A recent article on DezignStuff  discussed the use of the term ‘Design Intent’ (DI)  and I wanted to lump in and give my perspective on the topic. The article was well written and had a few good points about Direct vs. Historical Modeling.  I felt like I was at an industry gathering, listening to passionate professionals argue their point. The only thing that it was missing is the cold beer.

Some Definition

The article discussed the term and how it is overused, vague, and creating some confusion.

After reading that I thought “well, ok. I can see what you mean.” What the hell does ‘Design Intent’ mean anyway, right?

The discussion continued to define the words: (paraphrased) Design is what you bring TO the model, and that you might then think of the designed model instead as a ‘Model’. Since you are modeling a concept that can be flexible through changes, then DI implies that the model was ‘Designed for Change’.

I left it saying “I like the phrase ‘designed for change’, but don’t yet agree that it explicitly implied DI. Change is made reasonable through established DI.


Design Intent to me is what how we convey the design.  Not only the final product, but equally importantly are the features of the model.

[ahem…cough…clear throat] The models should be constructed in a manner that conveys the intention of not only the final product, but the intention of the features and parameters in the design such that any other person using the model will understand their intended purposes. Again collaboration and end users.


I offer the example of one of my indexable endmills I made for a Tekni lesson plan. The design is simple. A model that varies the tool geometries, and the number of indexing positions all from one iPart. Besides being an authored iPart with numerous variations, it has another intended design feature. Flexible manufacturability.

There is a sufficient information in the model features, parameters, and tables that clearly convey the intent of each feature. Anyone using the model, you would understand quickly ‘what approach I was taking’, and how these features worked together to produce awesome variations and promote easy adaptations.

Ooooh, adaptations and changes…I didn’t see that one coming. So there it is, the word ‘change’. Ok I see your point, now where does that take me?


The thing about successful Design Intent and change is that it’s not only the ability to change or adapt the model later . The model’s design must convey a message. It’s like asking the component, “I know what you are, but what about who, when, where, and why are you?”.

Design Intent conveys understanding.


Ok, but what about design. I agree that design is what you bring to the model. So I have a model that was intended to be changed, and then constructed in a manner that conveys understanding of the nature and functionality of each portion of the overall design.  And we are back to design. Not model, design. The model is what we end up with, Design is how it is intended to be adapted and used, so that adaptations will not create a catastrophe, but instead be more easily utilized, whether it be in manufacturer or integrated into other designs.

Well placed features that allow adaptation is ‘Intelligent Adaptive Design’, we can call it IAD. DI is the model’s ability to convey it’s Intelligent Adaptive Design to others.


You were wondering weren’t you. LOL. This is a story I learned while studying as a teenager that helps those that struggle with the term Zen.

Two monks were walking across a bridge over a small river. The first monk asks the second, “What IS Zen?”. The second monk picks the first up and throws him over the edge.  The one in the river splashes and sputters. He yells “Hey, why did you do that?”. The monk on the bridge says “The water is like Zen. Swim in it, roll around in it, get all wet; but don’t waste your time trying to define it”.

I wouldn’t call it a waste of time, because I read a good article and picked up a few things to consider along the way. I however will not be contemplating the meaning of DI any further because I will be too busy moving forward with my IAD that is ‘Designed for Change’.