The Software That Changed Architecture: Reflecting on AutoCAD’s Legacy

Born in 1982, AutoCAD transformed the architectural industry, leading the transition from hand drawing to computer-aided design.

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When you think of the 1980s, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s Madonna or Prince, Cheers or Dynasty, leg warmers or acid washed denim. Those days may feel far removed from the cutting-edge, high-tech world of the 2020s, but that distant decade actually laid the foundations for much of our lives today — particularly when it comes to our working world. It’s remarkable to think that Microsoft Word was launched in 1983, while Photoshop was first developed in 1987 before its first official release in 1990.

For architects though, arguably the most important piece of software was first created way back in 1982: AutoCAD, a new type of 2D drafting application, was launched as a desktop app running on microcomputers with internal graphics controllers. Ever since, its distinctive black screen and colored polylines have graced the screens of millions, leading the transition from manual drawing to computer-aided design for creative industries worldwide.

A man using AutoCAD 2.6 to digitize a drawing of a school building in 1987; image via Wikipedia

While this iconic piece of software has been utilized worldwide ever since then by graphic designers, engineers, project managers and more, it’s perhaps most associated with architecture, transforming the design process of countless firms over the past four decades. While its place in the history books of architectural practice has long been secure, the software’s continues to be hugely popular, despite the emergence of 3D BIM software in recent years.

Architizer’s Editor in Chief Paul Keskeys sat down with Dania El Hassan, AutoCAD’s Director of Product Management, to learn how AutoCAD has managed to retain its relevance in an ever-changing industry, and hear about the upcoming evolutions planned for this enduring software.

Paul Keskeys: Congratulations on AutoCAD’s milestone! How did the software establish itself as a mainstay in the industry to start with, and how has it evolved?

Dania El Hassan: Autodesk is the technology leader in the AEC industry. We’ve led multiple digital transformations, beginning with the launch of AutoCAD 40 years ago which disrupted the industry by introducing computer-aided design. Since then, we’ve offered tools to enable customers to work in the cloud on web and mobile devices, and now we are accelerating better project outcomes by helping our customers with automations and insights that lead to impactful gains in efficiency and sustainability.

What do you think has contributed to AutoCAD’s continued relevance to the AEC industry despite the rise of 3D modeling and BIM software in recent years?

AutoCAD participates in many parts of the project lifecycle from conceptual design through construction and operation. We’ve found that our customers who are most successful in their BIM journeys continue to use AutoCAD alongside Autodesk Construction Cloud and Revit to achieve their project goals. We’re committed to delivering solutions for the AEC industry that meet our customers’ changing needs, inspired by customer requests and feedback.

Office plan; image courtesy of Autodesk

Can you highlight some of the new tools or features in the latest edition of AutoCAD and expand on why they were introduced?

AutoCAD 2023 was designed with our customers and the changing nature of their work in mind. We focused on powerful automations and insights to drive greater efficiency and proficiency while also investing in new technologies that power more modern collaborative workflows.

These automations have been a part of the AutoCAD core experience for decades, but this year, with the power of machine learning, we’ve reached new heights. The Markup Import engine meets customers where they are so they can bring in critical collaborator feedback and data, from DWG, PDF or even paper into their AutoCAD drafting environment. The Markup Assist engine will offer suggestions on the next step – enabling customers to bring in those markups as AutoCAD objects and edit them directly, helping them to focus their attention on design decisions that lead to the best possible project outcomes.

My Insights Dashboard was first introduced in AutoCAD 2022 which uses ML to extract usage patterns from command entries to deliver helpful tips and suggestions to teach our customers to work more proficiently. With the release of AutoCAD 2023, we took this one step further; we introduced the Macro Advisor, which automatically recognizes repetitive tasks in a user’s workflow to recommend a relevant macro that could save time, not only suggesting helpful tips, but enabling powerful automations based on that insight.

AutoCAD users and their collaborators have embraced the efficiencies that come with completely digital workflows whether working on their desktop, in a web browser or on a mobile device. With AutoCAD web and mobile apps, users have the most comprehensive web and mobile capabilities of any CAD software. Customers can use core AutoCAD commands and access their files anytime, anywhere on any device, and these applications are becoming even more powerful and familiar to expert AutoCAD users.

The AutoCAD team continues to invest in powerful capabilities like these that will enable our customers to design toward better outcomes more easily and efficiently.

3D cafe plan; image courtesy of Autodesk

How would you sell architects on AutoCAD in 2022, versus 1992?

We understand that our customers trust AutoCAD with their most valuable assets: their IP and project data for millions of team members across the globe. We are deeply committed to continue earning that trust from our customers, listening and responding to customer needs, providing value across the project lifecycle, and setting them up for the future. With 40 years of innovation at our side, AutoCAD achieves unparalleled performance, and our ecosystem of customers, partners and developers continue to ensure that AutoCAD can flexibly be customized to be efficient software by the AEC professional’s side.

Ultimately, there’s never been a better time to work with AutoCAD. We are accelerating better project outcomes by helping our customers with automations and insights to improve efficiency and sustainability, and the AutoCAD for web and mobile applications empower teams to design projects from anywhere on any device.

How do you see AutoCAD evolving in the future?

We’re excited about what the future holds for AutoCAD and the AEC industry. We are closely watching trends in ML/AI, mobility, data, and of course the digital transformations that our customers are undertaking in the changing workplace.

While we couldn’t have predicted many of the events of the past few years, we are pleased that the AutoCAD family of products continues to meet our customers’ evolving needs as they’ve accelerated their digital transformations. We have a few more things up our sleeves here of course, and we’re looking ahead toward a more connected data platform with automations and insights to guide our customers toward entirely new outcomes.

5 Books to Help You Master AutoCAD

If you are looking to learn AutoCAD, or would like to get more out of the software, try these handy reference guides:

AutoCAD 2022 Instructor

The objective of this book is to provide you with extensive knowledge of AutoCAD, whether you are taking an instructor-led course or learning on your own. Learn more and purchase >

AutoCAD 2022 for the Interior Designer

Focused around a hotel suite project, AutoCAD 2022 for the Interior Designer provides the Interior Design student with a non-intimidating, tutorial based approach to learning the AutoCAD program. Learn more and purchase >

AutoCAD For Dummies

This guide helps you de-mystify the handy software and put the tools in AutoCAD to use. Written by an experienced AutoCAD engineer and mechanical design instructor, it assumes no previous computer-aided drafting experience as it walks you through the basics of starting projects and drawing straight lines all the way up through 3D modeling. Learn more and purchase >

AutoCAD LT 2022 for Designers

In this book, every AutoCAD LT command is thoroughly explained with the help of examples and illustrations. This makes it easy for the users to understand the functions of the tools and their applications in the drawing. Learn more and purchase >

AutoCAD 2022 For Beginners

This book helps you to learn AutoCAD basics using brief explanations and well-directed examples. You will learn the basics of the interface and commands, as well as how to create, edit, dimension, print drawings. Learn more and purchase >

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The jury and the public have had their say — feast your eyes on the winners of Architizer's 12th Annual A+Awards. Subscribe to our Awards Newsletter to receive future program updates.

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