CAD tool claims 'fluidity of pen and paper'

An add-in for computer-aided design (CAD) systems is aiming to overcome the constraints on designers’ intuitive creativity by helping them develop shaping dynamics and use eye-tracking technology to aid the process of basic sketch conceptualisation.

Called Designing With Vision, the tool was jointly developed by a team of scientists from the Open University and the University of Leeds with £195,000 of funding from The Leverhulme Trust. It works by interpreting freehand sketches made on conventional pen tablets, and ‘suggesting’ associated shapes and contours that a designer may be intuitive working toward.

“When sketching freehand designers are often exploring what we call ‘inspired ambiguity’, a creative process that means that they may not be entirely sure what is they are aiming at, while at the same time looking to their own creative direction for further ideas,” says Open University professor of design Steve Garner. “The problem with conventional digital CAD systems is that they often force people to change how they work so they fit with the technology, rather than the other way round, which constrains the results produced.”

Designing With Vision also harnesses eye tracking technology from Swedish software firm Tobii to enable it to focus on specific parts of a concept as it is being created, so that possible design directions proffered relate only to the point of creativity, rather than to completed work.

“We have developed the tool for a range of design disciplines, but feel that it will be most useful for the ‘art’ end of the design spectrum, as architects, and designers of packing and clothes, say,” adds Professor Garner. “However, with further development it could prove a valuable aid for engineering and mechanical designers.”

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