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Review by Mark Chen, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2016

123D Design

3D modeling app allows sharing and commenting, works well on iPads

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Creativity

Subjects
  • Arts
  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
7-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (0)
Not yet reviewed

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Pros: Easy to use, powerful, and lets users share and comment on creations.

Cons: Not as much support for teachers as some of Autodesk's other design apps.

Bottom Line: Perfect for classrooms with iPads, but desktop classrooms with internet access may choose another tool instead.

As with most design apps, teachers could easily have students work alone or in pairs, learning 123D Design at their own pace in a workshop or studio-like classroom. Teachers could also incorporate the app into larger engineering projects where students have specific goals or design needs they're seeking solutions for. Ideally, these projects would last several weeks to allow students ample time to delve into all of 123D Design’s features and iterate on design solutions.

The use of 123D Design is especially appropriate for an iPad-enabled classroom or for a classroom that doesn’t have an always-on internet connection. For a classroom with desktop computers and online access, Tinkercad might be a better choice since Autodesk has created ready-to-use curricula for that tool.

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123D Design is an easy-to-learn 3D-modeling app that lets users build complex models by combining simpler geometric shapes. Users can select from a panel of basic shapes to drop into their workspace and then manipulate them in many powerful ways that include combining, subtracting, resizing, beveling, hollowing out, and aligning. Users can then save their projects to a user profile and make them shareable, share links to social media, or order 3D prints of their work. They can then access their profile from Autodesk’s 123D website and further manipulate or export their work into another app to send to a personal 3D printer. Most notably, this can all be done on an iPad, since 123D Design supports iOS devices as well as desktops.

In fact, initially, it was unclear how 123D Design is different from another Autodesk app, Tinkercad. Exploring these two apps further, it turns out Tinkercad is great for desktop computers with internet access, but it doesn't work very well with tablets, even though it's a browser-based app. Selecting, dragging, dropping, and other actions don't work well with a touch device. 123D Design, however, works well with tablets: For example, objects snap toward each other like magnets, making it especially easy to combine shapes. 123D Design also doesn't require an always-on internet connection -- though, obviously, sharing with a larger community of designers requires online access.

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This 3D-design app works great on iPads and allows novice and experienced designers alike to create and share projects easily. Initially, 123D Design is pretty overwhelming with all the available objects and a blank canvas. It might help new designers to have specific projects or needs in mind to help them choose which shapes to start out with. What makes 123D Design so great is how easy it is to hop right in and then share and comment on creations with others.

All of these tools come with ample support from the 123D website that includes tutorial videos, allowing new users to get right into design work and 3D printing. When you're stuck, the same website includes a help center and, buried within that, a user forum. It's puzzling why the user forums are not highlighted or accessed easily; improving these resources would boost this app's learning potential and better support its users.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Very powerful design app features lots to explore and build with. Students will enjoy designing their creations online and then watching them come to life on a 3D printer. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Students learn design by experimenting; constraints and goals will need to be provided by the teacher. Commenting on creations allows students to gain feedback for future iterations. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Ample video tutorials and how-to guides scaffold learners into design, but these require internet access. The website features a help center, but, surprisingly, user forums are not well-supported.


Common Sense Reviewer
Mark Chen Researcher