Like many designers (and also hobbyists), I have been recently enamored to Sketchup. For those unfamiliar, Sketchup is a free* 3D design software associated with Google (but sold off a few years ago to a company called Trimble). I have been using SU to work on environment design (as opposed to product design), as it is very quick to get ideas across and quickly develop views to communicate your design intent.
Most will maintain that drawing by hand is an essential function to working out your designs. Many are familiar with the story of a “napkin sketch”, or a squiggly Frank Gehry concept drawing; there will always be a place for quick sketches. With tools like free 3D design packages however, detailed hand drawings are becoming too difficult to justify.
Did I say *Free? The basic program is free but a Pro version allows many more features including the full-featured Layout element which is similar to Paper Space in AutoCAD. I use Pro as I would like to master the Layout feature and eventually move away from ACAD.
As mentioned before in previous posts, I’m well aware the time-consuming method of drawing by hand is charming but inefficient in today’s design world. Although I can draw quite quickly in a loose fashion (napkin sketches and so on), more and more of my clients are used to seeing photo-realistic renderings and as this becomes the norm pencil and marker sketches just simply will not cut it. It isn’t the speed and the efficiency alone that renders hand drawings obsolete (sorry), but the fact that realism is so easily obtainable and frankly expected in luxury interior presentations. Worst is when you need to present a few options in the same space; this is where digital designing such as SU can manage things in a few clicks.
Although my screen shots show basic line work, you can always export your SU model to a rendering package (also inexpensive) to get into photo realism. It should be noted there are consultancies – many in Eastern Europe or Asia – who do nothing but make renderings of complex buildings and other important 3D projects. These “Rendering Farms” have super computers toiling away to make your models look like the CGI from Skywalker Ranch.
After working in SU for a year or two, it became quite clear that although I don’t need CGI-level rendering yet, the quality of materials representation and purchasable interior elements make a big difference to the quality of your design. Looking at my screen shots above, I’m referring to not only the realism of the stone floor but the appliances, the paintings I placed on the wall (small replications of a friend’s work), the chairs – all the things we called Entourage back in the pens-and-marker days. With hand drawings you draw these elements yourself, or Photoshop things in later. With 3D design, you can insert scale models of products into your room. One of Sketchup’s most powerful features is their database of objects you can download and use in your design; the 3D Warehouse.
The 3DW is a user-uploaded repository of free models. If it has been uploaded to the Warehouse, you can use it. Some “power users” display entire buildings and iconic models they constructed in the manner of a gallery. I have seen the Empire State Building, Endeavor Space Shuttle, Tie Fighters … there are some incredible models uploaded to the 3DW. For me and other furniture designers/manufacturers however, the 3DW presents a unique opportunity to get our products in the hands of architects and specifiers. By having your commercially-available designs in the 3DW, there is a very good chance of having your pieces specified when the design gets executed in real life. With this in mind, I have recently been converting my product designs to the SU 3DW format and uploading them for other designers and hobbyists to use. In the first week I had a couple of hundred downloads of some of my lighting designs. Who is looking at/using my product models? This I do not know, as there is not a feedback loop or way to track who is using what.
So far the most popular of my products is the above Space Array fixture, at over a hundred downloads by itself. Not bad for the first week. I looked at some iconic furniture pieces by well-known manufacturers and their downloads were in the many thousands. Surely some of these model usages will result in actual sales, right?
How many of you, dear readers, are using Sketchup and the 3D Warehouse? Do you use actual products you intend to specify for the final project? Does the availability of a model on the 3DW increase your chance of using it in real life?
With dozens of lighting fixtures currently in production – not to mention the scores of Amerock hardware designs I did between 2004 and 2009 – I could put a huge amount of product on the 3DW. I’ll continue to focus on the newer and better designs for now, with the hope of getting a wider audience for my more marketable designs.
If you are a Sketchup user please have a visit to my product gallery and try some of my lighting and hardware in your models. I’d love to know how they work in your designs.