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My 5 favourite design programs & why

Author: Asaf Yaacobi
Design programs

While on your professional career journey to become a designer/modeller and digital artisanal craftsman, you must have tried numerous tools, processes and workflows. Outsiders to this digital craftsmanship are not aware of the numerous “digital tools” of the trade for 2D or 3D. How do you find your way through the countless tools to determine those that deliver the visions you want to realize?

Becoming a digital artist has a strong commitment. One must practice day in day out, just like an athlete in a constant training regime getting better every day. After achieving the needed level, enters the maintenance stage for keeping the skill sharp, warm, and ready to be used when required. Part of the digital artist maintenance responsibility is always to be curious and aware of what is out there and what is new. How many softwares have you tested in your professional path?

For me, personally, that’s a tough question to answer. In my professional life, and even just a bit before, I have tried countless 2D and 3D softwares, and trust me, while writing these words, I can honestly say without a doubt, it’s a bottomless rabbit hole. Still, it amazes me the amount of which software did not survive to this day or that I did not survive the transitioning process, spending the time to learn and not having them as part of my workflow. Some fitted like a glove, and some just did not.

This type of human-software coexistence and evolution together is part of our life in this digital era. The adaptation rate for software, in my opinion, consists of a few vital aspects:

  1. Solves a problem (the easy way to solve the problem vs the best way of solving it)
  2. Intuitive (UI, function logics, 2clicksAway…)
  3. The learning curve (community and learning material availability)
  4. Boost your creativity (FYI. there are many excel creative minds out there)

As the Konzepthaus Academy Director, I have carefully selected a list of software which I find personally an absolute pleasure, and which answer the following question: If I was a young designer today, what would I be interested in learning or upskilling? Some of the software selections are related to my personal and creative workflow, but I think at this point of time we should have more significant scope to this question and address not what is out there, but what could be of a difference!

1. Blender

Number one on my list. Yes, and it is here to stay. Blender must have been doing something right. Since the introduction of the new blender simple, intuitive user interface, we are experiencing a significant shift to Blender. Different profiles of users from industrial, fashion and automotive designers are rapidly adapting to the most downloadable 3D software ever. If you are not aware, in the open-source and free category software, Blender is the most robust 3D swiss-army knife out there. In the past decade, Blender went from hobbyist level 3D software to a full-scale movie and film 3D modelling production and composition tool. In this one-stop-shop tool you are able mix endless processes seamlessly: Modelling / Sculpting /Cycle Rendering / EEVEE real-time PBR engine / Rigging / Animation / 2D Grease Pencil / VFX / Video Editing.

To sum it up; offers an intuitive way into 3D, free and powerful, a vast user community, backed up with open-source developers worldwide participation in this huge 3d software project.

Entry-level: 2

2. Substance Painter

3D texturing was never so much fun and as powerful as it is now, thanks to this fantastic product within the Adobe suite. I know there are other software out there, but for me, this is the most comfortable entry-level to 3D visualisation, for realistic LookDev of your product. It makes total sense that all industries alike are attracted to Substance painter, and the product design results speak for themselves.

Add to this the fact that Substance/Adobe is aware of the growing community and keep pushing the tool to be integrated into as many industries as possible, investing time and resources into meeting the needs of their users. Win-win.

Having Substance Painter under Adobe’s umbrella makes sense after all! If you are familiar with Adobe Photoshop or similar products, you will find your way-in easily. It is very intuitive, quick to master and you can easily gain an understanding of how 3D materials are layered while creating them digitally. When you master Substance painter (aka SP) I am sure you will go the extra mile for more procedural material exploration with substance source or even full parametric node workflow with Substance Designer.

In a nutshell; a fabulous and fun way into 3D, materials and material R&D.

Entry-level: 1

3. Grasshopper

Full disclosure here! I am very biased when it comes to Grasshopper, as it’s close to my heart. An excellent and complex tool, with a very high level of personal maintenance (practice). But when the magic happens, the personal reward is at its best.

With Grasshopper, you will be able to automate your daily repetitive tasks and learn how to create your visual scripting code (code without coding). In its early stages, architects have adopted Grasshopper and the direct outcome of using the tool was a full-throttle revolution to all aspects of current architecture processes.

Let me tell you a small secret; Grasshopper is not only for automotive parametric texture modelling! It has much more to offer, from design conception (form-finding), complex 3D and additive manufacturing R&D, optimization, C&T pattern explorations, and of course the iteration part of each process.

Learning Grasshopper might be tricky, but the goal is to find what you are comfortable with but still ensuring personal growth. In a nutshell, Grasshopper is hard to learn but super rewarding once mastered.

Future designers should experience parametric design and even code as part of their workflow.

Entry-level: 3.5

4. Zbrush

Monster software that I absolutely love. Blood, sweat and tears went into learning this one. Even though these days, my design process only utilises probably 3% of what Zbrush has to offer, it is always a fun place to go. My curiosity about using ZBrush started back in 2011 while trying to create a more robust jewellery design, which forced me to let go of poly modelling and merge sculpting into my daily design workflow. Nine years on, and I’m still a fan and find Zbrush to be one of the most creative places for me to express my artistic, abstract design process. Pixologic is investing many hours in online content that will get you up and running, as well as maintaining a vast fan-based community while leading the 3D sculpting industry for the film sector.

To cut a long story short; after you get “in”, it’s super fun. Not for the faint-hearted, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but it has massive potential for sculptures and Clay modellers.

Entry-level: 3

5. Unreal

You can’t get more epic than Unreal. Unreal Engine has captured the attention of almost everyone who utilises a real-time visualisation tool! OK, Unreal can’t be mentioned without discussing its’ rival engine Unity, which splits the automotive world in two. Are you Team Unity or Unreal? However, there is no black or white answer to this.

I think it’s a fact that half of the automotive design community is a passionate, console gaming community, and I can imagine that GTA rings a bell with each and every one of us. However, selecting a quality program for real-time visualisation is a must for the industry. Visually, the results of Unreal are stunning. More and more companies are integrating Unreal into their visualization process. Unreal also has the additional added benefit of being able to help studios be a future communication centre, through Virtual Reality; integrated technologies to facilitate multiple participants in different locations worldwide. And the most potent integrations are still emerging, virtually testing specialized processes before physically developing them.

My wrap up; visualization starter, a fast way in, that delivers excellent results in no time.

Entry-level: 2

I would love to know what workflow you have mastered as a digital artisan and what would you like to learn and upskill?
Join the conversation on Linkedin or contact me via email or message.