In October 2016, the Institute of Digital Design Australia (IDDA) conducted a survey with Architecture & Design readers with the aim of sharing the key trends, challenges and forecasts associated with digital design tools in the Australian architectural design industry. Architects, engineers and construction companies were asked a series of questions about digital design.

The key findings are published below, followed by recommendations from IDDA Director Ben Coorey and further information on the state of digital design software.


  • The single biggest challenge for designers is finding the time to learn new software and keep up to date.
  • A frequent response from sole operators was that they had nobody to learn from.
  • Most respondents learn new digital design software themselves, followed by private workshops and online training.



  • Many respondents found “other people” the biggest challenge, whether it was other consultants who were not strong with BIM, or difficult client expectations



  • The cost of software was a significant challenge for many respondents.
  • Respondents rated themselves highly for 2D Documentation, 3D Modelling and BIM, but lower for more advanced applications like Rendering, Parametric Design, Scripting and Animation.
  • When we asked on software plans for the next 12 months, the advanced applications were hardly to be seen. It appears that most companies are quite content with the status quo software programs and sticking with the core skills of 2D Documentation, 3D Modelling and BIM.
  • Autodesk is the dominant software provider, with many firms currently using AutoCAD and Revit. AutoCAD and Revit were in the top three software programs to be implemented in the next 12 months as well.
  • ArchiCAD, Sketchup, Rhino and 3DS Max were the three next highest adopted programs. There is a long tail, all the other programs were used by less than 10% of respondents.
  • Respondents also found it slow and difficult to create high quality presentation models.







  • Many firms need upskilling but simply don’t have the time to do so. Firms should explore and evaluate faster ways of skilling up staff.
  • Software vendors and resellers need to find creative ways to relieve the software pricing burden on small businesses. Businesses should also look at flexible and floating licenses to keep software costs manageable.
  • Where possible, firms should look to work with clients and other consultants who are compatible with their digital design tools. Incompatibility is leading to large amounts of unproductive effort.
  • Sole operators can join online communities or industry meetups to foster better connections.
  • Firms who only provide “standard offerings” should certainly consider widening their offerings to more advanced applications. Parametric design, Rendering, Scripting and Animation are initially harder to learn, but provide improved workflows, designs and presentation models once mastered.


The software that the AEC industry is using has evolved from standard 2D drafting that has been fundamental to the profession to fully integrated 3D modelling environments that contain building information, design analytics and programmable interfaces. This brings a plethora of new tools and processes as you can see from this snapshot into the industry. These tools are allowing more complex designs, performance driven design, rapid prototyping and the move to mass customisation and digital fabrication of building elements.

CAD (Computer-aided Design) software is used by architects, designers, engineers and more to create precision drawings and technical illustrations. It can be used to create both 2D and 3D models and is standard documentation tool in the industry and design process.
Key software products: AutoCAD, Microstation

3D Modelling software focus on geometry creation and rendering - allowing the design of 3D objects from the conceptual phase to detailed design most often with the ability to prepare your model for fabrication. They are used in multiple disciplines including Product Design, Architecture, Engineering and Animation. 3D modellers offer maximum design flexibility with geometry being able to be constructed and manipulated with little constraint.
Key software products: Rhino, 3DS Max, Maya, SketchUp

Building Information Modelling (BIM) software allow the 3D modelling of buildings using tools that replicate real world element. A building can be designed using floor slabs, walls, doors, windows and roofs. Most importantly, the 2D drawings are generated from the 3D model, allowing you to edit the model in Plan, Elevation, Section or 3D and all views update concurrently. 3D visualization of a project and has the capacity to minimize errors due to human error and can identify any potential design clashes.
Key software products: Revit, ArchiCAD

Parametric Modelling offers a flexible, automated method to create complex design models. It permits a quick method to explore, iterate, change and test design models until an appropriate solution is found. Users can embed intelligence and constraints into their designs which can be both powerful and problematic. Geometry that is dependent on each other may reduce design errors further down the track but may also make editing difficult for those who did not create the model initially.
Key software products: Grasshopper, Dynamo

Architectural renders are useful to visualize a design concept, ranging from simple drawings to computer-generated images reflecting real-life situations. Video game engines are now available to designers and offer entirely new presentation possibilities. Whilst the visualization process may be time consuming and often tricky to find the right settings to perform the job (colour, lighting, framing, composition, angles to convey moods and more), the final image is a persuasive and key communication tool between the designer and end user.
Key software products: V-Ray, KeyShot, Lumion, Maxwell, Adobe Photoshop

It is now easier than ever to gather real-time analysis on the performance of a design with a range of analysis software emerging that plug directly into your design environment. These programs provide quick feedback for any current design.
Key software products: Sefaira, Ladybug + Honeybee, Kangaroo, Karamba

So, there you have it!

How is your firm progressing with Digital Design? Leave a comment below.

About the author

Dr Benjamin Coorey is a parametric design expert and Architect, specialising in Spatial Analysis and the codification of design logic. He is the director of IDDA which provides a rapid learning platform for members to learn digital design.

Dr. Benjamin has also established a research hub that is pioneering a state of the art digital design analysis platform. His research aims to provide Architects, Designers, Developers, Planners and Engineers better access to real-time feedback that will improve the quality of design and provide confidence in designing and delivery complex solutions.