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The Top 13 Digital Design Software Packages to Teach to Architecture and Engineering Students


The Top 13 Digital Design Software Packages to Teach to Architecture and Engineering Students

Today’s universities face a major problem. There are so many digital design software packages in the modern industry. How do they choose the best ones to teach? This article looks at 13 digital design software packages that students need to understand.

Digital design is an essential part of the modern architecture and engineering sectors. If students don’t understand at least one digital design software, they’ll struggle to get a job.

It’s not enough to teach the basic design principles anymore. Students need much more than that to prepare for the industry that awaits them.

Universities have the task of teaching students these skills. But the sheer amount of digital design software packages available presents a problem.

How do you choose the ones to teach your students about?

Making the wrong choice, or teaching an outdated software, doesn’t help your students. In fact, it can actively hinder them when they enter the job market.

Help is at hand. This article looks at 13 digital design software packages that students should learn about.

Digital Design Software #1 – Unreal Engine 4

You may not think that a videogame engine would be too helpful when it comes to architecture. But you’d be wrong. Unreal Engine 4 is one of the most advanced digital software packages around.

Using this software, students can create detailed tours of their designs. The software also offers massive potential. You can create a simple room or a full city. It all depends on the needs of the user.

There’s another thing that makes Unreal Engine 4 so important. It’s one of the few software packages to incorporate virtual reality. You can use a VR headset to view a design made using Unreal Engine 4. This makes it essential given the direction the industry is currently heading in.

Digital Design Software #2 – AutoCAD


It may be one of the oldest software packages around. But AutoCAD is as essential now as it’s always been. What’s important is that you’re teaching the most up-to-date version of the software. Old versions of AutoCAD have fallen out of use.

2D architectural drawings still have their place in the modern industry. And few software packages handle them better than AutoCAD. A grounding in AutoCAD also offers a great base from which students can learn about other software packages.

Moreover, the software emphasises precision in these drawings. You can use this to teach about the importance of accuracy at an early stage.

Digital Design Software #3 – Dynamo

Dynamo 1.PNG

Dynamo is an interesting software package because it comes in a couple of flavours. You can download it as a standalone package. This offers a sandbox for designers to play around with.

But it really comes to the fore when used as a plug-in. Dynamo offers compatibility with a range of Autodesk software packages. These include Maya and Revit.

The software itself is a visual programming tool. This means that it helps designers who can’t program with their models. However, it also offers programmers the ability to tinker with code to make small changes.

It’s this programming focus that makes it so versatile. You can use Dynamo for everything from creating models to processing data. It’s the latter feature that makes it so useful when used as a plug-in.

Digital Design Software #4 – Revit

There’s an argument that Revit may be the most important design software of the modern era. After all, it’s deeply linked to Building Information Methodology (BIM). BIM involves great collaboration through the use of technology. Revit is one of the few software packages that’s designed with BIM’s principles in mind.

That alone makes it an essential software to teach to students. But it’s also one of the most versatile architectural programs. Revit uses data, as well as the user’s design skills, to construct models. When used in the BIM setting, this leads to extremely accurate and informative models.

As the industry moves towards BIM as the standard methodology, Revit will gain more popularity.

Digital Design Software #5 – Maya

Maya isn’t a dedicated architectural design software package. In this respect, it shares a few things in common with Unreal Engine 4.

But it is one of the most versatile design software packages around. Maya places very few restrictions on the user. You can design whatever you want without having to worry about architectural accuracy.

Why would that prove useful for an architecture or engineering student? Maya is the perfect software for showing students where their creativity can take them. It practically encourages free-form design. This can encourage students to think outside of the box when coming up with structures.

But don’t ignore its value as a digital design software. Maya offers a combination of modelling, rendering, and animation tools. This essentially makes it an all-in-one software package for the prospective designer.

Digital Design Software #6 – Fusion 360

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If you’re interested in BIM, Fusion 360 is another software package that should grab your attention.

Its key selling point is that it combines a number of digital design disciplines. These include the following:

  • Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Computer-aided manufacturer (CAM)
  • Computer-aided engineering (CAE)

Moreover, it utilises the cloud. This allows for sharing of projects between multiple users and greater levels of access outside of the office.

Fusion 360 is another all-in-one tool, with a focus on engineering. Users can design, alter, and fabricate using the software. The most recent versions also connect directly to 3D printers. This allows for quicker fabrication. But it also means you can use Fusion 360 to teach another concept that students will encounter in the modern industry.

Digital Design Software #7 – Rhino 3D

Rhino gained a great reputation because of its cost-effective nature. It offers freeform design opportunities at far lower prices to many other software packages. But it’s not just cost that makes this software stand out. Rhino is also a powerful design tool that you can also link several plug-ins to.

