my CAD Story, On my Own

Plan for a new park pavilion drawn in HighDesign.

It was 2008. I had recently discovered HighDesign. And after a few false starts, i was really starting to like it. It would of have taken some convincing, but it would have been a good fit for the type of work we were doing in the office... and then, i was laid off. So now there was no convincing to do. I was my own boss. And i could decide what software and platform to use. I was all in. I was going to build my practice using HighDesign on my iMac.*

HighDesign is a 2d CAD software developed exclusively for the Mac by Ilexsoft, a software company based out of Italy. It has many excellent tools and features, without being overburdened with extraneous features that are simply not that beneficial to a 2d CAD package, and all at a very affordable price point (only $349 for the Pro version). It plays fairly nicely with AutoCAD with the ability to import both .dwg and .dxf files. I has a photogrammetry feature for drawing overtop of photographs. It has Architecture specific tools like walls and doors. It has it's shortcomings, as they all do, but it's strengths really made it the near perfect solution for my fledgling firm.

Coming from AutoCAD, it certainly would have eased the transition if HighDesign worked a bit more like AutoCAD. But i quickly learned to embrace it's differences and have even come to recognize some of them as strengths over the way i was doing things in AutoCAD.

Project Views and Sheets in HighDesign
Project Views and Sheets in HighDesign

For instance, there is no paper space. Rather, everything is drawn in what would be the equivalent of model space in AutoCAD. This took some getting used to. But as i learned to use the Sheets feature, i discovered they could be used analogously to Viewports. While there are advantages to the way AutoCAD uses viewports, HighDesign's system is quite flexible and has its own strengths. I have come to think of my Sheets in a similar way to viewports for the layout of projects. This way i can have multiple scaled drawings on a single page by putting each drawing on its own sheet. The title block, i put on a sheet scaled 1:1 that shows the page outlines so i can easily see the area in which i have to work. All other drawings are then put on sheets that are scaled appropriately and arranged on the title block page. Viewports and Sheets do not function the same, but they serve a similar purpose. Namely to layout multiple drawings on a page. In addition, the Project Views feature allows me to set up predefined views for pages with only certain Sheets and Layers on. This is a great help, especially when multiple pages are in one file.

I learned to love the wall tool and doors/windows tool. Neither of which were available in AutoCAD LT. Text can be a bit wonky, but the ability to place a fill behind the text and block out the drawing is a great feature that AutoCAD LT has since incorporated. In general, the ability to place a white fill behind any object and overlay it on a drawing is a great time saver. Not having to trim out siding behind a window or tile below a fixture. This feature also allows me to draw a background elevation and mask, rather than trim, out the portions that would be concealed by the foreground. So it is non destructive, making editing a much simpler task.

Wine Bar Elevation: HighDesign allows me to draw the background elevation and then simply mask it with the foreground. Eliminating a lot of tedious trimming and making revisions easier.
Wine Bar Elevation: HighDesign allows me to draw the background elevation and then simply mask it with the foreground. Eliminating a lot of tedious trimming and making revisions easier.

There are still features i miss from AutoCAD, particularly xrefs, editable block attributes, hatches, and the way the trim tool works, but i have learned to work around these deficiencies.

My biggest frustration with Ilexsoft, however, has been the long standing (going on 3 years now) promise of a new major release. I am confident it is coming as i have seen the beta releases, but it is just taking a frustratingly long time to get here. But when it does, it promises to be spectacular.

While HighDesign is a great option for a sole practitioner or small firm, it is certainly not the industry standard. About three years ago, i started doing consulting work for other Architects. And though HighDesign works well with AutoCAD files, going back and forth between the two was not really a viable option.


This is the fifth in a series about CAD. The other installments can be read buy following the links below:

What is CAD?

my CAD Story, the School Years

my CAD Story, the Firm Years

my CAD Story, Going Native 

*Full disclosure, that is not exactly what happened. I was not fully committed to building my own practice until about 2 years later when the fruitless job searches and the finitude of unemployment benefits caught up with me. But that is another story.

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