You can also view my gallery at Designs en Bois.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sketchup - enabler or creativity crusher?

I got a very interesting question in from Neil about whether woodworking design and creativity may be effectively limited by one's level of experience in using Sketchup. I decided this is probably a bigger topic than just a comment reply, so I figued I would share my thoughts in a blog entry instead. I'm sure there will be many opinions on the matter. Pardon the length, but there is no short answer here.

To be honest, I don't use Sketchup to conceive of my furniture designs, I it as a tool for getting an idea of what my concept will look like in 3D, and to help me generate a list of materials. I would not advocate using Sketchup purely as a creative design tool, but rather a reality check. For example, I did build one project that I thought looked fantastic in Sketchup, but when completed I found the proportions didn't look as natural as I expected. And on the current wine cabinet I'm working on, I've gotten to the point of completing the bottom carcass thus far, but as a reality check I constructed a mock-up of the slant front top cabinet out of pink foam insulation (which you can readily get at any home store in 4x8 sheets). By doing that, I actually made several further design changed (narrowing the piece, and lowering the cabinet a bit).

As another example of a good reality check, the curved legs in the wine cabinet are depicted in Sketchup as closely as I could approximate them, but the actual curve is something I spent hours drawing out with a fairing stick and french curves to generate my template. These types of design elements (that can potentially become the signature of your design) are likely going to be done freehand on a piece of MDF or graph paper, and just approximated in Sketchup.

So in summary, I think ones expertise in Sketchup can help get a 3D model looking closer to the final product, but should not be the creative mechanism by which the design is conceived. Sketchup is a great tool to build reality checks into the process, and can also be invaluable at ensuring good joinery, but is not the end-all be-all creative design tool in my opinion. I'd be very interested in follow-on comments on this topic, as I assume there may be some differing or alternate opinions out there.


Neil....a Furnitologist said...

Rob....... too bad others haven't chimed in. I know SU can be a wonderful tool and can be helpful as a check like you mention. Being that most aren't going to a CNC or using SU as a client communications tool, from a time aspect, eventually, and it is inevitable, that before a new build you have to go full scale. Your leg templates would be the perfect example.

Now as for learning SU strictly as a design tool, there isn't a better tool for the price, etc. And if the hobbiest brings woodworking out of the shop and onto the laptop to make woodworking more interesting, I'm in favor of that, but then the learning curve is extensive,once you get away from a box.

In this hobby, the current woodworker can never forget that time is limited and the real magic is in the doing.

Rob Bois said...

Like any tool in the shop, even software comes down to efficiency. If it will help you build better furniture, more efficiently, and perhaps eliminate some mistakes, then it may be worth investing the time in learning the tool. But if you have another method that is reliable and works for you, it probably doesn't make as much sense. For me, SU saves me considerable time and money (in BF calculations) on every project, so it was well worth my investment in time to learn the tool. Plus, each project I learn something new and get a little better with the application, so my education is on-going.

Joey said...

Rob...I use sketchup, but not as much as many others it seems. I still enjoy starting my creative process with a pencil and paper. I guess part of is the way I was trained to developed an idea. When I try do this with SU it doesn't work as well, maybe because I'm not as comfortable with the program to be able to use it at a level that my idea flow freely, instead of trying to accomplish my ideas in SU I seem to spend most of my time trying to get it to do what I want, and then sometime I just settle for something that is less than my idea but is all that can do with at my present level with the program. Now I'm not talking about simple boxes but more complex details. I still try to do some designing in SU and explain my knowledge base in the program. but I know that a can work through all my primarily ideas on paper until I have a good working model and then tweak it in SU. I like SU for finished drawings as well a client drawings and for that reason I want I get better with program. One day I may even be able to sit down and let my ideas flow freely and draw them without reservation.