The Role of Computer in Design Ideation

Document Type : Original Article


Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran


Designers use a variety of tools to express their ideas. The traditional tools including hand drawing, sketching and physical modelling, have gradually been replaced by computer tools. Formal education emphasises on hand drawing skills, but design graduates inevitably move away from hand-drawing in the profession. Design students usually learn both manual and digital tools during their education, only to find hand drawing skills useless in profession. The aim of this research is to identify the role of computer aided design tools in the ideation stage of design and the varied aspects of its substitution to find practical solutions for education. Besides, we investigated which tool is preferred by the graduates who have commanded both tools.
Sketching has a crucial role in design ideation. Designers use sketching to express their idea and to communicate. The designer’s unconscious explorations of sketches are rich sources to create new design ideas. But replacing hand sketching with digital sketching is a challenging subject. Lawson, a thinker of design theories, stated that the computer makes the idea look unrealistically good and leads to a false instead of real creativity. But some other theorists find computer simulation vital in creating complex forms, and essential in ideation and concept creation, and not just presentation stage.
This research includes two stages. At the first stage, we investigated 23 new empirical studies that have compared traditional and computational tools in ideation phase. The fields of these studies are architectural, industrial, product, and graphical design. At the second stage, we asked 50 architecture graduate participants which type of tools they prefer for ideation and why. Their reasons can be categorised into the digital tools’ capabilities, college education, professional environment requirements and limitations, personal choice based on individual interests and abilities, and being up to speed with contemporary technologies. The advantage of sketching is seen as the fluency and flexibility of ideation and the advantage of computer the ease of modification. One strong reason for their preference was the emphasis on good presentation in sketching instead of the expression of ideas. Besides, they just use sketching for 2D drawings and computers for 3D illustrations of ideas. The latter renders the amount of time spent learning perspective unnecessary. In conclusion it is shown that adjustments are needed in design and architecture teaching in connection with hand skills drawings and teaching digital tools’ usage.


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