Note: This article references Beyond CAD, a product we launched in 2021. As Beyond CAD struggled to capture a user base and Beyond Typicals quickly took off, we decided to discontinue Beyond CAD in 2023.
In a college class more than a decade ago I remember a college profession describing the importance of typical sections in civil engineering- “You can pretty much explain anything in civil engineering, one foot sections at a time”. He referenced how sections in bridge, dam, road are commonly used to communicate designs that extend much longer than a single foot. I continued to learn the importance of typical sections in my short career (before adventuring into 3D visualization) in roadway design. Every set of roadway design plans had several pages of typical sections showing how the road adjusted between existing and proposed along the alignment of the project.
At Civil FX we had several requests to make 3D renderings of typical sections for clients looking to further communicate various road sections. These took considerable effort for how simple they were, and we didn’t do enough of them to develop a more efficient workflow.
When I started designing Beyond CAD in the early phase, I thought through every problem faced in 3D visualization in our industry and how many of them could be tackled by this single visualization engine. During this process I thought of the typical sections we had created at Civil FX and how (relative) easy it would be to make an application that could make this process much more efficient. I added it to the list of features I hoped Beyond CAD would offer as we moved longer in development.
We started development of the typical section creator feature fairly early on in the process and almost a year before the launch of early access. While I would discuss it or show early prototypes or mockups, this feature largely sat on the shelf for much of 2021. It wasn’t until I kept getting requests or questions about it that I decided to put not just one but two of our limited development team on finishing this feature.
As this ‘feature’ continued to progress, two things became clear, 1) this was more than a feature but could be a stand-alone application and 2) some potential users of this application wouldn’t be potential Beyond CAD users.
As development ramped up in late 2021 we also started making plans for this application to be stand-alone and live alongside Beyond CAD in our launcher. It also needed a name and logo, and ‘Beyond Typicals’ was the natural name and also was a good descriptor of what this application would do.
I also started sharing progress on LinkedIn (including a video of my 9 and 7-year-old children using it with no problems) and started seeing signs of incredible interest in this product.
We also started making Beyond Typicals available to Beyond CAD subscribers and the feedback started coming in. Not only were beta users surprisingly excited about this 2nd product that was basically an afterthought, they were using it in ways we hadn’t even imagined. With my background in roadway design and 3D visualization, I had been designing Beyond Typicals to be a platform where typical sections could quickly be mocked up and rendered to image or video. What we heard back from our testers (special shoutout to Chris and Brian at Bolton & Menk) was that they were already using this tool as a real-time coordination tool with clients! If we had ever thought of such a benefit of this tool, it was definitely not the priority. They also used terms like urban design and transportation planner that I wasn’t as familiar with.
It seems that we had possibly and accidentally designed an urban planning tool!
With this in mind, we started integrating their feature requests and feedback and made it even more robust for real-time coordination scenarios. And looking back, Beyond Typicals has long since past the original expectations of what it could be. I always believed we would make multiple products beyond CAD, but I didn’t know it would happen so fast, nor that it would be something like this.
Beyond Typicals 2 was launched in November 2022 and continues to improve and gain users as time goes on.