My first impression of AutoCAD 2015: This looks different!

Screen Capture by Snagit

A couple of presentations at the AutoCAD Blogger Day gave an insight into how changes in development methods, hardware/operating system capabilities and cloud infrastructure have driven evolution of the AutoCAD “platform” on, and beyond, the desktop.

We’re not in Kansas anymore…?

JoAnna Cook, Director User Experience AutoCAD Product Line Group (phew, long title!), handed out a little booklet titled: OZ.

WP_20140418_17_37_39_Pro 1It was not a new publication, not made for sales/marketing and not about AutoCAD 2015.

OZ presented a future AutoCAD user experience based on customer research, developments of the desktop application and (when it was written) a future beyond the desktop.

Oz, the vision

OZ was not about a software application, especially a traditional desktop one. It imagined your design, your project, as the centre of the experience. Devices present a window to your design from any location. Software on the device or a web service enable creation, manipulation and sharing of information or design intent anywhere in a connected world.

OZ was made for the AutoCAD team; about three hundred & fifty people with more than ten million customers to satisfy. It demonstrated a set of principles, a vision, of how products could work together and one aspect of what AutoCAD could become.

Defining the next AutoCAD?

I suspect steering the future of AutoCAD is one of the toughest assignments in the CAD world. While the industry specific platforms, like Revit/Inventor, can target defined workflows and outputs AutoCAD is used everywhere. That could be anything from 2D drafting to complex 3D geometric solid, surface or mesh modelling. In addition to that the AutoCAD platform also provides a base for many Autodesk, and third party, vertical solutions targeting specific tasks.

That said there are defined goals, themes, for each AutoCAD release. Some enhance, some might say fix!, existing commands/workflows or introduce new features. Others address changing hardware, operating system or cloud computing requirements and opportunities.

Some of what was imagined in OZ is in the AutoCAD we see today, other aspects point to an intriguing future.

AutoCAD User Experience Design gets Agile

The AutoCAD User Experience design and development process has changed. JoAnna shared how a traditional sequential process has been replaced with Agile development practices.

Autodesk Blogger Day 2014 TripThis is more akin to an IT start up approach with continuous development of features and immediate feedback. The AutoCAD team use feature focused customer councils during design and development. These are based on requirements from customer site visits, surveys or product development directions.

This may begin as early as the feature definition phase, literally post-it note process or paper UI design, or with very early code samples. There is more info, and interview with JoAnna, in this Autodesk Labs post from 2012:

Why the AutoCAD UX Team is Really a Lean Startup – Autodesk Labs

From where I sit in Autodesk, I’m seeing the AutoCAD User Experience team behave suspiciously like a lean startup. I think they’re lean because for the first time in history, the AutoCAD team is not following a waterfall development process, they’re using Agile practices… 

Looking at AutoCAD 2015, and AutoCAD 360, some of what was hinted at in that post from 2012 has already been delivered. There is plenty of potential for future development but the direction is clear.

The Customer Council connection

Agile development relies on rapid iteration and constant feedback. Major initiatives like Point Cloud integration, Connected Desktop and Geolocation were developed with dedicated Customer Councils.

In 2012/13 I was involved in a Customer Council for what became the Design Feed in AutoCAD WS (now AutoCAD 360) web and desktop application. Although I didn’t realise at the time this was a first hand experience of the sort of development agile practices bring.

AutoCAD_2015_Design_FeedThe feature was released to a small customer group using AutoCAD WS. We were challenged to use it in a realistic way, collaborating on a real world project with participants across several time zones.

We saw several iterations of the feature during that process in the web application and later tested a version in the desktop application. The initial desktop implementation was in a web deployed zero footprint development package literally hand built for the task. By the end of the process we had used maybe half a dozen iterations of the feature, on web and desktop, as it developed.

This is quite different to the traditional alpha, beta, release process where a bundle of features are developed and assembled into ‘a release’ package for evaluation with a limited number of pre-release test builds.

Although it wasn’t explicitly stated I suspect the future of AutoCAD will be more fluid evolution between the annual releases. CAD Managers wrangling large install bases may object but I can see real potential in a regular update cycle (similar to Windows Update) to push new features. Looking at the updates, not just for AutoCAD, since 2015 first released perhaps we are already there!

What about My Feedback, Beta?

While agile development has driven user experience design there is still a considerable ‘traditional’ engineering effort delivering and testing release packages and updates.

The betas are very important but I suspect many have noticed they are no longer only place development is driven. While it should focus on ‘does this code work in the real world’ there was once considerable new feature/wish list debate in the beta world.

Veteran testers, like me!, may have noticed this has reduced as often those conversations happen in Customer Councils long before beta builds appear. That is not to diminish the importance of beta as a place to voice your thoughts but it is not the only way you can influence development.

If you want to be involved in the private—as opposed to public Autodesk Labs previews—Customer Councils, Beta/Previews or research survey/visits the Autodesk Feedback Community at beta.autodesk.com is the place to sign up.

So, new process, new AutoCAD? On to 2015…

My AutoCAD 2015 arrived as part of my Building Design Suite Premium suite, so was a bit behind the stand-alone release. I’ve had some time to explore the new version and post-release updates. More on that in my next Blogger day post…

Disclosure: Travel, some accommodation and meals provided by Autodesk, see disclosure page for details.

See my AutoCAD Blogger Day 2014 Index page for related posts.

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