February 21, 2020

The A to Z of Best Concept Design Software for Architects

Snaptrude Editorial Desk

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The concept design stage has always existed in an architect’s design journey but how have things changed in the modern scenario? The rules of concept design may have not changed over the decades but the results expected from the architects have seen a major shift. Contemporary architecture design requires a lot more detailing, not after, but right at the concept design stage. Today, all the stakeholders expect visibility of the tools, upholstery, and materials along with the cost estimates in the early stages of design. This helps in creating an integrated process and seamless communication throughout the design journey. To achieve a high level of concept detailing, easy workflow management and a competitive edge, architects are using technology during the initial stages of design itself.

So, what should you look for when choosing technology for architectural concept designing? We tell you.

A is for Automated Design

When creating your design concept, what can make a whole lot of difference is speed and presentation. You’d rather spend time adding finer details and innovating instead of say, drawing the details of 22 bathrooms over and over, for a large project. Using automation to help you during this stage can quicken the project and take off the load of mundane tasks while making your ideas look great.

Today’s technology helps to automatically detect your hand drawn sketches or floor plans, calculates FSI and converts them into 2D draft drawing as well as a 3D model – crunching what would typically take weeks, into a few minutes. These are not just dimensionally accurate but they also enable users to extract meaningful information to swiftly take decisions during the concept stage, where the design details are not yet fixed. Options like Auto Interiors help add interior elements like windows, doors, balconies and more instantly. Moreover, using design automation, the entire process of 3D modeling can become a seamless exercise for designers who can focus on the art of architecture instead of redundant tasks.

B is for BIM

While Building Information Modelling software is seeing wide adaptation in the construction space, architects can make great use of it during the designing stage. Software supporting BIM helps you create detailed 3D models with nuances like fenestration and thickness of walls, making your concepts look more presentable and realistic. It can help generate precise data, estimates, and information of every element – right from the water supply fittings to the materials, throughout the design process. It also lets you give accurate costing to your client, right at the architectural visualization stage and manage overall project costs better. Architects and designers are creative people and would on any given day value a product, which helps them realize their ideas quickly rather than spending time setting up a project environment.

C is for Cloud

Cloud based architectural design software

Cloud-based or web-based software gives more power to architects, especially when used during early-stage designing. The power to collaborate better, access data from anywhere, test ideas and get results quickly are some of the key benefits of a cloud platform versus an on-premise one. Cloud-based tools help you make changes to your concepts until the last minute, even before the client presentation. Also, switching to a cloud-based platform can be a part of your architectural studio’s sustainable initiatives, as it does away with a lot of hardware. With your design software on the cloud, you don’t have to worry about elaborate installations and upgrades, or whether it is compatible with Windows or Mac – you can work on your designs from any device, and any place. Suppose your studio operates across multiple locations and there are different team members working on a new skyscraper project. You get an update in the brief from the client, leading to a tweak in the number of storeys and the direction of the balconies. This information can be shared with all the team members and stakeholders in real-time on the cloud – from interns, interior designers to planners and fabricators, who can incorporate the changes in their plan immediately, leading to higher efficiency in the process. Some useful cloud-based tools for architects include Snaptrude, Autodesk Rendering, Adobe Creative Cloud, Shaderlight, SmartDraw and Sunglass.

D is for Data-Driven Design

When data meets design, a lot of interesting things happen. Data-driven architecture design software generates design based on set inputs – be it location related, people related, environment-related or material related. This helps you make well-informed and faster decisions. Software that helps generate data and provides meaningful insights should be one of the key factors during your consideration. Instead of designing based on just your experiences or historical references, relying on actionable data to create your ideas can bring in efficiency and build better structures that are in tune with what people need. For instance, while planning a co-working space project, you get access to data about the amount of footfall on all days. The analysis indicates a drop in footfall on Friday evening. You can incorporate this data while conceptualizing the space and probably design a zone that the co-working space can let out to other brands or for entertainment on those days, helping the company earn more profits.

E is for Experimentation

During the creative visualization of any new project, you usually have ‘n’ number of interpretations of the client brief and want to present different options to your clients. Any technology at the iterative concept design stage in architecture should be fast and adaptable enough to help you test multiple ideas. This can encourage better design thinking, bringing out all the possible combinations and solutions to develop your project.

F is for Futuristic

Decade-old tools used in the architecture industry might not always be future-focused. Some of them are many times inaccurate and become no more than a visualization tool as they lack interoperability with other design tools. This can result in a deadlock for your design process. Opting for an all-in-one tool that is not only compatible with the past and current generation tools but can also scale up to help your business with future technology is what you should be looking for. For example, the way technology is moving, it is a given that the future is in the cloud and being present there can help an architect work with more sophisticated tools.

F is also for free demo, which plays a crucial role when you are evaluating multiple software for your needs. A demo can help you understand whether the software will work for your architecture studio or not.

