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« Viva La Autodesk University 2014 ... | Main | CAD: Helpful Thumbnails from the Dark Side ... »

CAD: All the Small Things ...


So if you are on top of your Kung Fu-isms then you know that I was recently in San Francisco with some great CAD bloggers to get the skinny on the (then) soon to be released 2015 version of AutoCAD. You also know some of the things that I am grooving on in this new release. But, if your kung fu is truly good, you know that the process of writing up that article gave me some time to reflect. I have to sort of admit that I was surprised to see what the reflection showed.

The new dark Theme ...What Got Me Started
So, as I recently wrote, as a blogger or professional writer you often have articles in various states of “done.” The trick is to circle back around to finish them. Or at least post them unfinished. You know, whatever works for you. That was the deal with the 2015 post. I had it half written then went to dinner and got distracted by something shiny. Typical KFD hazard.

To complete my article I sat down in the Autodesk office at One Market while waiting to leave for my flight. While there I got to see so many great friends from the UX team and meet plenty of new ones. Naturally we were discussing the new release and then I continued to work. As I read over my comments, which I had intentionally meant to be brief, I realized the enormity of them.

It’s the Little Things
I think that the single aspect of AutoCAD 2015 that is going to get the most attention is the new Dark Theme. This is a new visual presentation style, presenting the workspace and canvas is dark gray tones with white text. It is striking, it is obvious, and it is the default out of the box. So naturally half the people will adore, half will heap hate on it, and half will not care one wit. Yes I realized that all adds up to one and a half. I am a writer, not a mathematician so deal with it.

What I began to think about was how much of this change will be taken for granted, even by its new and excited supporters. I thought “How many users will realize the amount of testing that went into select this precise saturation and complement of gray tones? Or will they just assume that it is a ‘Photoshop’ rip-off?” “Will anyone notice the subtle changes in iconography in terms of smoothing and color or even placement and size?” “Will anyone ever appreciate all the little changes present in the default workspace or will they just take it all for granted?”

It all seemed like a pretty good commentary to me and I was feeling pretty philosophical.

The High and Mighty Bump Their Heads Often
Yup, I was feeling pretty superior to all those ingrates out there. Until I was chatting with a member of the User Experience team for AutoCAD and he asked me how long I was a user. “Almost 25 years,” I informed him and then stupidly added “I cannot believe how much the interface has changed in that time.” The comment went over fine and we chatted about it, but the comment rang in my head.

I had set off the introspection alarm and I didn’t know why until I thought about those gray tones and icon changes. I was one of the ingrates. Damn it!

Yeah I’m Old
Like many of the users who run in the AutoCAD blogger social circles, I started using AutoCAD before there was a mouse! I mean we are talking full on digitizer pads, plastic command layouts and DOS menus here pal. Hell I remember when the blue command menu was the new hotness on the right-hand side of the screen! Now here I was looking at a single feature that was going to polarize users and become forum fodder in no time flat.

Anatomy of an Ingrate
From DOS startup menus to a time when my everyday user interface was undergoing A/B testing, measurements of efficiencies and the topics of endless meetings between product designers, user interface designers, programmers and user experience specialists. In all that time I had just taken for granted two things:

  1. Each year (release) it was going to work better
  2. Each year (release) it was going to look better

If it didn’t I was pissed. If it did I was meh. Either way I never stopped to consider the enormity that all of those “little” changes had come together to amass over the years.

Snail Burglars
I don’t know, maybe I am becoming more mature in my old age. Maybe I am just becoming old in my old age and want those damn millennials to get off my CAD lawn. Either way I am sitting on a plane, heading home, and thinking back to the “good old days.” In terms of interface, the good old days sucked ass.

I mean they were as good as they could be for the time, sure. I guess you could say the same for the gold old todays, but either way the journey from 1990 to AutoCAD 2015 is a pretty startling one in terms of a product I’ve looked at for well over 50,000 hours of my life.

Those little changes crept by me during those 50k hours and like some sort of snail burglar who had broken into my office, had stolen that digitizer tablet and DOS menu so subtly that I didn’t realize I was getting interface-jacked. By the time I did notice I was shocked to find this very different Dark Theme in place of the DOS fonts and blue bar.

My CAD Intervention
So yeah. My entire professional career has revolved around AutoCAD. Whether I was using AutoCAD, teaching others to use AutoCAD, supporting AutoCAD users or writing about AutoCAD, it’s always been there. As I’ve grown more capable and matured so has AutoCAD and that is completely awesome. I’d like to think that my own potential and capabilities have increased at the same exponential rate as AutoCAD’s but I’m not that delusional.

What I do know is that when I think about the first time my high school drafting teacher sat me down and turned on a 286 PC and all the changes that have come together to create the AutoCAD I use today it astounds me. It also makes me a little sad that I could have let a quarter of a century pass without noticing how much effort went into such an integral part of my daily life.

What I am glad for is that this little CAD-motional intervention that I had in the halls of Autodesk has made me stupidly excited to see what all the little changes will bring each and every year from now on. This thought train has me on board and racing into a future 25 years from today in world where can all “remember” the ribbon and Dark Theme with nostalgic adoration.

Now if I can just find the conductor …

- KFD -

Image credits: Leif K-BrooksVictor, Autodesk, Rob Shenk and Eirien.

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Reader Comments (1)

I really enjoyed this article and though I have only been using AutoCAD sense 2000, AutoCAD has been through some significant changes sense then, and like you I find myself being ungrateful of the many changes, whether they are small or large changes. That is until a few years ago when I began developing macros, script, and even training programs for my company. It wasn’t until then when I realized how much work is put into some of the smallest things. I remember spending days on a simple UI layout for one of the AutoCAD training programs I developed or, when I spent weeks just trying to get the program to “save” to users’ desktop. Haha! It dawned on me how much work, creativity, and collaboration went into even something like the color change of the UI and then it actually working. I remember when my first program went out to the users the only feedback I received from users was what or, how something should work or be better, while completely overseeing and appreciating the work, creativity, and time spent, went into it.
Even after my personal experiences with developing and dealing with users, I still find myself doing the same with other software packages like AutoCAD and being ungrateful to new changes and functionality. Reading this has given me a fresh outlook on new versions and perspective on my personal attitude for the future.

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Ornbaum

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