As CAD software packages continue to evolve, the challenge for designers is in keeping abreast on the developments that could help their projects fulfil their potential
For a daily working tool that has become so embedded in the kitchen and bathroom sector, it is easy to forget that CAD software has only been extensively used in the industry for the last 15 years or so. Of course, the software itself has been around much longer than this, but higher processing speeds and the larger memory of modern computers has made CAD a viable alternative to hand drawing.
“CAD has always been important to allow customers to understand and visualise the proposals of the designer,” says Patrick Green, Technical Manager, M’n’G Designs. “This understanding helps them explain their expectations and requirements more completely using the original proposal as a launch point. A flexible and fast CAD system can then allow the designer to refine their proposal closer to the hopes and expectations of the customer repeating the process as often as required to get the customer confident enough to agree to the design.
“CAD can also help explain where the expectations are unreasonable or impossible in a way that avoids the designers taking the blame.”
Mike Vinten, Sales & Marketing Director at Virtual Worlds from Logicom, believes that CAD has assumed a fundamental part of the K&B sales process: “The latest detailed and photo-realistic 2D and 3D interactive visuals inspire customer confidence and anticipation, as virtually nothing is left to their imagination. As such, a sense of ownership is established early on in the buying process, resulting in a high design to order sales conversion.
He adds that CAD has become an interactive design tool in which the designer is able to rapidly switch styles, finishes and layout in response to the customers’ input whilst they are watching. This, he says, has turned the design process into a pleasurable experience for the customer, commensurate with their investment. “CAD has made the trend for bespoke kitchen or bathroom designs more available and affordable, thanks to the availability of a vast choice of manufacturers’ catalogues and automated functions, such as parametric scaling, which has made bespoke sizes possible.”
M’n’G Designs’ Green says: “The facility to use CAD as a discussion tool is sometimes not used to its full advantage. Customers’ expectations, the constraints of the room and budget limitations do not always combine well. The personal nature of the rooms means the customers’ opinion is highly important but often subjective so ensuring they are truly involved in the design process can help ensure these constraints and emotions are as well balanced as possible.”
He points out that the designer is a vital part of this but their best tool is CAD and its repeated use rather than producing a single ‘master plan or picture’. He adds that many customers will want to get more involved with the design for their room with the designer acting as a consultant that provides the product and technical know-how to ensure the room will look and work well in reality. The designer will also be expected to contribute design ideas and suggestions sometimes taking the lead in this area, and other times guiding the customer.
Green says: “CAD systems will continue to evolve to further allow this fluid mix of contributions where there boundaries of the designers’ work are not clearly defined. Of course the CAD system also has to help ensure the design stays within the constraints of practicality and budget and it can then provide the required details to actually produce the design in reality.”
Andy Peters, Sales Director at Microcad Software, agrees that in terms of putting design ideas across to a potential client and adding real value to your products and services, there is nothing more effective than highly detailed plans, elevations and high quality 3D perspectives. “A nicely prepared quotation presented with detailed specifications together with the drawings can really enhance your professionalism and help to secure higher value projects sales.
“Our included training and support for new users is there to help our users utilise the many features of the software and help them improve their presentation. As this service is ongoing it helps us to build solid relationships with our users and use their feedback in future development of our software.”
One thing that is clear however, is that when we talk in such sweeping, generic terms about CAD, the reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. “All designers don’t behave the same – and all CAD software is not the same,” asserts Theresa Turner, Director at ArtiCAD. “Some designers really enjoy producing stunning visualisations, often featuring highly complex designs that push the boundaries of their CAD software and satisfy the demands of even the most discerning clients. Others may require a simple presentation, which they can produce very quickly and which is exactly what a particular type of clientele is looking for.”
Serving more than 7,500 different designers in the UK alone means that the ArtiCAD-Pro software has to satisfy both ends of the ‘designer spectrum’ and all those in-between. “We’ve seen a sustained increase in the take-up of our advanced level training courses in the last three years,” she adds. “This is a strong indicator that more designers see the value in exploiting the full potential of the software, which in turn enables them to confidently produce more sophisticated designs for a broader range of customer.”
Logicom’s Vinten believes that as far as the standard CAD packages are concerned, there seems to be a good understanding of the functions, but he emphasises the importance of keeping up-to-date with the changes in this rapidly evolving market. “CAD is developing all the time, particularly on the 3D interactive side. A skilled designer will automatically switch into 3D interactive mode and encourage the customer to walk around their room, whilst others make the customer struggle with a 2D plan. We know from Virtual Worlds users that those who use all the 3D interactive functionality engage the customer in the design process and report higher sales value and design to order sales conversion.
“New CAD functions are coming on-stream regularly and as a designer it is important to stay abreast of the latest CAD developments, especially as many of them speed up the design process, expand customer choice and allow the designer to significantly up-sell.”
So what does the future hold for CAD software – and what new features and ideas can users expect to find themselves getting to grips with in due course? ArtiCAD’s Turner says: “The CAD software development landscape moves at a rapid pace. It is influenced both by the requirements of the KBB market itself as well as by the availability of a stream of technical innovations.”
She suggests that CAD software vendors need to listen to their customers’ needs and develop their software and services accordingly. ArtiCAD’s own development pipeline includes enhancements to its desktop design software, online planning and style selection products and apps.
M’n’G Designs’ Green says: “The challenge for CAD systems is to provide ever greater reality and detail whilst at the same time keeping the time and skill requirements to actually use the CAD as low as possible. The skill required of the designer should not been in manipulating the CAD system but in using it with the customer to produce their ideal design.”
Developers are always striving to enhance their offerings in much the same way as kitchen and bathroom designers are always looking for more ways to deliver a higher level of service to customers. Microcad Software’s Peters says: “Designers and manufacturers will continue to require more of their CAD software. They need software to manage projects, so not only high quality 3D renders but usable pricing and manufacturing information that can link process together from within one software application.
“We already have an iPad design app and CAD design software to work within a clients’ website, and this is likely to develop even further in the coming years.”
Giving consumers greater insight into how their new kitchen or bathroom might look is driving a multitude of CAD innovations. Tony Hayles, Director at NexusCAD, points to a new user-friendly technique which offers an altogether different perspective. It is a 360 Panoramic viewer that gives customers the opportunity to download the 3D environment of a design onto their iPhone, iPad or Android phone. “The customer can then hold the device up in front of them and turn 360 degrees and watch as the 3D scene changes on the device in real time.
“This is the latest innovation in visualisation, creating a paperless presentation that the customer can view from anywhere.”
Ultimately, does a fully integrated future await – one in which all aspects of the design and sales process converge? Vinten of Logicom thinks so: “As computer technology continues to deliver increasing speed and higher quality visuals, I anticipate the world of real-time, 3D interactive technology will become the norm and even more life-like. Customers will be able to walk around their proposed new kitchen or bathroom via large format screens or even life-size projection, and then at home via a video link suitable for alternative platforms.
“I envisage the seamless integration of the design process with pricing and automatic component ordering integral to the main CAD software.”