How an industrial designer uses Shapr3D to build an office chair

Front Page DisplayIndustrial Design

May 17

Claas Kuhnen is an industrial design professor at Wayne State University and he runs his own design consultancy studio. He is also one of the early adopters of Shapr3D. He shared with us where he sees the CAD industry heading andhow he fits Shapr3D into his workflow.

A few days ago we had the chance to interview one of our early adopters, Claas Kuhnen, who is an industrial design professor at Wayne State University and runs his own design consultancy studio.

He shared with us where he sees the CAD industry heading, what he likes about Shapr3D and how it fits into his workflow.


Where do you see the CAD industry today?

Today’s CAD applications are very powerful and it is amazing what you can do with them. For example you can model your product, put it through a physical simulation to stress test it and then send it to a rapid prototyping machine to build a physical model.

Design today in the age of 3D printing is really being democratized, meaning more people can have access to those tools now than ever before.

However, currently there are two big problems present.

First, those industrial design strength applications can have a very steep learning curve because you not only need to learn the tools but also the workflow and the process you have to use to generate you model data. Today we still kinda make models using approaches that are actually quite old – logical, but labor intensive and sometimes way too complex.

And second, most times you are locked into a desktop or laptop device interacting with the software via a keyboard, mouse and trackpad. This is not natural.

But nowadays I prefer working remotely and have my mobility. And also have a similar approach to generate my 3D model data like if I was sketching with pen and paper. Creating 3D designs should feel natural. But on most desktop CADs it’s not natural, at all.

Shapr3D gives me just that experience. It features a very elegant approach to creating sketches and 3D shapes by using the Apple Pencil and gestures with a very minimalistic UI that limits visual distractions and lets you focus more on the creative process.

You need to keep in mind that there are also different types of models:

  • an explorative model,
  • a refined study model,
  • a manufacturing model.

Ideally, each model should have their own way to be created. In my studio or model making space I find Shapr3D the ideal companion to explore my ideas in 3D.

And if I need the CAD data, it can be exported to other desktop applications. So you are not locked into Shapr3D, but you can use it as a great tool for the ideation phase, on your table, in the woodshop, while talking to a client, or while in transit to work and then later refine the model for manufacturing in a different application other engineers use.

This is the way how I, as a designer want to work in today’s time.

That’s why I started experimenting with Shapr3D from the very first day. And so far, I like what it has to offer.


How do you use Shapr3D?

Based on the model and complexity I usually start with quick pen and paper profile studies of the idea to block out forms and proportions. Then in Shapr3D I will create 3D models based on my sketch observations. I do not do many perspective hand sketches anymore because I feel with Shapr3D I am faster and more accurate. One should use a tool for what it is good for.

Those initial sketches can be pretty rough and quick. I only want to quickly put some lines down as a mental note so that I do not forget about the idea.

For a more accurate result sometimes I make a quick 3D model, print it out and use it as a template to create hand sketches in case the model is too complicated or I want variations to be accurate.

During the brainstorming phase I often pin all those sketches onto a wall to see the story behind them, to be able to compare, and to identify possible design directions.

Selected ideas I often recreate on the iPad Pro in Concepts from TopHatch. This is a great iOS vector sketching option that allows me to use some drafting tools.

Claas Kuhnen: Coffe table Sketch

Image: Initial Ideation Sketch with pen and paper

You see, sketching is not a linear, one way paper to digital 3D workflow. Sketching and 3D modeling rather inform each other. Again, you should use each for a task they excel at the best.

I like Shapr3D a lot because it gives me some of the industry standard drafting and modeling tools, however in a nice natural pen and paper workflow. And since the software also offers the ability to add dimensions and other constraints to sketches I can work incredibly precise and smart.

As of the environment where I work

I don’t have any computer in my model shop, nor do I want to have one there. Shapr3D on my iPad Pro is just super ideal in this case. Portable, no dust problems, and sweet drawing modeling tools fitting the need of my creative process in that space.

When I am at the at the university it is nice to have Shapr3D with me in the classroom but even more inside the woodshop. It works without internet. This is brilliant. Other commercial solutions require an internet connection. This is very limiting.

This portability is a great advantage of Shapr3D. Recently I met with a new client discussing renovation plans for a townhouse here in Detroit and I quickly drew the floor plan and drafted up the walls so we could visualise the space. The client was very impressed with how fast and fluid this worked.


How do you fit Shapr3D into your workflow?

The great part about Shapr3D is that it has many export functions.

Models created while in the woodshop, meeting with a client or student can be exported as STEP so I can send the file to a client or to Fusion360 and continue working with the CAD data there. That is really great because I do not have to start from scratch.

If I do not need to continue working in Fusion360 I can also export the model as STL and send it to my 3D printer to create a prototype.

Fusion360 for example is very good when you want to create product assemblies and do tolerance checks.

I can also export a STEP model from Fusion360, load it into Shapr3D on my iPad Pro and then continue direct modeling it there.

I found this very useful when I leave my studio, or when I go to a client and just don’t want to carry a laptop with me.

Modeling with gestures and the Apple Pencil is just so much nicer when you are on-the-go. Seriously better than a trackpad and a keyboard.

So you see here as well: this process it is not a one way street, which is amazing!

As a designer I want to be free, not limited.


How does your average workday look like?

My week days are split in between two days teaching and the rest doing research and working on client projects in my studio. I like this structure because teaching allows me to experiment with new ideas and techniques and when I find something useful can apply those to my professional practise.

At Wayne State I teach a pretty broad set of courses that range from, 2D and 3D foundation, sketching and advanced presentation techniques, to 3D modeling and furniture design.

In my teaching I am very process oriented and I am not shy to try a new software, learn it myself and then teach it to the student.

In my opinion, education should be about solving the problems of tomorrow and not learning what is needed only for today.

So in my 3D modeling class, while it is still software based, I don’t really put the focus on teaching the software, but teaching the concepts of 3D modeling and how to apply it in a design process. That means that of course we have technical assignments where students learn the tools, but then we also go into creative studio projects where they have to assign their learned skills to the design process.

I personally do not care what a company wants me to teach. In my point of few, a university’s job is to provide a broad foundation of understanding the concepts.

When a company hires someone they should understand that they have to provide a certain degree of in-house training and mold the new employee into the shape they need the person to be.

The reason behind this is that tech is evolving so fast, you need to understand how to learn and adapt.

I want my graduates join companies with new insights to help them to grow.

Often times, companies are not able to do this on their own.

Do you have hobby projects you are proud of?

Yes. I live in Detroit, where there are about 78.000 empty houses because of the history the city went through. Some of theses houses are in a very bad shape and to prevent vandalizing, living there illegally, or setting them on fire, the administration decided to take them down.

There is movement nowadays to reclaim the valuable build materials from those old houses like the hardwood floors and such and reuse it.

So I grabbed a set of fence planks, dried them over two years and turned it into coffee tables of various sizes.

I also used it as an intro project in my furniture design class.

Concepts App: Refined Sketches by Class Kuhnen

Image: Refined Concept Sketches in Concepts App

Reusing something old and creating a new design using mixed media was a unique approach indeed. But my students found it a great idea to start the semester like this.

Shapr3D: Concept Exploration in 3D

Image: Further Concept Exploration in 3D with Shapr3D


3D Concept Exploration with Shapr3D

Image: Further Concept Exploration in 3D with Shapr3D

It also helped us to learn the basics of furniture making and of course Shapr3D.

Blender 3D render of Shapr3D file

Image: 3D rendering of a Shapr3D model in Blender 3D