I made occasional contributions to the UK edition of Future Publishing’s ‘PC Plus’ magazine between 1993 and 2001, reviewing CAD and related graphics software.

What do I look for in a CAD product? Ergonomics and ease of learning are paramount – if the thing’s awkward to use or overly complex you’ll never match the productivity gains possible with the best in class.

I’m deeply suspicious of certain kinds of ‘lab tests’ for software – timing a few standard program operations (file loading, display handling and so on) tells you very little about the relative merits of a particular program, and can often be affected more by hardware configuration than the software itself. In my view this type of test is only helpful for users who’ve already chosen their CAD software, and are trying to find the best-performing hardware (graphics cards, hard drives or whatever) for the task in hand. The only tests which seem truly worthwhile are Useability Labs, where a group of users attempt precisely-defined practical exercises. Sadly, these are seldom viable for the low- and medium-priced programs typically covered by the majority of the high-street titles.

It’s also important to look beyond the basics of drawing and editing. If you can’t manage complex designs effectively or integrate CAD information into your wider activities then the low-level drawing tools cease to matter.