This paper synthesises the prevailing theoretical and empirical literature on how the use of computer aided design (CAD) software has impacted on design education. The paper begins by contextualising the introduction of CAD software within design education and presents a number of factors which have contributed to its rapid uptake within design education and practice. The paper then presents a number of positive and negative impacts of CAD on design education and evaluates these with respect to a number of identified motivations.
The paper concludes with a pragmatic reflection on the evaluated evidence and calls for indepth empirical research into the role and function of CAD is design education and a necessity for design educators and software engineers to work closely to ensure that future potential is maximised.
CAD has had a radical impact upon the teaching, learning and practice of design (Brown, 2009). With a long history of workplace apprenticeships, artisan guilds and craftspeople, the design profession has grown, responded, directed and adapted in tandem with the development of complex human civilisations. While the evolution of design education and practice advanced slowly, the introduction of CAD sparked a rapid shift in all aspects of design over a very short period of time (Lawson, 2005).
Prior to the introduction of CAD, design was essentially a hands-on process involving a variety of physical media and manual tasks. Over the course of a few hundred years’ primitive communication tools were replaced by a succession of technological advancements, which culminated in the invention of the computer in the mid-1900s. With the introduction of workable CAD applications in the early 1980’s, design education and practice underwent immense change (Brown, 2009); And what began life as a technical draughting tool rapidly became integral to all stages of design practice and education (Tai, 2003; Musta’amal, Norman & Hodgson, 2009; Chester,2006).
The swift uptake and increasing importance of CAD was, and continues to be, driven by one key factor: CAD’s ability to meet industrial demands for production efficiencies. (Brown, 2009). While industrial efficiencies remain the primary motivation, CAD’s ability to reduce much of the tedium associated with design work provided designers with more time to focus the more engaging aspects of design; a factor that was instrumental in encouraging them to adopt and exploit technological advancements (Scales & Sneider, 1999).
Taking the above into account, Reffat (2007) notes that despite the pervasive infiltration of CAD into both design education and practice, and it’s increasing importance in both spheres (Brown, 2009), the vast majority of design schools still rely upon manual techniques of sketching and drawing similar to those used at the beginning of the last century; this reluctance is attributed to the general perception that manual drawing skills are fundamental to underpinning good design education (Akalin & Sezal, 2009).
2.0 The arguments for positive impact
This section will present arguments for the positive impacts of CAD on design education within two categories; its facilities for enhancing the communication and presentation of design ideas and its ability to aid the development of design cognition.
Although there is no consensus between design educators on the role or even validity of computers within design education and no firm pedagogical base exists for their effective use in developing design skills, several positive impacts have been reported (Ley, 2007). CADs introduction to design education has facilitated students with limited literacy and numeracy skills the opportunity to explore design fields, and by freeing students from the more tiresome aspects of design it has provided additional time to explore wider fields of study (Brown, 2009). It also provided students with an adaptive media for creating, refining and evaluating complex models, which in turn could be efficiently translated into real products (Scales & Sneider, 1999). In addition, CAD has been highly praised for enhancing student ability to represent, develop, communicate and present ideas effectively (Robertson & Radcliffe 2009) and to do so through a variety of formats (Tai, 2003). The advent of the Internet and ubiquitous connectivity has further enhanced these positive impacts by facilitating sharing and collaboration of design ideas (Ley, 2007; Shniederman, 2007).
Cil and Pakdil (2007) note that use of CAD, especially in 3-Dimensional formats, can aid the development of perceptual skills in design students, an argument supported by Chester (2006), who states that CAD can assist in the development of spatial abilities. It has also been reported that CAD can assist in the development of creative thinking skills by providing students effective communication and evaluation tools (Bonnardel & Zenasni, 2010; Robertson & Radcliffe, 2009). The latter also note that CAD, if used early on in a design process, in an unstructured way and in association with other media, can be an extremely effective educational artefact.
While evidence highlights a lack of consensus between educators on the role and validity of Cad in design education, consensus does exist in relation to the fact that the creative educational possibilities of CAD have not yet been fully recognised or developed (Radclyffe-Thomas, 2008), and on-going advancements in connectivity, interfaces and content are likely to further strengthen CAD’s positive impact on design education (Ley, 2007).
3.0 The arguments for negative impact
This section will present arguments for the negative impacts of CAD on design education under two categories; the development and assessment of design skills and the limitations of interface and software.
Although CAD has been shown to aid in the development of design skills, Lawson (2002) notes mounting evidence that CAD infiltration in design education is resulting in good design skills being supplanted by good computer skills. The infiltration and emphasis on CAD, and the isolated nature of traditional CAD work, has also been shown to undermine the beneficial aspects of peer to peer, and peer to teacher collaboration and interaction (Brown, 2009). This face-to-face social interaction is widely held as an important element of design education (Robertson & Radcliffe, 2009).
