Surfacing and Industrial Design

Hey guys, let me ask you a question… What’s the reality today for surfacing and surface designers specifically in the North American and European ID field? (not considering the automotive segment).

Anyways, something to consider or mostly unnecessary? They’re important, of course, when working with sculptural surfaces and really tight tolerances. But, is there an advantage in keeping a culture of a continued “Surfacing Thinking” and having this kind of professional inside the ID studio? Holistically speaking, do you think the design output is significantly affected?

Greetings from Rio!

I don’t personally know any dedicated CAD surface jockeys. Most of the designers I know are “good enough” in whatever garden-variety CAD package - Alias, SolidWorks, Rhino, Fusion, whatever - to produce surfaces that are good enough for the industries they serve. There are some CAD technicians at Teague doing aerospace interiors stuff but they need that role to produce highly realistic images for their customers.
Sorry to nitpick on your posting, but I would separate ‘sculptural surfaces’ from ‘tight tolerances’ as I think those two phenomena stem from different approaches, and only the first one would be pertinent to high-end CAD surfacing.
Would love to hear other opinions/knowledge on this topic as I’ve wondered as well.

I think Slippyfish is right about designers being “good enough for the industries they serve,” but I think that usually will involve some surface modeling and understanding of curvature continuity, etc. I’ve worked with great engineers who even have an eye towards aesthetics, but are biased towards function and whatever is easiest to model. That’s fine, but it means that the designer has to be able to create whatever nice surfaces are necessary and be the one who is in charge of monitoring and checking the surface quality. And perhaps it’s obvious, but you need some knowledge and skill in your CAD software to do this. I think one of the most difficult things for a designer with minimal CAD experience to do is to not limit their forms to whatever they can do easily in CAD. I cringe when I see a student portfolio with a flowy form in the sketches and really basic geometry in CAD renders. Hopefully it is rarely that extreme for professionals, but it still takes some CAD skill to not let CAD dictate your form.

Absolutely agree. And since its not a stand-alone CAD position it just means the designer has to do their utmost to learn and practice the best methods for building and rebuilding to get the best results. SolidWorks can do fantastic surface work, its just the opposite of intuitive to learn and execute. And yes, if you aren’t babysitting that CAD file all the way to the cutting tool, someone might miss your intent completely and just hack a plain-old fillet in where you spec’d a C2.

I think good surfacing theory and practice has a huge impact on your design and design intent and needs to be embedded in the culture and taught early. One of my first conversations with any new engineer I am working with is around surfacing so it doesn’t come as a surprise later in the process. It can be challenging at times when you may lose control downstream. It’s not just about aesthetics, it can have benefits to molding, forming, strength, adhesion, surface continuity can have many benefits, but the ability to understand, communicate, and maintain intent from handoff to production can certainly present challenges.

Hear hear. CAD surfacing is an essential skill for any industrial designer, you would only opt to not focus on it if design is not a driver for your business whatsoever. How much surface tension to apply in the model, advanced blending solutions to improve the flow, knowing what type of surface works on which scale and for which material and manufacturing process, are essential benefits. I also see many engineers with surfacing skills definitely good enough to be part of a design studio - this isn’t something very rare.

The surfacing guys who are sharp are the ones pushing the envelope of what the CAD tools can do. Generative design, Grasshopper, VR studio and algorithms are additional areas where this specialty CAD niche gets resources to experiment.

You really need to identify what manufacturing technologies you will be working with in order to decide what approach to CAD tools is necessary for product development. It makes no sense to use surface tools with a grasshopper plugin to generate concepts when none of your tooling or manufacturing resources are still operating in the 20th century. A good design director will know how these parts of the design process intersect and can plan strategy with aplomb.