massive contributors who added loads of value, designers may come up with the idea and add the icing, but it’s the draughtsmen who bake the cake. I’ve heard there are people who specialise in just making materials in Maya to apply to surfaces, it would bore the hell out of me, but I know they’re really valued because no one else can do what they do, there’s nothing like a bit of respect to make you want to go to work in the morning.

That’s the key to happy employment right there. No matter what your position. If you aren’t respected for what you contribute, you shouldn’t be there.

For a quarter mil a year I think I could model the same thing over and over and be happy about it! :smiley:

I take a different approach. I design in CAD. I work for a small company where I am pretty much the design department. My sketches are usually rough thumbnails that I use to get the idea rolling. Since a program like Pro/E is so insanely powerful and versitile I will continously tweak and tweak until I get exactly what I want. I have never been someone who enjoys doing tons and tons of sketches on the same idea. To me its way too tedious. I like editing in my head until the vision is about 80% there. I can make any change I want to the 3D model should the need arise.

I’ve gotten so fast designing in CAD that I can do something as complex as an office chair fully rendered in less than a day, so now I have hundreds upon hundreds of models and renders under my belt.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m a “Designer CAD Monkey”

And I love it!

These positions do exist and there are people that work this way, but in my opinion there will never be a replacement for the hand sketch. You can render a computer chair in less than a day, but I can give you 20-30 computer chairs in the same amount of time by hand. I do admit that there are areas and field where this is needed and I highly respect the ones that can fly through programs like ProE because it makes my life easier.

I’m not dismissing sketching. It definitely has its advantages (like using a bar napkin). My point is that CAD work doesnt have to be viewed as this boring tedious function in ID. Granted, you can sketch 20 to 30 chairs in a day, but ultimately how many of those sketches are going to move forward? Probably the top two or three? I wouldn’t even start a new office chair unless I had some sort of new idea in the first place. so what I’m saying is that I do the sketching in my head. I’m also virtually sketching as I’m modeling, and if I really need variations to show someone I can update the model over and over because its parametrically built. So in the end, If I need 20 office chairs I can modify the model, and I’ll have multiple CAD models to trump your sketches. Plus, the program itself will sometimes influence my designs because I can tinker around and wind up with a happy accident. This happens alot. Its like having a super pencil.

In a sense it is skipping a step, but thats kind of my point. Its just another road leading to the same place. Plus I don’t need someone else to do the modeling, so I keep all the original design intent. (at least until China gets hold of it).

I have noticed that anytime I bring up designing with CAD I get people on these boards looking to stab me with their pencils! What’s so wrong with thinking and doing differently? Isn’t that the purpose of design in the first place?

For $250k a year, I’d pump cad til my wrists fell off. :laughing:

I have noticed that anytime I bring up designing with CAD I get people on these boards looking to stab me with their pencils! What’s so wrong with thinking and doing differently? Isn’t that the purpose of design in the first place?

It’s just different ways of working. Trust me being a package designer there is a lot of CAD work that goes on. Whether it is in the Structure, or in the Graphics. I just think that it is sad that the skill of sketching is being given up to work through the problem electronically. There is a sense of freedom and a higher sense of creativity in a sketch. You are not relying on any other tools other than you mind, a pen, and the paper and what ever you put on the paper is all done by you. It also gives you the ability to think through a problem and not have to worry about how the computer is going to create it. This does not mean that you are not thinking about how the product is going to be produced and what need to go into it to create a great product.

In my opinion all of these are tools to get to the same goal. I just feel that sketching is the quickest and most efficient way to do rapid visualization.

Personally I’d sell out and do a specific job for the money, CAD monkey or what have you, as long as the company is good to work for and money’s fair. I can always do stuff I really want to do on the side. I’d rather work in the industry with a good company AND do personal stuff on the side, than be a cashier at McDonalds and doing personal stuff on the side.

wow, really? I can’t believe nobody has yet to call you out on this. “Designing” in CAD has nowhere near the flexibility of sketching. Maybe for subtle tweaks, when it’s almost complete and needs to be detailed, sure. But for initial exploration, while you can tweak a model to generate different versions and do so in a day, I can (or anyone) generate 50 completely different concepts on paper in an hour.