G is for Generative Design

While the data-driven design is largely quantitative inputs, generative design brings dynamic and subjective information into the design process. Design parameters like people and behavioural feedback entered into the software can help throw up hundreds of options to test and iterate on. This can add a new dimension to your architectural visualization stage, making it more effective and blending the human-architecture relationship. For instance, you have access to data of children’s movement patterns and parents’ feedback for a residential building you are redeveloping. Data suggests that from 7 pm onwards, toddlers and kids tend to come out of their homes and use a certain area, which is not child-friendly currently as per the parents. You can incorporate this learning, modify and organize the new building plan to construct a more effective layout, which is highly target audience based.

H is for Hand Drawn to 3D

While hand drawing is the best way to start your conceptualization process, converting your hand sketch to 3D at this stage can make a lot of difference, not just to your presentation but also in getting an accurate picture of the final building. Software that can help you expedite conceptualization using auto detection of your plan, via dynamic calculations and creation of 3D models with diverse materials and textures that can give you the boost to innovate.

I is for Intuitive

Also, intelligent! For modern architects, decisions taken at the early design stage have a huge impact on the final building. You don’t want technology to become a roadblock when meeting goals and timelines, which often happens if you are moving between different software at the early stage of design. Intuitive architecture design software uses automation to instantly recognize your line drawings and converts them into 3D models, almost like pulling a rabbit out of a magician’s hat. Intuitive software is also programmed to offer data at every step of the design process and adapt changes made to one parameter across all views in real-time.

J is for Junior Architects

And for the Pros too! Design software should be simple to use, not limiting itself to either the experienced or to the beginners, but instead having just the right number of features to support both. Top architecture design software may many times, seem overwhelming to a rookie architect. On the other hand, new-age tools can alienate seasoned professionals with the associated steep learning curve. However, there are a lot of architecture design tools available that can simplify the entire conceptualization process without intimidating any of them. This can benefit budding architects and enterprises alike to collaborate faster and work smarter on projects.

K is for Key Focus on Architects

While a lot of popular software is built for engineers, interior decorators, builders, architects and game designers, there are very few tools that are dedicated just for architects. Such software is usually more tuned in to the pain points of an architect’s design process, and offers the necessary features to overcome them. Also, the future roadmap of these software are tuned to the growing needs of architects.

L is for Lifelike Modelling

How can we make sure that what’s in our head gets shown exactly the same way to clients, in the shortest time possible? Not with 2D plans for sure. With data-driven software that has 3D capabilities and uses BIM, you can create detailed models from your sketches in just a few minutes. Adding interior components and materials to give it the effects you desire in the concept design stage can breathe life into your ideas.

M is for Millennial Friendly

The generation that believes in the sharing and subscription economy – from taxi rides to content consumption lives in the now and how! They don’t necessarily look at the past for architecture design inspiration but probably look for references on their social media profiles. As per an Ernst & Young report, millennials are expected to make up an estimated 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. They have a preference for working remotely, using innovative tools and collaborating with colleagues via instant messaging. Futuristic cloud-based software that is dynamic, fast-paced, and gives them enough freedom to innovate is the way to go when considering concept design tools that are millennial-friendly.

N is for New

New thinking processes. New techniques. New-age tools. New ways of collaborating. As architects, you are constantly innovating and there are so many ways to bring about freshness to your work. Your design can take new dimensions when you blend the art of architecture with the right technology. New-generation software that helps you focus on creativity while taking off the load of mundane tasks can help your work reach new heights. Choose a tool that becomes an asset for your projects, rather than a bottleneck.

O is for Objects and Shapes

Creating and modeling objects and shapes in the simplest way possible should be one of your consideration factors while choosing concept design software. Look for tools that let you not just create basic geometric shapes but also complex ones with options to extrude, move, flip, add volume and thickness and view in 3D instantly. Converting your line drawings and shapes into 3D views help market your ideas better.

P is for Parametric

Parametric design architecture can help you create complex structures that may seem to be difficult to realize when you start visualizing it. It can also help you think of solutions to climate-led variables like building an earthquake-resistant structure in challenging dimensions. With thousands of parameters and many possibilities, software that supports parametric design architecture can make it really easy for you to think out-of-the-box. It also does away with the laborious task of manually revising all aspects of a complicated design when one element changes. Open source 3D parametric modeling software like FreeCAD can be a good starting point if you’re new to this technology. In case you’re looking for an advanced tool, the plugin Grasshopper can be integrated to the 3D CAD software, Rhino.

Q is for Quality

With a new digital wave in architectural designing, the client’s expectations of your design and presentation are also high. Software that empowers you to create high quality models and ability to present your design in an aesthetically superior way is preferred over traditional design technology. New-age technology gives you the design freedom, letting you focus on the art of architecture, while taking away the load of redundant tasks.

