DisciplinesUX, Interaction Design, Visual Design, User Research
Autodesk CFD is a professional yet easy-to-use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tool for engineers; in other words, an approachable way to simulate fluid flow and heat transfer to understand how designs will perform in the real world. It is used to simulate everything from pumps & valves, to electronics cooling, to aero & hydrodynamics, to HVAC systems in buildings. Our product is designed with the belief that simulating design performance virtually, early, and often in the product lifecycle results in cheaper and better-performing real-world designs, with faster time to market.
Role and Responsibilities
I was the UX Design Lead for Autodesk’s computational fluid dynamics (CFD) apps from 2011 until 2017, supporting the following successful releases:
- Autodesk Simulation CFD 2012
- Autodesk Simulation CFD 2013
- Autodesk Simulation CFD 2014
- Autodesk Simulation CFD 2015
- Autodesk CFD 2016
- Autodesk CFD 2017
In this role I owned user experience and product design, supporting most new development initiatives. Responsibilities include:
- User research
- Product design strategy, planning, & facilitation
- UI, interaction design, and prototyping
- Visual Design
- Front-end development (XAML-based WPF UIs)
- Usability testing
- Design evangelism and cultural evolution
An example of a large-scale, post-acquisition UI overhaul follows.
Case Study: UI Modernization
User Research and Synthesis
Interface and Interaction Design
The following images show the general process, with a focus on the ribbon toolbar since it is the primary interface: starting from low-fi sketches exploring broad design concepts, to digital wireframes, to mockups, to actual UI prototyping, and finally to polishing the icons and visual design.
Feedback and Additional Work
This project was a resounding success that made our application easier to learn and use. We ended up finishing ahead of schedule thanks to an incredible engineering team and great tooling from Microsoft. In the end, nothing is as satisfying as positive user feedback:
I’ve used a lot of software since entering the product research field. Some were not too difficult to figure out, while others did require a bit of study to get running. Autodesk Simulation CFD 2013 is one of the easiest I’ve encountered.
Anyone fresh into a new piece of software can feel a bit out of sorts, but CFD is laid out in my favorite manner: a progressive ribbon. By this, I mean a ribbon layout that works from left to right in the general order that parallels the standard workflows expected.
The interesting thing to note here is that I never studied how to manipulate planes in CFD. I just followed my instincts, and the tools were there. Nice job usability.
John Evans, designandmotion.com
This particular project serves as a broad example of my approach and my varied, technical skillset as a designer. I have designed a majority of the new and redesigned features in the products listed above, so am happy to answer additional questions and requests. For a list of what’s new in each release, see the Autodesk Knowledge Network articles:
- What’s New in Autodesk® CFD 2017
- What’s New in Autodesk® CFD 2016
- What’s New in Autodesk® Simulation CFD 2015
- What’s New in Autodesk® Simulation CFD 2014
- What’s New in Autodesk® Simulation CFD 2013
- Autodesk® Simulation CFD 2012 has been Released
For earlier work, check out my post about CFdesign.