While CAD systems have been immensely beneficial they require specialist knowledge and expertise for their operation, particularly where advanced modelling, simulation and analysis (virtual prototyping) is to be used. This requirement, combined with their dependence upon 2D digital interaction limits user engagement, constrains design process activities and restricts design performance. This includes the nature and level of collaboration and co-creation within design teams, with users and wider stakeholders; the accessibility of virtual prototyping tools including rapid prototyping; and the efficacy of the design (team) when undertaking tasks, such as ideation, design development, evaluation and DfX activities.

To overcome these restrictions, the concept of a Lego-inspired tangible interface for CAD, virtual prototyping (VP) and rapid prototyping (RP) is to be investigated. The corresponding research programme comprises two interrelated research streams. The first addresses the technical and HCI challenges associated with the creation of real-time physical-to-digital model integration and user-in-the-loop digital-to-physical model integration. Both of these topics offer significant future research opportunities in their own right. The second research stream concerns investigation of the affordances, complementarity (with VP tools) and limitations of a Lego-inspired tangible interface for improving collaboration/co-creation, design performance and accessibility to VP and RP.

Given the exploratory nature of the research three engineering domains will be considered: industrial design (assistive technology), special purpose machinery and construction.


PhysiCAD is an EPSRC funded research project and over the course of the project a number of publications have been produced.

• InstructiBlocks: Designing with Ambiguous Physical-Digital Models

Bennett P, Fraser M, Boa D & Hicks B, Proceedings of Tangible, Embedded & Embodied Interaction Conference, 2017 [acm] [pdf]

• Design Variation through Richness of Rules Embedded in LEGO Bricks

Mathias D, Boa D, Hicks B, Snider C, Bennett P & Taylor C (2017) International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED17). [pdf]

• Evolving LEGO: prototyping requirements for a customizable construction kit

Boa D, Mathias D & Hicks B (2017) International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED17).

• Designing with LEGO: Exploring the influence of low fidelity visualisation on collaborative design activities

Ranscombe, C., Bissett-Johnson, K., Boa, D., Hicks, B. (2017) International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 2017)

• PhysiCAD – A tangible interface for CAD using construction kits

Boa, D., Hicks, B. (2016) Design Computing and Cognition ’16 (DCC16)

The Team

Ben Hicks

Principal Investigator

Mike Fraser


Duncan Boa

Research Associate

Peter Bennett

Research Associate

Hamish McAlpine

David Mathias

Postgraduate Researcher

Contact us

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