Top 10 Annoying Usability Issues in AutoCAD

CAD Tip 1035

It is far more difficult to be simple than to be complicated. —John Ruskin

AutoCAD is a great software tool with many excellent features.  It’s easily the best 2D CAD application available.

That said, there are certain built-in barriers in AutoCAD that continually frustrate me and others I work with.  In my experience teaching AutoCAD classes at the college level, using CAD personally, and overseeing team members using AutoCAD in multiple office environments over many years, I see recurring stumbling blocks that I believe could be improved.

I thought you might enjoy comparing notes with my Top 10 Annoyances list.  Maybe we can even have some influence on the folks in San Rafael.  We love your product, and powerful features are great, but it takes hard work and creativity to make it simple, intuitive, and elegant.

AutoCAD Roadblock Ahead!

AutoCAD Roadblock Ahead!

My Top 10 list of petty AutoCAD annoyances includes:

1.     The unexpected question that AutoCAD asks at the end of the MIRROR command: ERASE SOURCE OBJECTS?  That means, Do you want to erase the first (“source”) object while creating the mirrored one?  While AutoCAD waits to get your answer, the work area looks as if the MIRROR command totally failed.  AutoCAD will not let you go forward until you answer Yes or No, so users often get stuck at this point.  Autodesk could make this command like the Mirror command in Revit, where you set your personal preference (to copy the original object or not) one time and then forget it, until it becomes necessary to change the setting.

2.     The requirement to enter all feet-inch-fraction distances with what I call Martian Syntax.  Here on Earth, the hyphen does not go between the inches and the fraction (e.g. 3’4-1/2, as is required for AutoCAD input), it goes between the feet and the inches (e.g. 3′-4 1/2″), with a SPACE inserted between the inches and the fractions.  This standard imperial format is the same one that AutoCAD uses when it displays distances in typical dimension objects, and also in the Properties dialog box.  The Martian Syntax was a bad idea from Day One and has remained far too long.  Make it like Revit!

3.     The extra ENTER keystroke required in the middle of the TRIM and EXTEND commands to separate the selection of cutting or boundary objects from the objects to be trimmed or extended.

4.     The endless loop you get stuck in when you initiate almost any of the Modify commands (MOVE, ERASE, COPY, etc.) before selecting the objects to be modified.  In the command line it says, SELECT OBJECTS.  What AutoCAD really means is: Select one or more objects as you wish, and then hit ENTER or SPACEBAR when you are done selecting objects.  I teach my students an acronym to remember whenever they see SELECT:

       S       Silly
       E       Endless
       L       Loop,
       E       ENTER
       C      Can
       T      Terminate

5.     Snaps that snap when you do not want them to snap.  I call these “missnaps” (similar to missteps) and they happen much too often in AutoCAD.  Yes, you can hit the F3 key and turn off the OSNAP tool, and turn it back on when you need it again.  Surely there could be a more intuitive way of having the snaps occur only when they are wanted.

6.     The Ribbon.  Enough said.

7.     The Autodesk 360 button automatically rises to the top of the gray-colored Favorites bar at the left side of the browser window when you go File Open or Insert Reference.  No matter how many times you move the 360 button down to a lower position, the next time you start the File Open command, the 360 button has somehow snuck back up the top position.  This is very minor, but it says a lot about the company’s priorities.

8.     Leaders.  The old Quick Leader (QLEADER) tool has been banished from the ribbon, replaced by the newer MultiLeader (MLEADER) tool.  (Fortunately, you can still type in the old QLEADER command in the command line to initiate the older tool.)  Autodesk is clearly hoping everyone will abandon the QLEADER tool in favor of the MLEADER tool.  The trouble is that, in my experience, users still prefer the old QLEADER tool because of its simplicity, and the MLEADER tool is much too difficult to understand, set up, and use.  There must be a better, easier way to make leaders.

9.     The OFFSET command will remember the most recently used offset distance, which is very helpful.  However, why does AutoCAD require you to hit an extra ENTER keystroke every time you restart the OFFSET tool, just to confirm that you want the same offset distance as before?  Especially for less-experienced users, this is just one more keystroke, an unexpected hurdle before you can get on with getting your task done.

10.     The DIMSCALE setting.  We use the DIMSCALE setting to control the size of “future-created” dimensions and leaders, but it has no effect on those already existing in the drawing.  To change the scale of existing dimensions and leaders, one must use the MATCHPROP tool to paint the desired properties on each object.  Yes, the Annotation Scale feature was intended to solve this issue, but in my experience it is way too hard to use, which is why I’ve never seen anyone use it.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.

That’s my Top 10 list.  What would you add?

One of AutoCAD’s main advantages in competing with newer software products like Revit and Inventor is that AutoCAD has a shorter learning curve and requires much less setup time, training, and library building work to be useful for quick, design-it-as-you-go projects.  With AutoCAD, you are going after the fly with a flyswatter, not a sledge hammer.

This natural AutoCAD advantage of speed and simplicity is being compromised by issues like the ones above.  To prove to their customers and fans (and I count myself among them!) that AutoCAD is still a viable, competitive product, Autodesk needs to make the product simpler, more elegant, and more intuitive with each new release, instead of making it more complex, cumbersome, and puzzling.

Your thoughts?  Your pet AutoCAD peeves?  I look forward to getting your comments in the box below.

Keep on CADDing!   🙂