Assessment of design skill development traditionally happens on a continual basis and has centred, for at least the last 100 years, on the studio critique (Wang, 2010). Although the awarding of formal grades in respect to perceived achievement embodies aspects of behavioural psychology, the physical processes of social interaction, engagement, constructive dialogue, collaboration and reflection encompasses many positive elements of social constructivism (Wang, 2010; Beecher, 2006; Doris, Giovana & Valéria, 2010). A criticism of CAD use by students in relation to this activity, particularly in the early stages of design development, is that it reduces the volume of material available for discussion, thus undermining the potential value of any constructivist engagement (Brown, 2009).
The evidence of negative impact is further strengthened by general perceptions among many design educators that CAD is merely a tool for enhancing good design (Unver, 2006). CAD has also been criticised for creating the illusion of completeness and precision, which has been shown to discourage further exploration of design ideas (Robertson, 2007). In a later study, Robertson and Radcliffe (2009) demonstrated that design exploration can also be limited to software capability rather than imagination.
One of the most significant negative impacts of CAD on design education is the challenge it presents to new students. In addition to being faced with the task of comprehending the design lexicon, design students then have to overcome the challenge of translating it into the unfamiliar and often complex command language of CAD software (Lang; Eberts, Gabel & Barash, 1991). This necessary translation has been shown to undermine other subject areas (Bonnardel & Zenasni, 2010). Further complicating this challenge are the physical interfaces of modern computers, which have been shown to stymie creativity (Burleson and Selker, 2002), and the complex functionality of contemporary CAD software, which can serve to distract designers (Lawson, 2002; Robertson & Radcliffe, 2009). Research undertaken by Robertson and Radcliffe has also shown that student users of CAD applications have a tendency to over use it even where more appropriate tools are available.
4.0 Factors contributing to on-going negative impacts
This section will explore a number of key factors contributing to the on-going negative impacts with a view to directing further study. Contributory factors are categorized as; perception and attitudes, and financial issues.
The rapid pace of development and assimilation of CAD into design education has seen educators, many of whom were trained in a pre CAD era, caught short and playing catch-up (Pektas & Erkip, 2006). This situation is worsened further by the lack of any consensual pedagogical framework for how CAD should be employed in design education (Cil & Pakdil, 2007) and perceptions among educators that computers are purely functional tools, which do too much for students (Pektas & Erkip, 2006; Radclyffe-Thomas, 2008). Compounding these problems is a fear among educators that the introduction of more technology will result in increased class size, reduced contact time (Ley, 2007), revision of content and methodology or perhaps even redundancy (Cil and Pakdil, 2007). A number of researchers also note that the majority of design educators see design as an intuitive, creative, opportunistic and divergent process encompassing emotion, empathy and liminality. This conflicts strongly with their views of computers, which are seen are rational, mathematical, deductive and convergent (Carroll, 2010; Tai 2003; Bonnardel & Zenasni, 2010; Bipin, Indurkhya, 1997). The above is noted and counterbalanced by ?enyapili and Basa (2006) who suggest that the oscillation and tension between the fields of science and art in design actually creates a rich, competitive educational domain.
Another significant factor influencing the role and function of CAD within design education, and one that is especially significant given the current economic environment is financial cost. While the rise in CAD use is principally driven by industrial appetite for efficiency, the knock-on effect for educational institutions has been a considerable burden of extra cost (Kallis & Fritz, 2009). This burden, seen in the context of a weak or non-existent educational framework, is of significant importance, especially in light of evidence that CAD vendors have promoted software with the false idea that once you’ve mastered it you are a designer (Robertson, Joachim & Radcliffe, 2007).
There can be no doubt that CAD has a huge impact on both design practice and education, and as the evidence suggests, there is a diversity of contrasting and conflicting opinion, attitude and perception on the role and function of CAD and the impact it has had upon design education. What can be inferred from the evidence is that there is a real need to move away from the current descriptive, anecdotal and positively focused research on technology in design education (Ley, 2007) towards more indepth empirical studies. Perhaps what is more accurate to say is that CAD is essentially neutral and that further research should focus primarily on developing a thorough understanding of the motivations, perceptions and attitudes of relevant stakeholders. Findings from such research could be utilised to create conditions advantageous to maximising positive outcomes for CAD use in design education.
In addition to this need for empirical research, there is a more pressing, urgent need to foster and environment in which design educators and software engineers are encouraged to work closely to ensure applications and interfaces become more intuitive, adaptive to learner styles and human cognitive processes (Bonnardel & Zenasni, 2010).
“The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.”Sydney J. Harris
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