Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Mechanical design software usability (seeking a second researcher) ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Mechanical design software usability (seeking a second researcher)
Category: Computers > Programming
Asked by: swisscheese-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 29 Jan 2003 14:35 PST
Expires: 28 Feb 2003 14:35 PST
Question ID: 154003
We recently launched beta of a new mechanical design software package
in connection with our - the first on-line
machine shop. The software is a free download on the site. What parts
of the user interface need improvement? Is anything in the software
unclear. Are any messages confusing? Are there any bugs? Are there any
problems creating a design from conception thru ordering? Can anything
be improved?
We seek researchers ranging from software experts to novices and those
with and without mechanical design knowledge. We will post this
question more than once to get the views of different researchers.
We seek actual answers to the questions - not information on how to
research an answer. This requires working with the software and
performing real tasks such as designing one or more of the shapes
shown on the main web page.
Subject: Re: Mechanical design software usability (seeking a second researcher)
Answered By: j_philipp-ga on 30 Jan 2003 02:24 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Swisscheese,

The website is very easily understood, especially the 1 - 2 - 3
introduction of what your service and the software deliver. (The
website layout is too big for a screen resolution of 800*600 pixel to
completely see the content without scrolling vertically, though.)

The download was a bit confusing. Are you sure you need the additional
download manager? It also doesn't seem to close itself automatically
and continue with the installation. But when I clicked on "Close", it
actually continued the setup. This is a minor point.

On start-up, I go through the video graphics validity test by moving
the shapes. It was unclear to me I had to select the outer lines of
the shapes to do so, as I tried to grab them inside. An explanation of
this would be helpful. Also, is it absolutely necessary to start with
this test? I don't know the technical reasons, you must decide on this

Also, the "Update Price Files" is slightly confusing, because you
don't make it obvious wether or not this is an optional step. I click
Cancel, and the program seems to stop, so I restart and download.

Already I notice the e.g. "OK" and "Cancel" button follow a slightly
old-fashioned interface style more common in Win3x software, using the
icons of check and cross. Some people might prefer it, but it does not
look like a modern, streamlined software to me. Minor point, again.

I do not start to read the help, as suggested in the first pop-up
dialog. I want to try to play around with the software, only then
consult help. Myself, I'm experienced with several 3D packages, such
as LightWave 3D, 3D Studio Max, and some others. I do not have
experience with CAD programs for technical construction.

I move over the toolbox on the left. The tooltip -- the little yellow
pop-up help appearing when you keep the cursor over a certain icon --
is a bit too long. It also hides the lower buttons and was therefore
slightly confusing. I think including a verbose help entry into a
tooltip is too much; just the single word -- e.g. "Rectangle" --
should be helpful enough, for everything else one might consult the
help file.

Drawing the shape is fairly intuitive. I'm used to left-click to set a
point of the line, so I draw a box. I use right-click to cancel the
last line after I finished, again very intuitive. This is good.

Now, when I want to drag the shape, I come across one big problem: The
mouse cursor doesn't change to the "grab/ drag" icon I'm accustomed to
from other software packages. Before I actually hold down the mouse
key, there's no indicator if this will result in dragging. This should
be changed, in my opinion. This goes for other cursors too, like:
resizing and so on.

There's a little icon to the top right of my shape. It pops-up the
context-menu. Usually, I open a context-menu with the right-click.
(This also works in your software, additionally, which is of course
good.) Do you think the extra-way to access it is necessary?

I now want to see my shape in 3D, so I go to the "View"-menu and click
"3D". The menu, on first sight, is very nicely structured and grouped,
with helpful icons. Not too much confusion. Some icons seem a little
dry and amateurish, but this is not a big deal.

A dialog pops up, reading: "Error: Material is not specified. ...".
The error dialog of this style is typically used in Windows software
for unexpected errors and appears a little too drastic on this
occasion. Go for a "Note" or "Warning" style dialog and don't use the
word "Error".

I choose the part material. The dialog is very easy to use. I click on
"Lead". I notice there seems to be a problem with the font-sizes
somehow; the upper-right part of the dialog reads "For more d" and the
rest of the sentence is cut off. I use the inch size dialog. (I guess
the product is specifically tailored to suit the North-American
market. I'm not used to inch, coming from Europe.)
To make this dialog (and others) even easier, you might want to
include a little "Help" icon in the upper-right, next to the closing
"x". This feature can be used to receive help for a specific part of
the dialog, like the "Thickness" part. Pressing F1 while focussing
this part does pop-up the correct entry in the manual, which is very
I click "OK" (where's "Apply"?) and the dialog closes. There seems to
be no visual indicator my shape now has a material attached to it.

Now I can view my shape in full 3D. This is a great feature and I can
easily rotate my creation. However, did you think about integrating
the "3D"-part of your emachineshop-software more tightly into the main
interface? This could be done via tabbed dialogs, that is: the "3D
Preview" would be an optional, non-design view, and one could easily
switch from one to the other. Or, even an optional real-time preview.

Now I want to try to cut a hole in my rectangle-shape. From 3D
programs like LightWave 3D I'm used to boolean logic to add two
shapes, subtract from one shape based on a second one, or to create a
new shape using the intersection of two shapes. I now draw a circle
inside the rectangle. I notice that after drawing the shape, the
cursor function doesn't jump back to the pointer. You might think
about this option, as it is used by some other software packages. This
means I can draw, the directly move and resize a shape without
clicking on the pointer again in the toolbox. (No, it's not
necessarily better.)

I resize the shape a bit and create an ellipse, upon which I get a
warning message that this action might increase the manufacturing
costs. I'm thankful for the tip and say to not proceed, but the
ellipse is still there. I don't know exactly what's the meaning of all
this. I want to click "Edit" - "Undo", but it's disabled. It should
definitely not be, since I want to undo my last action and go back to
the circle shape. Anyway, after deleting the one and creating a new
circle, I click preview -- it does exactly what I wants and subtracts
from the old shape, very nice and easy.

Let me sign my creation by clicking on the "Text"-tool. I write a
text, change the font-size, but somehow don't know if or how to alter
the font-face. Also, I notice that the preview didn't change, as I
can't seem to see the engraving.

I do some more things, try out some tools, calculate the center of
gravity, go to the checklist. And then go over (after entering my
address details in "Job" - "Settings") to "Analyze price".
This is also simple to understand. However, the "Quantity"-textbox
doesn't seem to change the end-price unless it loses focus. Maybe
there should be a little "Recalculate Costs..." button somewhere.
Finally, I could place an order!

To wrap it up, all in all the tool is very good and easy to use. My
biggest complaint for longer working sessions with would be the lack
of cursor-icons when the mouse moves around, as this makes it hard to
know what one can do at any given position.

I hope this helps, and wish you the best of luck with your product!

Request for Answer Clarification by swisscheese-ga on 30 Jan 2003 04:15 PST
Hi j_philipp - Thanks for your helpful comments - we'll get to work on
your feedback.

Hi Maniac - Thanks for your helpful comments - will fix.

Clarification of Answer by j_philipp-ga on 30 Jan 2003 22:10 PST
Thanks, Swisscheese!
swisscheese-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Mechanical design software usability (seeking a second researcher)
From: maniac-ga on 29 Jan 2003 18:45 PST
Hello Swisscheese,

A short comment - I can't evaluate your product since I have a
Macintosh at home and a Linux PC at work. Neither the first page nor
the download page mention that the product is for Microsoft Windows
PC's only (and for those, does not mention which types it is
compatible with). I can guess from the screen shot that it is a
Windows application, but an explicit note on the page should be

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy