December 08, 2008
Autodesk University 2008 Report
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Autodesk University 2008 Report

By Susan Smith

This year’s Autodesk University drew an audience of approximately 8,000, down from last year’s 12,000. The lower numbers were hardly noticeable, however, as the Main Stage was set up in the center of the auditorium, allowing more people front row seats. The press of people leaving the theater was also formidable, and it is to Autodesk’s credit that they can draw such a crowd, even during such hard economic times.

The focus this year was on design and innovation, both architectural and manufacturing.

Tom Kelley, Ideo
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Tom Kelley, co-founder Ideo

Tom Kelley, cofounder of the company Ideo, and author of two books on innovation, gave an inspiring presentation.

Kelley pointed out that design drives innovation. Like many speakers, he relied quite heavily on quotes from famous people, but generally the message was that design is all good, but innovation has a “small problem.” The problem is one that has been cited by other industry pundits, but very valid: that it is not good enough to be an innovator anymore, you have to “out innovate” others around the world. Kelley cited the “Red Queen Effect,” which borrows from the Alice In Wonderland stories the fact that everyone was running but not getting anywhere. The Red Queen said if you want to get somewhere else you have to run at least twice as fast as that.
Basically, the Red Queen knew in literature what we know today: you’ve got to be ready to run these days, everyone’s innovating. We must keep ahead of global competition.

Kelley’s firm works on over 4,000 innovation programs and is responsible for creating the original computer mouse for Apple, designs services like Bank of America’s “keep the change service” as well as a diverse group of projects. Kelley himself captures the learning from all these projects by interviewing each person in the firm to find out what their experience was, which was the basis for his first book.

Kelley’s second book, “Ten Phases of Innovation,” recommends taking on the role of innovator so you can add that to your organization. There’s a lot of trial and error at this stage of the game, that’s why they’re called experiments, you learn from failure, said Kelley, and it’s even better to learn from other people’s failure.

Kelley focused on what he considers the two most important phases of innovation:

The anthropologist (his favorite) offers the view of seeing what needs to be solved. This view is different from that of engineers who are great problem solvers.

Kelley pointed out that as you spend more time in an industry, you develop expertise, and in so doing you start to screen out information. In the process you start screening stuff out. If you want to be anthropologist you need to look with new eyes. He suggested that it’s good to set aside some of what you know.

The expression “déjà vu” meaning been there before has an opposite, what Kelley calls “Vuja de” or seeing with fresh eyes.

Getting it Right
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Autodesk CEO Carl Bass

Carl Bass, CEO, gave a presentation entitled “Getting it Right.”

It takes a long time to get things right, according to Bass. Design software can help but doesn’t give answers to design problems, it’s not even helpful in framing design problems. Linus Pauling said that “the best way to a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”

Some of the new areas Autodesk is exploring are the Digital Sculpture, where sculptors are able to make their mistakes digitally with Inventor rather than in stone. Artists can ask themselves “what if” repeatedly, easily and inexpensively, and attempt designs they thought might be impossible to imagine before using computer software.

Ideas that are not new but Autodesk has embraced to use in creating new products:

According to Bass, “Biomimicry” is not just about copying nature, it is essentially accessing nature as a launching pad for innovation. “No one has played ‘what if’ as many times as nature has,” said Bass.

For example, the inventor of Velcro noticed how burrs stuck to his dog’s fur, and came up with a design for a substance that was able to mimic the burr’s sticking quality and the fur which equaled velcro.

Another innovative design Bass noted is the bullet train in Japan which travels at approximately 200 miles per hour. The original design had a big problem when it came out of the tunnel -- it made big bang noise. Designers turned to nature and noticed that the kingfisher could dive from high up in the air and enter the water without splashing. They used the design of the beak of the kingfisher for the nose of the train.

Algorithmic design is another way in which designers can access new options and ideas. What parametric design allows is an ability to preserve the relationship between elements in digital models, which has given us more control over our designs, according to Bass. In parametric design, users can generate a range of options, however, with algorithmic design, designers are now programming to write algorithmic strips. Dr. Robert Aish, known as the “father of Bentley’s GenerativeComponents,” has moved over from Bentley to Autodesk and is working in this area, so expect to see some product development that addresses the need for design flexibility and limitless
possibility in the future.

Neil Katz , architect at Skidmore Owens Merrill, said that algorithmic design allows you to do things you couldn’t do before, such as balance performance analysis with aesthetic goals. In designing a hypersonic vehicle for Boeing, it was discovered that using traditional methods could only explore a limited number of options, while using algorithmic design could explore many options. The final vehicle was shaped in a counterintuitive way, “not way they would’ve come up with on their own,” noted Bass, and worked better than others. “We have more than 60 experts in algorithmic design – the inaugural Design Computation Symposium (held Monday, December 1)
is promoting new ways of working with our tools to do it. It is one of the ways people can get to play ‘what if?’” said Bass.

Move from ‘what if’ to ‘what else?’

Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk CTO, reminded the audience that the Digital Cities initiative was explored at last year’s AU, and spoke about just how far that initiative has come since that time.

“Shanghai has spent millions on creating physical models, which come out of date the moment they are changed,” Kowalski pointed out. “That cost is being put into building digital cities today, which are much more useful to city planners and others. Autodesk has created partnerships with cities so they can make valuable decisions.” Infrastructure modeling is a new way to use digital cities.

“The future is coming more quickly than we realize,” Kowalski said. “The global economy and climate change are demanding better design choices, better ways to do things.” Kowalski made the central point that the pace of technology, and magnitude of challenges mean we will see exponential changes to the way we do design. "The things you see today can help you now or in the near future.”

You can find the full AECCafe event calendar here.

To read more news, click here.

-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.

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