Computer Aided Design: Does It Enhance or Hinder Flexibility and Creativity in Design Process?

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Publication Date


Publication Title

Proceedings of the IDEC Annual Conference


Interior design education has come to a crossroad where educators must take a critical look at the best ways to instruct students pertaining to the use of technology. Students are now born where the use of computers is a part of their everyday existence, and they depend more and more on technological tools to inform their work, play, and education (Lai & Hong, 2015). The aim of this mixed-method study is to explore interior design students’ design process with an emphasis on their use of CAD (computer-aided-design). The research questions are: 1) How do students develop their design ideas? 2) What tools (i.e. CAD or hand sketches) do they use to develop their design ideas? 3) How does the use of CAD influence their design outcomes? We explored design process stages such as creativity, concept development, schematics, sketching, space planning, and selection of furniture and finishes as a way to investigate these concepts. Major design decisions are made during the early stages of the design process when the design concepts are created (Turkyilmaz & Polatoglu, 2013), and idea sketches are believed to be associated with innovation and creativity (Purcell & Gero, 1998). What happens when students start using CAD in the initial stages of their design process? Researchers have found association between the use of CAD and creativity. For example, Elam and Mead (1990) argued that software use can undermine or enhance creativity. Lastly, in a study by Hanna (2012), it was found that lengthy exposure to CAD correlated with number and variety of design ideas. Data were collected from students taking their last design studio in the interior design program in a CIDA accredited Southeastern university. This was a longitudinal study that took place over three semesters using 40 self-administered questionnaires, 12 in-depth interviews, and 12 student portfolios. The questionnaire included questions on concept development, sketching, and computer use such as what software programs the students used, when they started using them in their design process, and the impacts of those programs on their design decisions and final design outcomes. During the interviews, participants were asked to review their questionnaire responses and senior portfolios which included studio and internship projects. They explained skills gained in their classes, how they formulated design concepts, what gave them inspiration, and their design process for each project. See Appendix 1 for a summary of results. Findings revealed that students developed design concepts from images (internet and print), sketching, adjacencies, project scope, and client needs. They believe sketching is fairly important on their design process, however they lack the sketching skills to use it effectively. Majority of students change their designs to be able to create them on computer but they believe this is not a major influence on their design outcome. Time constraints were a driving factor in using CAD for generating preliminary designs. Lastly, findings suggested that CAD can be beneficial throughout the design process when it does not suppress creativity. Implications of this study may provide insights on curriculum and teaching strategies. Teaching methods should be reviewed, and students should be encouraged not to limit their design decisions on the basis of their CAD skills or limitations of digital tools. Faculty should discuss strategies such as in-class creativity exercises and more emphasis on free-hand ideation sketches. In addition, students may benefit from an earlier introduction to 3D modeling software, which enables more flexibility regarding design decisions. Ultimately, educators will have a better understanding of the student design process and the role of CAD. Continued studies on this subject are encouraged to better inform best practices for interior design students in a highly technological age.