R is for Rendering

Realistic renderings and visualizations generated during the concept design stage can help you clinch the project. Smart technology that creates photorealistic models and helps you design faster is most preferred for helping clients gauge your vision clearly, and increasing the chances of faster approval. Free rendering software like Blender or Maxwell are commonly preferred by architects.

S is for Seamless

Surprisingly, even today, the concept design process is fragmented and tedious. Architects are sometimes using four different tools that do not talk to each other during this design phase. Most popular design tools lack interoperability with other design tools. However, choosing a single software which is seamless can change the game for architects. It can help architects focus on creativity. It can also cut down on the number of iterations, time taken for each iteration during the design process and thereby significantly reduce project costs.

T is for Three Dimensional

Presenting architectural concepts in 3D in minutes using software

Your clients are not necessarily architects or interior designers. Sometimes, just presenting 2D plans at the concept design stage can lead to a gap in understanding. Putting across your concepts in 3D BIM can be the deciding factor for getting your idea approved as it shows a realistic view of your structure. It helps the client visualize and also suggest changes due to the realistic portrayal. For instance, if you have conceptualized a space with a pyramid shaped roof but your client wants a dome, changes can be made before you start construction and this clarity comes only when you show a three dimensional perspective.

U is for User-Friendly

Ease of use is one of the most important criteria while choosing architectural visualization software. When it comes to software for concept designing, you don’t want one that requires professional training and comes with thousands of features where only a few features are useful. A plug and play tool that is easy to learn and use can shorten the learning curve associated with any new tool usage. Also, your designing software should be simple enough to help you reduce the time taken for iterations at this stage.

V is for Visualization Techniques

Why is visualization critical? It’s because this is where you get to tell your design story to the clients. This is where you need to be able to sell your dreams to your client and get buy-in. And, at this stage, you don’t want anything to limit your ideation and imagination. To enhance your design thinking process, there are multiple image mapping and data visualization techniques available. Also, 3D architectural visualization augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality are all the technologies to help you and your client walk through the plan at the concept stage of your design process. Clients can get a clear idea of the material, textures and colors that you plan to use, and nuances of the project can be finalized in a mutually agreeable way. So, using software that produces 3D architectural visualization output and is compatible with the latest technology can give a boost to your ideas. AR tools like AR Sketchwalk create interactive presentations, letting your clients walk through the walls and experience the concept in its real sense. Microsoft Hololens is mixed reality glasses that offer an immersive viewing experience and also aids real-time collaboration with its cloud-based scalability. Automated concept designing tools like Snaptrude convert your hand-drawn sketch to model instantly, expediting the visualization process and helping present to your clients better.

W is for Workflow Management

The best concept design software helps you improve coordination and time-management throughout your project lifecycle. It does this by sharing and managing data with all the collaborators and stakeholders seamlessly. This helps in ensuring that any change, however minute, is updated in real-time with all those involved – studio team members, planners, interior decorators and clients for seamless communication. Better workflow management means higher productivity. Cloud-based concept designing tools like Snaptrude, collaboration tools like ArchiSnapper as well as time management tools dedicated to architects like Hubstaff are great options to streamline your workflow.

X is for Xtra Fast

Let’s first understand why there is a need for speed. At the concept design phase, you, as an architect are dealing with multiple design iterations, creation and thoughts. The most critical of all the mundane work you do is ‘design thinking’. To make sure that your thinking time is maximized and is clear, you need help with software that works as fast as lightning. Not only does such software help you work better but it also helps you win clients faster. Such lightning-fast technology is what new-age architects would prefer over decade-old tools that do not scale up. New-age software that uses automation and 3D BIM can cut down months of work into a few seconds. Look out for such intelligent software in your next budget plan.

Y is for You First

What if someone genuinely asks you, “What kind of features would you like to see in your concept design software?”. And, then they actually build those features that you asked for? Smaller software firms are known to implement new product features based on your suggestions in their monthly releases. By virtue of being small-scale with lean teams, they are more accessible and can focus on your specific requirements by quickly incorporating your ideas, thus making the tool more effective for your needs. So, the next time you think of opting for the most popular concept design software in town over a lesser known one, think again!

Z is for Zoning & Massing

Powerful visualization focuses on giving a realistic dimension to your concept. Software that helps in effectively zoning and creating mass models from your sketches, helps generate more interest in your space design. It is the foundation on which your complete idea rests and looking for tools that give you maximum options to play around with is the best option.

The Best or the Rest?

Selecting the most popular architecture design software in the industry might not always be the right option for your needs. Sometimes, top software can have over-engineered feature-rich tools, where most of the features are not even required by you and your team. In fact, it can lead to the creation of complex ecosystems within the software, which requires elaborate professional training before using it. The focus of the current generation tools should be to not only empower you with data but to also take away the complexities of 3D modeling, while ensuring a shorter learning curve. Opting for a simple, smart and future-ready design software for architects can make your concept designing process a joy.

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