Cloud9 cheating?

“Is a designer  ‘cheating’ if they use 3D modelling packages that are incredibly ‘easy to learn and use’ ?” 

A CAD user remarked that a designer is ‘cheating’ by using easy to learn haptic 3D modelling package (specifically Anarkik3D’s haptic Cloud9) for her design work. My supposition about what is meant here by cheating is that CAD users have invested heavily, money as well as a lot of their time, to get to the professional level their work requires and that using less complex packages such as Sketchup, Sculptris, K3D etc (which are also free) or ‘easy to use’ Cloud9 is a major cop-out.

I have countered a similar putdown from CAD users when I have demonstrated Cloud9 by reiterating that Cloud9 has been developed specifically for the needs of non CAD users who are professional designer makers and applied artists who want to access digital technologies such as 3D printing and machining. It is also an ideal tool for product designers for ‘quick and dirty’ modelling and early concept generation, as it complements the more prescriptive aspects of CAD. Adoption is not underhand in any way, just a different but more straight forward way of interacting and modelling in 3D that actually suits a lot of us.

There are reasons and times when ‘cheating’, as it were, and exploiting easier to learn and use 3D modelling software is appropriate!

  • many do not need CAD’s high level functionality and complexity: therefore avoid the effort, pain, time and money that CAD requires of its users. Those who need CAD’s functionality can justify the commitment.
  • only a small percentage of time might be spent designing: one-person bands have to do other things to make a living: make, market, sell, , etc.. With CAD complexity and incoherent interfaces it can be difficult to retain know how about functions when there has been a time gap.
  • achieving a balance between CAD proficiency and hands-on time in the workshop which has to be sufficient to gain and maintain skills, knowledge about materials, properties and the processes to successfully make artefacts. This knowledge and know-how is crucial for designing, whether on paper or on the computer.

Steep learning curves negate this balance. CAD originates in engineering and is designed and developed to specifically deal with the complexity and prescriptiveness essential for engineering industries, product manufacturing, architecture and construction. So it possess an inbuilt way of doing and thinking that is different to the way many designer makers, etc. think and do, making the curve steeper.

  • a great many of us must be ‘wired’ differently to CAD users:  to adapt and switch to conventional CAD practices is difficult, even more time consuming and enough of a soul-destroying thankless task to deter us from either starting on this path or reaching any reasonably competent level.
  • CAD blocks creativity. CAD is not designed and developed as a creative tool, per se. Of necessity it is a prescriptive system and its complexity is reflected in and dominates its interface. Cognitive flow is central for all creative work BUT the merest digression such as frustration finding where in the menus a specific function can be accessed severely disrupts flow. That brilliant idea immediately dissipates possibly forever.

For a huge group of us CAD is basically a lousy tool for designing in both 2D and 3D. This is bad news when we need digital data to be able to access digitally controlled manufacturing systems such as laser and water-jet cutting, 3D printing and machining:  CAD is a major barrier. We do want systems more adapted to how we work, design and practice with the applied arts and making, that ARE easy and non-complex to learn and use, that are highly usable. This is not about ‘cheating’ any system, it is about including.

I have a request regarding the many designer makers and other very creative people who are not CAD literate, who want to access both the amazing digital functionality and the valuable risk free environment that computers do provide, and the cutting, printing and machining that can offer a route to a more sustainable business.

It is to the gatekeepers of these technologies who are mostly extremely CAD literate and totally at ease with it, to please recognise that many of us are not at all at ease with it, to not be patronising, to encourage and support. Please be more inclusive. The following thoughts might help:

  • Include ‘easy to learn and use’ 3D modelling software in your courses in schools, colleges, where-ever. Who knows, these made make CAD easier to comprehend and get into
  • female only classes: some of us cope well with CAD and with machinery and mechanical devices, a huge number don’t and guys can be very intimidating. We need to go with our own methods and at our own pace, and some guys might also appreciate this approach
  • introductory events, demonstrations, videos, better manuals and tutorial materials, all in  straightforward  language without jargon, specifically targeted at non CAD users

It would be great, both interesting and useful, to get a frank and full dialogue going. Does what I say make sense? I hope it does as this is distilled from my knowledge and experience gained from my practice, research, teaching, software development, CAD use for designing for laser cutting and 3D printing.

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Bett Awards 2011: Anarkik3D’s haptic Cloud9 (Chameleon Bundle) shortlisted!

