Pete Baxter| Theguardian

The world is changing. Massive urbanisation, aging infrastructure, inadequate transportation systems and increasingly limited energy resources are all affecting how we live today and in the future.

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and there is no greater necessity than creating a world where all 7 billion of us (and growing) can live well while minimising the impact on the planet. We have always used design as a tool to solve problems and designers have an important role to play in imagining, creating and designing a better world of the future. The good news is the cloud is giving us all access to massive amounts of data and computing power, enabling designers to solve problems in a whole new way.

Thirty years ago, the PC completely changed the way people work. Today, we are witnessing a new revolution with the convergence of the cloud and the billions of mobile devices in use today. Physical location no longer matters either, so the best talent can be sourced wherever they are to create unique, global teams based on expertise.

Although the cost of labour and materials is going up in many industries, the ability to have infinite computing power at a reduced cost is fundamentally changing the opportunities for businesses of all sizes. Previously, the upfront investment needed for processing this amount of data in a small office was cost prohibitive – now complex programmes and projects are in reach of businesses of any size. It’s clear that the cloud is having a major impact on other technologies and software and not just our processes; computer-aided design (CAD) has matured beyond 2D and 3D graphics to incorporate simulation and analysis. Designers can now rapidly work through thousands of design and material options in order to select the optimum solution through a process of digital prototypes.

Consider Escape Dynamics, which uses the benefits of the cloud to refine the design and build of novel aerospace systems and components, dramatically reducing development timelines, as well as cutting costs on physical prototyping. One component they are working on is an airframe for a reusable orbital launch vehicle. The optimisation process requires thousands of simulations that test various flight conditions and various geometries of the airframe. Before cloud technologies, this optimisation process would require the company to buy and operate a dedicated high-performance cluster of computers. With access to increased processing power and the ability to run simulations in the cloud, Escape Dynamics is well on its way to developing an extremely efficient airframe that will allow the company to build and fly a very efficient space launch vehicle in the near future.

In the case of large potentially sensitive infrastructure projects such as rail lines, power stations and civil engineering projects, more insights gleaned from simulations in the cloud lead to better decisions and better communication between the design teams and clients as well as public interest groups – it also affords the context to understand and see the big picture, as well as the ability to look ahead and spot potential problems.

To take the city of Vancouver as an example, it has built a simulated version of the entire city by combining terrain files, building footprints, satellite photos and GIS data for parcels and streets into a 3D modelling programme. With this, they can demonstrate how shifts in population affect density and better understand the impact of new infrastructure projects in the planning stages. These simulations are becoming even more affordable and accessible now that they run in the cloud, not on the desktop.

Simply speaking, the cloud is enabling designers to do what they couldn’t do before. We now have the ability to accurately identify the consequences of our design decisions and their impact on the world around us. We are moving to a world where computing, data and collaboration and communication between people are all integrated in the cloud, powerful new tools are in designers’ hands and preparing them to address the world’s most formidable design challenges. The agility, efficiency, collaboration and data insights enabled by the cloud are driving this innovation faster than ever before.


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