On Monday I featured a new type of interface being developed which adds a much more hands on approach to design, but what about the software that we use to design our subdivisions, can we make that more hands on too?
My guess is that as hardware and graphics improves, our software should also, and having worked extensively in Australia with the 12D software, I can vouch for the interface and resulting speed of design that is evident in that software.
Interface and Usability
The mainstay for most civil engineering projects in North America is Civil3D by AutoDesk, the makers of AutoCAD. The market is so heavily dominated by this product, with a smaller showing from Microstation by Bentley, that it feels like innovation in the software usability has gone out the window.
Trying to be everything for everyone, the interface in Civil3D is crowded and clunky, with too many commands and choices at each point in the design. Fortunately, many of the current technicians working in the software are extremely adept at weaving through the maze of choices and producing a stellar result, relatively quickly.
So what would I do to improve the interface?
Firstly, I’d say that there is lots to like about the AutoCAD interface, it’s just not well transfered to the Civil3D interface. With the number of panels that are required to be open for maximum usability, I’d suggest that any full time user of Civil3D has dual monitors, yes you can get your boss to read this if you want support for your request! Given the base of the software, I think this is a reality of how much information is required or can be viewed on the screen at any time during the design.
Civil3D needs some simplifying of the design process, to keep the design fluid long enough for the client and designers to come to an agreement as to what the design should look like, without investing too much time, money or energy.
One of the great things in AutoCAD 2006 was the tooltip interface that reduced the need for text input boxes. Having a similar interface for various elements of the design in Civil3D would be helpful.
AutoCAD needs to invest a lot of time in analyzing the mouse movements and clicks of the average versus the power user. An interface which minimizes options and lessens the need for additional mouse movement and clicks is high on my wishlist. If you watn t track how many key strokes, clicks and meters traveled with your mouse,download this simple little program, Workrave, that will tell you to take breaks at defined intervals to reduce the risk of computer related workplace injuries, check out your statistics after a hard day at the computer, you’ll be surprised art how far your hand has traveled.
For designers who spend more and more time in front of a keyboard and monitor, simplifying the tasks required to design a straight forward subdivision in Civil3D should be high on AutoCAD’s list of priorities.
Do I think users would have a case for compensation if diagnosed with RSI? I’m no lawyer, but manufacturers of any product can be held responsible for the health and safety of the users of their product, so why not software? Read more after the jump….