SolidWorks World Interview: Mark Biasotti

Biasotti_09193_1A few weeks back on February 5th, at SolidWorks World 2007, I had the chance to sit down and interview Mark Biasotti from SolidWorks Corporation. If you have been using surfacing in SolidWorks for any length of time, you probably have heard Mark’s name before. Here is a chance to get to know him a little better.

Ricky: Tell us a little bit about your job as Product Manager at SolidWorks?

Mark: I am one a group of Product Managers in Product Marketing. My area of responsibility is in the core sketch and modeling functionality of the product. I have a number of other responsibilities including PhotoWorks, Scanto3D, x64 and Windows Vista versions, just to name a few. Primarily my job is to market the product, but also help to strategically guide the future direction of the product so that we’re careful to meet customer’s needs. In essence I, and my fellow product managers and product definition specialists, act as the voice of the customer. Between us, we conduct over 200 personal customer interviews every year. We go out and we interview them onsite for a few hours. We try to look at their issues from a “30,000 foot” perspective, but also look at specifics. One area that I’m keenly interested in is how we can make SolidWorks a better conceptual modeler. We’re a great implementation tool, but for the most part, it’s really more about “documenting” what’s already inside the designer’s head. In addition, we are also looking into how to break the mold and not just go the way of our competitors, but rather better understand the customer needs and desires and translate that to a truly useful design tool. Not just doing it better and incrementally better (just staying ahead of our customer), but truly understanding what they want. As I stated in a recent Podcast, when asked this question “Where is the industry going?”, I think one of the most important things that we can do to make SolidWorks a better conceptual tool is to evolve our features so that when using them, they are more interactive and dynamic. You saw a bit of this, this morning in the general session and you’ll see more in Wednesday morning’s session. The idea is to eliminate the guess work. As we’ve stated in our marketing campaigns over the last year, “it’s about eliminating the CAD overhead.” It’s about empowering designers to use our product for design instead of them learning how to drive SolidWorks to get design done. We know we have that challenge ahead of us, so doing more in real-time is going to be a tremendous advantage for our users because you get immediate feedback when creating and modifying. Immediate feedback enables our users to more readily conceptualize. We expect them to say “Oh yeah, I really want to go IN instead of OUT or that’s just going to be too large of a fillet.” We are convinced of this and we’re working on hard to attempt to make the modeling experience very dynamic.

Ricky: Many of us have seen some of the products you developed as a Product Designer before coming to work for SolidWorks. What areas of your past experience do feel have been your best asset in your current job?

Mark: I think it’s to always have a passion to design. I love to design. I’m an Industrial Designer by degree and most of my career has been designing products. What I am doing now is, in essence, designing a product, but instead of designing products, I’m helping to design the tools that designs products, how’s that for a mouthful. (Smile) When I was with IDEO, I built relationships with many individuals at SolidWorks but found it peculiar that, although one of their core strengths was the large number of ME’s in the company, there wasn’t a single Industrial Designer on staff. When they offered me the job, it was a clear sign that they wanted to take product design seriously. They foresaw the need to get more experience of the CPD industry by hiring someone from the outside; and it doesn’t hurt either that I’ve had approximately 22 years of product design experience. Personally I strive to continue to designing products of my own in order to stay close to customer and close to the product. I’m always inventing new things to help teach the product, but also examining many customer parts and helping out with their issues. Call it “eating your own dog food”, its just being in that industry for 20 years really helps me to empathize with the customer. Even though I’m not in that role anymore I can still keep my hands in it.

Ricky: We have all seen some pretty amazing advances for surfacing in SolidWorks over the past few years. What can you tell us about the direction surfacing functions will be taking in the future?