Much like Maya, Rhino allows designers to get more creative with their models. But it’s also fairly easy to learn. In fact, its short learning curve makes it desirable as a starting point for digital design students. The fact that it has tools that aid in more accurate model generating is the icing on the cake.

Digital Design Software #8 – Grasshopper

Given the mention of Rhino 3D, it’s only fair that we mention it’s most popular plug-in. Grasshopper offers Rhino users another way of creating shapes using algorithms. The key with Grasshopper lies in its simplicity.

While Rhino 3D offers plenty of useful design tools, it also features a complex programming language. Those who don’t learn this language may struggle to use Rhino to its full potential.

Grasshopper offers an alternative that ties directly into the tools that Rhino has to offer. Moreover, it doesn’t require in-depth knowledge of scripting and programming to use. Instead, it allows users to create forms that they can then use to manipulate their designs.

Grasshopper is useful for helping students to speed up their work processes in Rhino. However, it’s still worth teaching students about RhinoScript as well.

Digital Design Software #9 – Python

Python differs from everything else on this list because it’s not really a software package. Instead, it’s a programming language that you can use with several design software packages.

You can use Python as an introductory tool to the concept of algorithmic design. Of course, it’s also advanced enough for use within a software package. With Python, the user can use data to manipulate the models that they’re building. They can also develop strong programming skills. This helps them to quickly understand the languages that other software packages use.

This is another package that you can plug into Rhino. Again, this emphasises the versatility of Rhino. It also means that you can use the software to teach students different concepts.

Digital Design Software #10 – Infraworks

Few software packages on this list are quite as specialised as Infraworks. The software doesn’t focus on architectural or freeform design. Instead, it’s all about helping engineers understand how their designs will work in the real world.

It’s a particularly useful tool for budding city planners. Using Infraworks, you can create models that incorporate bridges, roads, and drainage systems. Moreover, the software can pull in data from an array of sources to inform model building. This may prove useful when teaching the basic concepts of BIM to students.

Infraworks is a specialised package, which means it’s not useful for all types of courses. However, students with an interest in city planning and infrastructure can use it to their advantage. It also serves as a good tool for showing engineers how their designs might fare.

Digital Design Software #11 – SketchUp

If there was ever a design software that serves as the perfect starting point for designers, it’s SketchUp. It’s perhaps the most forgiving software package on this list. But don’t let that fool you. Experienced users can craft fairly complex designs using the software.

SketchUp has one of the most user-friendly interfaces of any software package on this list. It allows the user to manipulate 3D objects and produce tangible results in a matter of minutes. As a result, it’s a great tool for introducing students to the basics of 3D design.

It’s also a useful documentation tool. The Pro version of the software contains a feature called LayOut. This allows the user to annotate their models with useful information. Again, this makes it a great learning tool. But professionals can also use this to offer as much information in a single model as possible.

Digital Design Software #12 – ArchiCAD

Another specialised software package, ArchiCAD is a CAD program for architects. Much like Revit, it has a BIM focus, which may make it an excellent introductory tool. Moreover, the focus on architecture means that it offers constraints that lead to more accurate models.

The newest version of the software also incorporates GRAPHISOFT’s Predictive Design technology. As the name implies, this allows the software to anticipate a user’s design choices. Again, all of this helps to create a more efficient design process. When taught alongside Revit, you can use ArchiCAD to give students a solid grounding in BIM.

Digital Design Software #13 – V-Ray

This list wraps up with a software package that’s focused more on rendering than digital design. V-Ray is a 3D renderer that you can plug into an array of the software packages on this list. Maya, Rhino, and SketchUp all allow for V-Ray installation. So too does Revit.

V-Ray excels when it comes to presenting digital designs to clients. It allows you to create realistic renders that outstrip those produced by most design software packages. In fact, it’s so good that a number of movie studios use it when rendering animated features. With that in mind, it’s useful for any subject that has a digital design component.

For architects, it allows for more realistic renders of their models. Moreover, the lighting tools it provides add to the realism of models.

The Final Word

This is just a small sample of the many digital design software packages that are now available. However, it’s also a selection of some of the most important in the modern industry. Each of these software packages has something unique to offer students. Some teach the basics of programming, whereas others introduce students to new concepts. You can use all of them as effective teaching tools for digital designers.

This list also offers universities another benefit. It highlights the most important software packages so that you can save money. Using this list, you can feel sure that you’re not spending thousands of dollars on poor or outdated software. Instead, you receive software that’s more likely to help students to reach their desired learning outcomes.

Speaking of learning, your tutors must understand these software packages before they can teach them. That’s a tall order, especially for tutors who haven’t used them before. Thankfully, Archistar Academy can help. We offer an array of courses that cover the 13 software packages covered on this list, alongside others. Moreover, our platform uses the Rapid Learning Methodology. This allows students to build usable skills quicker.

Do you want to find out more? If so, get in touch with an Archistar representative today.

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Posted on 20 Jan 2020

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