How did FormIt come to be? It started about a year ago while doing user research for Autodesk Vasari. We were talking with a lot of architects about conceptual design and observed a common pattern: mobile devices (specifically iPads) were everywhere. Designers were (and still are) using a variety of sketching and paint tools to capture ideas. But like 2D CAD, these ideas are disconnected from the BIM design workflow. So we asked ourselves: what if we made a 3D modeling app where you could sketch ideas wherever and whenever inspiration strikes?. The next logical question: what if these sketch models could seamlessly flow into the BIM workflow? The majority of the senior designers we met with never touched Sketchup or Revit. This was due to the fact that many did not grow up with these technologies and feel more comfortable with their Moleskine sketchbook. More practically these designers are always on the go – to the site, client meetings, etc. – and simply do not have the time to keep up with fast evolving modeling technologies. So while the accepted wisdom was “no one wants to model on a tablet”, we questioned that wisdom. Why not make an app that could support what Matt Jezyk, our Product Manager, called “a 10 minute model.”
So we started sketching, prototyping, and coding. Less than a year later, we are pleased to launch version 1 of Autodesk FormIt. Below are images that show some of the process of how we go from an idea to app in 11 months.
The first step in this process was what we call a User Experience Storyboard. Like storyboards in film, we use this low cost format to tell the story of what the user experience will be like. This particular storyboard, which we named “Napkin Sketch 2.0” portrayed Simon, a senior design architect, traveling between his office in Chicago and a customer visit in Seoul. He used the long flight home to sketch out ideas and share them with his design staff.
The idea took on legs and we quickly assembled a team to start laying out a plan. First step was to assemble a “story map,” a planning method which allows us to map out potential features into a map that would ultimately guide us through the entire process.
Across the top of this white board above are architectural sketches we used as inspiration – but also to keep us grounded and focused on the end product we were striving towards. The following Pinterest board has these sketches and more. I’m partial to Steven Holl watercolors:
Source: archdaily.com via Tom on Pinterest
The next steps were key. First: what kind of look and feel should this app have? What should be the first experience like? What about the 10th or 100th experience? These mockups then became more and more detailed as we worked out the user interface scheme for the 3D world and the gallery.
Second, was to figure out how to actually modify the objects. This turned out to be the most challenging and rewarding aspect of this project. Here we also used story-boarding to figure out the gestures we would need to create an manipulate forms.
In just a few weeks after starting the planning process, we had a working prototype – shown in this shaky video.
By four months we had already established a lot of the core app framework and model interactions, shown in this video.
Of course, we followed this with a lot of user testing, white board and Skype discussions, and tweaking before arriving at version 1. FormIt is under continued development, so we will continue to refine and tweak based on your feedback. Please submit feedback at our support site.