Mark: Again, its building on what I said before, making simple and complex modeling more dynamic when you create and modify. Take the Freeform feature that was introduced in SolidWorks 2007; it’s amazing how many people love that feature, but it’s not surprising to me. The reason that they love it is that they’re able to, in real time, create and modify very complex surfaces or faces. Other modeling features introduce a certain amount of latency and the experience to the user is less than satisfying. The satisfaction you get from Freeform to be able to dynamically pull on the surface is making it a very popular and well received tool. We want to take that same concept and apply it to many other features in SolidWorks. If I were to “trend” the way that SolidWorks is moving in the future, it would be to make all SolidWorks features dynamic, thereby making them better conceptual tools This kind of interaction for the user helps them to immediately know what kind of changes they are making.

Ricky: It’s been four years since you did the “007 video” at SolidWorks World 2003 in Orlando. Do you still get questions/comments about that video?

Mark: All the time. And you are going to see a new film Wednesday morning that is somewhat along the same lines. It’s much shorter….well, I’m not going to give it away. There are some large posters in the Partner Pavilion that explain more of what it’s about. It kicks off our third day event previewing our 2008 version and it’s about designing better products for the future.

Ricky: If you had to pick one, what would be your favorite enhancement of SolidWorks 2007?

Mark: That’s always a hard one to answer as Product Manager when I’m involved with so many new enhancements, because if I say anything, some other developer is going to come back to me and say “What about my feature?” (smiles). So throwing caution to the wind, I’ll just say it, and I’m sorry if I offend any of our developers, but it would have to be our 2007 Boundary Surface feature. Boundary is one of the few features that was worked on for more than a single release period; in fact I believe it started in 2005 as a project but was not ready in time for our 2006 release. We held it off and then finally released it in 2007. I’m really glad we did because our developers put a lot of work into it; and introduced many enhancements to it midway through, to make it more versatile and useful. Of course, many of those features would not have been in the 2006 release.
My second favorite 2007 enhancement would be the Freeform feature that I spoke of earlier. I’m very proud of what the developers were able to do. It was a special privilege for me to be able to write the spec and also product manage it which is not a very good thing to do usually. (smiles) That’s why they have the legislative and judicial branches of government, you know! But, I had the privilege of working with some extremely talented developers. In fact, a couple of the guys that worked on Freeform are hard at work on the new 2008 dynamic features what were shown this morning. It was great working with them and it was great to get almost everything we wanted into the feature, but we’re not done with it yet. Hopefully we’ll have another important enhancement for it in our 2009 release.

Ricky: The Boundary Surface command was introduced as part of the 2007 release. What has been the general response by users to this feature and do you feel its full potential is realized?

Mark: Not yet. It’s because a majority of our users are not yet on the 2007 release. I think also, we need to do a better job of educating them on what it is and what I can be used for. My prediction is that, in many cases, it will replace our Loft feature for customers do consumer product design. It’s just a matter of helping them understand the differences between Boundary and Loft. They seemingly produce the same result, but there are subtle differences, and those differences are not well known yet. It’s a new feature that has not gotten a lot of production use yet and we are well aware that we really can’t gauge the success of something in the first release. It’s got to get some traction for at least a year to a year and a half before we can really get an understanding of how well we did on it and what else we need to do with it.

Ricky: It’s been a few years now since Cosmic Blobs was first introduced. Is it possible we will see some of its modeling technology make it into SolidWorks?

Mark: I’m going to say no. My understanding is that the mathematical concepts of Cosmic Blobs will not make it to SolidWorks. That is, the ACTUAL math. The concepts that the Blob’s team, led by Scott Harris, has learned from it certainly will. Scott is still very passionate about what he and his team set out to do with the project; that is – create a new paradigm for how you model something. I think we are all hopeful to see how that paradigm migrates into professional tools. They decided, early on to make it an educational product for youngsters and learn a lot from it and make some revenue along the way. It’s very encouraging with the recent announcement that The Learning Company will now be redistributing it. So, my hope is that the principles, techniques and lessons that Scott and his team learned from building it will eventually make its way to a product design tool.

Ricky: Mark, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. We will all look forward to seeing some of those enhancements you spoke of in SolidWorks 2008!

Stay tuned….more to come!