Looking at incredible structures such as the Sphinx in Egypt or the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci’s self propelled cart, it’s even more impressive when you think about the rudimentary resources that the designers had hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Today, we have highly sophisticated tools like CAD software and rapid prototyping to help us visualize, plan and bring our ideas to life. Looking back shows us how much progress we have made and even more, how limitless the opportunities are for the future of design.

Designs have been found in cave drawings from 40,000 years ago. Our ancestor designers would use pictures to help describe their ideas for tools and instruments for future generations.

In 500 BC, people began using the alphabet to better describe features and functions of their designs that were not apparent in 2D drawings. Using language to compliment 2D drawings helped to fill in relevant information.


The 11th century brought basic chalkboards. With something as basic as a chalkboard, it became easier to make changes to designs. Pencils were invented in 1564, further helping to progress iterative design.


In the 1400s, the Gutenberg printing press made it easier to distribute information through words, but the alphanumeric printing press did not help designs be widely distributed. In order to reach mass distribution, designers had to write out their designs in words instead of drawings.


1901 – The “Drafting Machine” was patented for technical illustrations that became popular in the Industrial Revolution. It typically contained tools for accurate drawing like a protractor and compass.


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the first CAD software was developed to take advantage of computers. This was the first time that we have had the ability to design beyond the ability of our own hands. PRONTO by Patrick Hanratty at General Electric and Sketchpad by Ivan Sutherland at MIT shaped the beginning of CAD.

The first CAD systems served as replacements of drawing boards. Designers still worked in 2D to create technical drawings of 2D wireframes. CAD moved to 3D as its standard in 1987 with the release of Pro/ENGINEER, a program based on solid geometry and feature-based parametric techniques for defining parts and assemblies.


Now our capability and reach as designers have expanded through the Internet. Global teams can collaborate instantaneously. Designs can be shared like never before.


What’s next for design?

I believe that the biggest next step is mobile technology. Our environment is becoming increasingly mobile and design will begin to follow suit. The latest CAD evolution, Onshape, is cloud-based, optimized for smart phones and tablets, and enables touchscreen design.


Software is continually changing and evolving to improve operational efficiency. Staying on top of the evolving capabilities of CAD can be challenging, but as the technology is developing more and more rapidly, it is essential to staying on the forefront of design.

Tony Glockler is the co-founder of SolidProfessor, an online learning company that specializes in software applications used in engineering and design. Beginning his education at UCLA with a BS in Mechanical Engineering, Tony experienced first-hand the limited resources available to students to become proficient, employable CAD users. His passion is combining the best of instructional design and technology to help engineers and designers become more effective. Through SolidProfessor, Tony has helped design teams keep up with their rapidly evolving software tools with an on-going guided learning experience. To learn more, visit www.SolidProfessor.com.