Community discussion: 2023 State of Design and Make report

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Autodesk recently published its first research study, the 2023 State of Design and Make report, on how digital transformation is driving business resilience, sustainability, and talent management. 


A group of us – Chris Stevens, Daniel Lench, Rina Sahay, Robert Beckerbauer, Jr., Shelby L. Smith, and Tom Richardson – got together to share our perspectives on the report. We talked about the opportunities for digital transformation to drive efficiency and spark creativity; the challenges of adapting to rapid technological change; and the evolving skills needed for the designers and makers of the future. We hope you’ll join the discussion in the comments.




The State of Design & Make report identifies the most pressing drivers of change that are shaping today’s business decisions and helps leaders make informed, strategic decisions about how to prioritize and invest in the future. What are your key takeaways?


Chris Stevens: Focusing on Design and Make is obviously very important for Autodesk right now; the next Autodesk University has the same title. I’m interested in seeing the action that Autodesk is going to take in the tools themselves in response to the big ideas discussed in the report.


Daniel Lench: I appreciate the report being out there. As an end user with experience in the field of civil engineering, I really feel that knowing what our friction points are right now helps to drive the innovation we need.


Shelby L. Smith: One of the things that stood out to me the most in this report was that 72% of respondents said that the workforce has evolved more in the past 3 years than the last 25. Technology is rapidly changing, we’re moving to cloud-based solutions – we all need to keep up and adapt to that.


Robert Beckerbauer, Jr.: This report brings together a lot of what we already know in the field and the issues that every architecture firm out there is facing. How do we hit the 2030 Challenges? But in practice, it comes back to the tools. When are we going to get the tools that we need to do that, and all in one spot?


Rina Sahay: The report is great. What really resonates and will make people in the field, in my team, interested, is the data points that relate to projects.




“79% say future growth depends on digital tools.” How does this statistic resonate with your real-world experiences of digital transformation and the tools you use every day?


Daniel LenchWe’re at an inflection point in terms of technology in civil engineering. I’m on the side that believes that the tools we have as a workforce are not going to be able to support us in the future (though who knows what Autodesk has coming next). But the uncertainty around what’s next makes me feel pessimistic.


How do we train people and support what’s needed for the future when we’re consistently having to create workarounds for our day-to-day work? I see more fluid and intuitive programs out there for other industries and civil and infrastructure needs to have that. If we had something that’s more dynamic, easier to teach, and can manage the entirety of a project from end-to-end, we’d be much better set up for the challenges of the future. When we see that digitization does drive the future and we’re struggling to get models to talk to each other, it’s frustrating.


I’m inspired by those magical programs where you can accomplish things in a dynamic way, showing clients multiple iterations of their vision in the course of an hour, where meetings run long because they’re so engaged with what you’re showing them. But interoperability is really important. I can do some great things in one program, but then I have to put it into another program.


Robert Beckerbauer, Jr.: One thing that frustrates me too is interoperability. I’m on the architecture side, and often I can’t work with what civil engineers are trying to give me. I wish we could all just play together in the same sandbox.


But I do see a lot of positives coming. Forma is making things so much better. Recently at the BILT conference, we had a long conversation about where AI and machine learning fit in. I want to be able to make a change in a design schedule and see it reflected throughout the detail straight away. If I change a detail, I want the schedule to change right away.


Rina Sahay: A real challenge for me in this area is people not moving with the times and wanting to do things the way they’ve always done it. Another issue I’ve seen is IT departments not moving quickly enough, and then you end up with people using outdated versions of the software and running into problems.




The report identified remote work as the most significant area of increased investment during the past three years. How has remote work changed things for you?


Robert Beckerbauer, Jr.: I’m not at all shocked by the findings in the report on remote working. I work for a firm based in Seattle, and I’m in Nebraska. Not being able to get help nearby is old-school thinking, in my view. The next generation is not going to come into the office.


Tom Richardson: The section on talent really stood out to me. We’ve certainly had issues with hiring talent. We’ve also struggled with established people resisting moving to digital tools. The past three years and working remotely has changed that – all of a sudden people had to start using the tools, and they got comfortable with them.




More than half of respondents said that their companies are hiring employees who lack the skills needed for their positions and plan to train them. What are your experiences of hiring and training right now?


Daniel Lench: Digitization is key to resiliency, in my mind. We must start training students for the future, with technologies that are closer to the ways that younger generations work. The report states, “42% said their companies are too slow to adapt to the needs and desires of the younger generation of workers.” They grew up on Minecraft and something that’s so simple to build worlds. When we have to tell the up-and-coming, just-graduated engineers that they’re going to be working on labeling for the next three months, it’s a real cooling-off for them after the high of achieving their degrees.


More automation will allow them to focus on the skills and passion for worldbuilding that brought them here. I look forward to seeing things like automatic labeling, municipalities and agencies being able to take on digital delivery of projects, things like that. The faster we can get away from the analog, the better. ACC is getting us closer. But it’s not only what does the software look like for me, but what does our interface with it look like? What comes after keyboards, 3D mice? What we’re using the tools for should be driving the evolution of how we use them.


Robert Beckerbauer, Jr.: The new generation does work in different ways. Training them can be hard, but often they’re training me, too. They’re using new technologies, and things are moving very fast. As Dan said, we need more automation for things like labeling or tagging – we’re wasting time and talent on it. As Stefan List from Airbus says in the report, “Employees want to know that they won’t just be completing tasks given to them. They want to bring their own viewpoints and creativity to their jobs.”


Shelby L. Smith: The report says that “sixty-seven percent of respondents said that their companies struggle to find employees with the right skills, and 64% said that access to skilled employees presents a barrier to business growth.” In the office we often receive graduates who have never seen a plan set. We’re literally starting from scratch in the tools. I’ve taught at a local college and I stressed to my students that they could get educational licenses to Autodesk software that are free and that this is their prime opportunity to just try things out, play around, see what skills you can learn. 


Rina Sahay: In Michigan, where I live, design is not being taught much in high schools. We used to have an excellent tech center program that I was on the advisory board for, but that’s gone now. We need to get students involved in using design software at the K-12 level. I’m really passionate about getting kids fascinated by design tools, so they’re motivated to study architecture or engineering. I think that’s the first challenge when it comes to the workforce. I’d love to see something like a Junior Autodesk University, where people like me can show kids what design tools can do. But the technology does need to be more approachable for them. There’s a steep learning curve with design technologies that can put young people off.


Chris Stevens: I’m interested in the topic of talent and how companies are struggling to attract and retain skilled workers. I’ve been in the civil engineering industry for over 50 years. I’m skeptical that companies are going to be able to make the changes they need in terms of upskilling and workforce because of systemic issues in elementary, secondary, and university education in the United States.


My son is a registered civil engineer; he works for a major municipality in the street maintenance program, working mostly on planning, contracting, and analysis. He didn’t get training in drafting or CAD in school, but he did have access to AutoCAD for his senior project. My daughter graduated in civil engineering about five years later, and there was no CAD at all. Unless we have civil engineering graduates ready to walk into an office and start work immediately, we’re not preparing them properly. I’d like to see closer connections between the civil engineering industry and the education community.



Have you read the 2023 State of Design and Make report? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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