Space: The Evolution of 3D Technology in Interior Design

October 26, 2012 General, Interior Design 0 Comments


In the Summer 2012 edition of ARTISTIK Magazine, Harrington College of Design Program Coordinator Peter Klick shared insight about his career and experience in the ever-evolving field of Interior Design. This feature is adapted from the Summer 2012 article titled “Spaces” in ARTISTIK Magazine. Digital renderings courtesy of Klick Interiors (

Over the past decade, technology has influenced many fields of design in the past decade. Some of the changes I’ve encountered in interior design are the programs we use - AutoCAD, 2DCAD, Sketch Up, Revit, Rhino, 3D StudioMax, V-Ray, Mental Ray – you name it. The influence of computer technology on interior design over the past years has been immense. From communication to new product offerings, a completely new world of possibilities has opened within interior design in the last 35 years, changing the very process of how we design and adding unprecedented range, speed and quality to the design and renderings that we can now present to our clients.

When I began working in design in 1970, there was no technology available. In fact, the very first 2D AutoCAD software wasn’t released until the late 1980s. The program was very expensive and ran on huge, ugly computers that were very slow. Back then, there were no lap tops, flat screens or mice with advanced capabilities. There was no Internet, email, attachments, voice mail, cellphones or digital cameras, and the fax machine had just been introduced. As you can imagine, like anything else, technology has immensely influenced designers.

In college, I recall an instructor telling us, “All you need is a door sheet – lay it on a pair of saw horses, get a T-square, some triangles, transparent paper, a roll of sketching paper, some pencils and colored markers. Then you’ll be good to go!” Well, things have radically changed since then.

After college I met a designer who first showed me a photo-realistic rendering of a car. I was stunned that he was able to create this, because at that time it was a rather complicated and unusual way to create a rendering. It was the last computer rendering I saw for many years. Back then, it was still the time of hand rendering and sketching. Today, 3D wizards are able to create three-dimensional renderings that look like realistic photos of an interior space within just a few hours. In many cases, it is even difficult to tell if what you’re looking at is a real photo or a rendering. Additionally, today’s digital printers and copiers are capable of scanning in and reproducing these renderings in color and we have 3D printers that can actually build our models.


The ability to create photo-realistic renderings to present to clients gives them the ability to visualize a project before it is completed. A good example of this are the renderings you see in this article. A typical interior design project goes something like this:

The project begins with assessing the client’s needs. Creativity, inspiration and sketching lead to the concept; from there, the floor plan and building of the three-dimensional space where the materials, contrast, colors, light and furniture are defined. As soon as the three-dimensional space is built, we typically print it out and sketch over it for further development. From sketching paper to CAD, 3D Studio Max and V-Ray are usually the preferred tools to create a realistic rendering in a reasonable timeframe. Once the rendering is done, the fine-tuning starts. At this stage, the designer can change materials, experiment with different color and light studies to create the final rendering which is then presented to the client.

To the client, the final rendering (or perspective drawing) was and still is the most important part of a presentation. Usually a presentation starts with the concept statement, inspiration, diagrams, floor plans, sections, elevations, light and ceiling plans, furniture, material and ends with the 3D rendering.

Interior design is three-dimensional. A room consists of floors, walls and ceilings and everything in between. Floors and ceilings are horizontal surfaces and walls are vertical surfaces. Furniture is the stuff we put in between. In every space, there is light and shadow, which have endless adjustments: daytime to nighttime, natural to artificial light, level of brightness and darkness. All of the materials that interior designers deal with have unique surfaces, which in turn create different colors, hues, relevance, brilliance and temperature.

Contrasts, colors, materials and light are essential to every space that we create. We ask ourselves, “What kind of feeling do we want to create in the room? What is the concept?” By using the new tools, we are able to simulate different solutions to these problems. We are able to educate our clients and show them what is best for their space that we are creating. We are able to make quick and easy changes in our design programs until the image we have in our mind is similar to the rendering.

3D rendering today is changing the way we communicate with clients. We are able to visualize the space and show them exactly how the design will look before it is built. We can create color studies, check how contrasts affect the space, change materials, try out different light concepts and we can simulate views at daytime, dawn or night.  We can do a virtual walk-through, add light or create color-changing images. Many new possibilities are available now to review the space before you actually build it.

After the floor plan is well developed and the heights for the section are clear, we are able to create a preliminary 3D view. It is important to print out a 3D view in an early stage of the project in order to get a good feeling of the space. Usually when a client looks at a two-dimensional floor plan, he has to think three-dimensionally, which can be very difficult for most. The 3D visualization significantly assists the client’s perception of the proposed space and leads (hopefully) to a quicker decision-making process. It is much easier for the client to look at a rendering than to look at a floor plan.

As an educator in the industry of design, it is important that I keep up with the newest software programs and technologies used in the interior design industry, a tradition that Harrington College of Design strongly encourages. For almost eight years, we have taught our interior design students how to build 3D renderings and every year, the results get better and better. The tools are continually improving and are becoming increasingly easier to handle. At the same time, we are getting better at knowing the best methods and application to use them. For four years, the Advanced Rendering course has been a requirement for all students to build their skills in 3D rendering. Because of it, our students are able to use their newfound rendering skills more and more on projects when they take their studio classes and design for various kinds of clients. For instance, in the Interior Design 3 class the students are challenged with designing a restaurant, while the Interior Design 4 class poses a health care project. Their final Thesis project is a project of their choice, but it must involve the creation of over three stories and 30,000 to 50,000 square feet of space.

We also try to stress the importance of sketching skills to our students. Sketching ideas on paper first allows a designer to work out all of the kinks before translating his ideas to the computer and spending hours making it come to life. Simply put, sketching helps develop the mind.

As renowned Brazilian designer Alfredo Haeberli once said, “Interior design is what I see when I close my eyes.” This quote is also very true for many other designers and me. One thing I do know is, “Interior design is in our mind. Maybe the future of technology will allow us to link a printer directly to our minds, but until then, we have to keep on sketching and relying on the ever-evolving technologies to continue to develop our design!”


What do you think?