If you start the CAD as noted " I wouldn’t even start a new office chair unless I had some sort of new idea in the first place. so what I’m saying is that I do the sketching in my head", you are really losing out. Those ideas that you DON’T have in your head and come out of the sketching process are usually the ones that are the best. Throwing down a line and being surprised at what happens is the greatest skill a designer can have. Without it, you are just designing things you already know. Just as you mention the “happy accidents” that can happen with CAD, there is even more room for that in a sketch. Only so much can change in a CAD model as a result, as things are pretty fixed, but in a sketch you can completely interpret the lines in a totally new way.

20-30 chairs a day? more like per hour!

It’s great that you are proficient in CAD. But leading yourself to believe its a valid replacement for sketching I think you are deluding yourself and compromising your design ability.

This is by no means a personal knock at you, cdaisy, but I think the reality of the situation in most practices is very different from what you present. What we are talking about here, of course is the first exploratory steps of the design process and rapid viz. One model per day is not rapid, and starting with something you have in your head to build one model is not exploratory. Not to mention that half the beauty of presenting a sketch is that it can be interpreted a bit differently than intended which can lead to even better solutions. This is not possible where a CAD model is pretty resolved/finite in interpretation.

As for the original post, yes, there connotations to the terms mentioned, but like most stereotypes, in my opinion, they have some basis in truth. There are tons of people who can pump out CAD models very proficiently, but are hampered in creativity but what the app can produce and the rigidity of knowing how to build a model before the idea is fully baked. Likewise there are tons of people who can sketch there a$$es off, but have no knowledge of what is required to make a concept produceable, or how it will actually look in real life (car designers, I’m looking at you- every concept sketch is wicked awesome, even for an econobox when drawn in exaggerated perspective with 20" rims, but in reality it looks like crap).

The Key, I believe, to being a good designer is to have your fingers in as many pies as possible. Good sketching to explore a range of concepts quickly, good idea of how things are made so your concepts are more than a pipe dream, and a good understanding of what needs to be done to get it into production, being either knowing CAD or knowing someone who can do it and keep your design intent.

As for salaries on these different roles, I’m not sure if you’ll easily be able to compare, but what I do know is that the more “creativity/thinking” that goes into the process, generally the higher salary the position will command. You can get CAD work or web page programming done in China or India very inexpensively, but consulting or management is very rarely sourced out, nor is a good, competent designer who can sketch and knows the ins and outs of production and the process of bringing a product to market. Put it this way- in any company the guys at the top are usually the highest paid. They do the thinking, the ones below do the doing. You decide where each of the positions fit in to that spectrum.


Those ideas that you DON’T have in your head and come out of the sketching process are usually the ones that are the best. Throwing down a line and being surprised at what happens is the greatest skill a designer can have.

I hope that what cdaisy is trying to say is that us corporate guys don’t make beautiful sketches as much as functional sketches that a consultant might make.

I’m pretty good at drawing, but I mainly use it to communicate quickly in meetings. Probably more than half of the concepts that I present are computer renderings. Before I got my Wacom, it was even worse since making a decent hand render took so long. What I’ve found in my corporate gigs is people are expecting more refined concepts up front, so I try to do most of the sketch-ideation & refinement on my own. I consider it a perk of the job, in that I have more control on the final look. It’s kind of a pain in that I can’t have that fun bouncing-back-and-forth that I’ve had in other offices.

As for pay, I think CAD monkeys don’t get paid a lot. I think it’s fair, they’ve developed a particular skill to a high degree.

I’ve never heard of a felt-tip fairy. Is that a sketch guru? They certainly get the cool gigs, but I don’t think they necessarily make more than the rest of us.

I’ve never met a design research drone. Great term though.

lol, this is always a funny conversation.

how about this title, un-employed design enthusiast.

If you’re at a company that has any part of the product development process involved, it’s good experience. Taking a job at a deli because you think you are too good for cad, or sketching or prototyping is not good experience.

cad, research methods, sketching, rendering, rapid prototyping, modeling, and about a hundred other skills are just tools. If you have ever worked in a wood shop, you know you need lots of tools, but not all at the same time.

some people like cad, I’m not one of them, but if you are, be happy you are doing something you like, and ignore this cad-monkey/sketch jockey baloney.

I couldn’t agree more. Nothing annoys me more than to listen to some whine about being unemployeed but will not take work when it is given to them because it is not what they want to do. What evey you can do that will increase your career is a good thing. As long as it is creative and works towards the development of the product, like carton says go for it!!!