Bett Awards celebrate the best digital products and technological companies supplying ICT for education. For Anarkik3D’s Cloud9 haptic sketch / modelling package just to get shortlisted is already an amazing achievement as version 2 of Cloud9 was released this last July. A1 Technology, who bundle ‘Cloud9’ software and the Falcon haptic device as ‘Chameleon’, submitted it for one of the awards which take place at a dinner at the Hilton Hotel in London on 12th January 2011.

Very exciting for us!

Great recognition for our innovative Cloud9 haptic software

Extroverts ‘more creative’

Sjoerd of Monobanda at BeamLab trying Cloud9 and haptics

This was the heading of a short article in ‘The Scotsman’ on 4th August about research by Lorenzo Stafford at the University of Portsmouth and published in the journal ‘Personality and Individual Differences’. It was also in The Independant  the day before. I pick this up as Stafford says that ‘outgoing people in a good mood are more creative than those who keep themselves to themselves’. The reason I am very interested in this connection is that Anarkik3D’s haptic sketchmodelling software (Cloud9) is so enjoyable and fun to use and is for creative application. Will designers and artists therefore be more creative using Cloud9 because they are enjoying the experience of working in 3D with so few interface frustrations and breaks to cognitive flow? Now there’s a question wants answering! (  is about Cloud9)

something just ‘clicks’

When people try Anarkik3D’s Cloud9 haptic software something just ‘clicks’. It is this gut reaction that is interesting as it validates the 4 years of research work (Tacitus Research Project) that formed our approach to development.  and is embedded with the values from designing and making.

 The main research site was Edinburgh College of Art and we had designer makers test the haptic software demonstrators in iterative user centred trials with their feedback informing all stages of development. Cloud9 is the result; haptic software which, combined now pragmatically, with affordable hardware, seems to be a distillation of designer maker ways of thinking.

I recommend this white paper by FemmeDen as so much in it articulates what we are about! Titled ‘Sex on the Brain’ it is by 4 women designers at SMART Design Company (New York/Barcelona) and is a call for a more ‘universal’ approach to designing and solidly references very interesting research findings.

The Research team, and now the development team at Anarkik3D, is more or less balanced between the arts and science. There is a bias towards the arts, specifically designer makers and applied artists, and a bit towards women as a female designer maker (me) led the research project and is the companys’s CEO. Any overt influence is adjusted by a well balanced technology side!

The FemmeDen whitepaper explains why we have a more ‘unconventional’ approach to developing 3D modelling on computer when compared to that of conventional CAD and other 3D modelling packages which are very prescriptive and precision based. Yes it is more female biased but I prefer the terms non gender biased and ‘universal design’ as the Cloud9 haptic package appeals to designer makers of both genders. 

We are also serious about providing a useful professional level ‘tool’, one that enables designer makers of both genders to access all the benefits and advantages of digital 3D modelling and access to 3D printing. To slot in well to their pipeline of designing and making, it is crucial that a level of competence can be achieved swiftly, and retained, without jeopardising the all important time in the workshop to make, as well as the time to explore and experiment with real materials and processes as these are fundamental for understanding the constraints and affordances for making successfully.  It is through this hands-on process that designer makers build an important source of knowledge, albeit tacit, that is needed for good concept generation and designing. And by continuing to ask designer makers to feed back their thoughts to us to improve Cloud9 for how they want to work Anarkik3D can develop a valuable universal tool that suits a wider range of people.

This is a very good place then to thank all the designers, designer makers and artists who since 2000 have contributed to the development of Cloud9. Please stay on board as we will to develop it.

 See MA Student Farah Bandookwala at

Summer placement to create new jewellery designs

Farah Bandookwala will be working with Anarkik3D over the summer and her blog with pics of her work in progress can be seen here

She has opted for a Placement with us as part of her course as an MA Student studying at Edinburgh College of Art. Through a combination of processes including rapid prototyping, she is creating jewellery made up of modular units that allow the wearer to manipulate and transform the adornment as their sense of self changes.

Farah creating haptically

Farah creating haptically

She will explore the use of our haptic application, Cloud9, as a tool, on its own and to make CAD models more dynamic and organic, towards creating forms for rapid manufacture. By having the means to work more intuitively at this concept generation stage she can experiment more deeply and widely with complexity of form, and function to produce 3D prototypes, both digital and tangible to explore and test her premise – the possibility that identity is a fluid entity, and her aim to allow the wearer to convey this changing sense of self over time.

 “Through my work I argue the need for contemporary jewellery to develop and form a new, perhaps much more complex, flexible way of expressing changeable notions of self. Rather than dictating meaning through form or composition, I would like the work to be open to the wearers’ own expression of self over time.”