handle
top_graphic bottom_graphic
May 09, 2022 By IIDA HQ
Perspective: State of Being | How To X
Brought to you by sponsor
Look to the future: rethinking space, workplace culture, and the rules of design using cutting-edge technologies.
By IIDA HQ May 09, 2022
Published in Perspective
Brought to you by sponsor

Kat Schneider a digital design application specialist within the IA Interior Architects Design Intelligence team, shares her insights on using adapting transformative technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), to enhance the design process, improve the client experience, and provide new dimensions, experiences, and information that challenge our traditional notions of space.

How Far Can We Take This? Possibilities are Endless!

Many people only talk about VR and AR but I really love the umbrella term that they fall under, which is extended reality (XR). To me that's a perfect representation of how we're utilizing it in our process—as an extension of what we already know how to do in our physical reality. What VR and AR are really, really phenomenal at is making the invisible visible. In augmented reality, we are able to visualize a space plan on the fly or pull out furniture and see how it fits into an existing space. This is much more easily done in that context than in a two dimensional form.

On the VR side of things, we've been very fortunate to not only use it to represent design in a physical space, but we have moved into the realm of creating entirely digital environments: some are loosely based on physical or digital twin versions of physical spaces, and some are departures from what you would expect in the physical world.

1
Digital Design Application Specialist Kat Schneider, IIDA
Digital Design Application Specialist Kat Schneider, IIDA

Redefining the Design Process

In the design industry in general, there are many real-time rendering applications that enable designers to visualize exactly what's in our Revit or BIM model across the different VR and AR mediums. One of the platforms we utilize, The Wild, does a great job of translating the complexity, the data, and the information that's embedded in our BIM models and make it easily legible in VR so we can query different objects to get the embedded information visible.

With everything we do in VR, we're most interested in how the medium can support the types of experiences that we find the most valuable. So on the design side, that might be enabling our designers or end users to directly interact with furniture as we’re able to move things quickly in VR, change the material of something on the fly, mark things up, or test in a more malleable immersive medium. We find that when you're in VR you have a heightened sense of playfulness that can yield a really beautiful design, because you feel comfortable shifting things around and making adjustments in the plan view or elevation view of the design. It definitely helps with rapid iteration and the overall creative process that our designers already do on their projects.

Introducing Technology to the Client Experience

The process of introducing a client to these technologies is a really important responsibility. We feel accountable for having that experience go well, because every time we're introducing VR, we’re in some way, shape, or form trying to get folks on board with the larger shift of headset culture.

A couple of things we found along the way is that you cannot force anyone into VR. Our approach is to have someone from our team who's already familiar with the technology drive the experience in the headset and wait to gauge a client's level of interest before having them put it on. We also like to share or stream whatever is happening in the headset. That way if you're not feeling like you want to jump directly in, you can sort of dip your toe in the water. Then, once they feel ready, they can raise their hands and have that experience. We find that this provides a softer transition.

1
XR image of a final design for client, image courtesy of Interior Architects.
XR image of a final design for client, image courtesy of Interior Architects.
1
IAXR Atlanta studio community event image courtesy of Interior Architects.
IAXR Atlanta studio community event image courtesy of Interior Architects.

VR for VR’s Sake, or What Not to Do

There are a lot of platforms out there, and if you're a junior designer at a firm and you're trying to get buy-in for VR, the best advice I can give you is to go out and create something that helps you in your process. We've all run into what I refer to as “VR for VR’s sake,” when you put the headset on and you have some type of experience that doesn't really need to be in VR in order to be successful. The biggest thing I can encourage people to do is to use VR and AR to solve a problem and to be really intentional about how those technologies can resolve it in a meaningful way. Then the conversation becomes less about a new technology you’re trying to introduce, and more about a new tool with which you can communicate.

The Power of Community and Democratizing the Process

The design community in general is so collaborative; however, the small world of VR and AR can be even more tight knit. There are so many people that work in technology, gaming, and computer science who have been working on the different facets of XR for such a long time. There is so much to be learned from where the technology has been, that is critical to informing where it can go. In my experience it has been incredible to learn from the XR community working both in and outside of the AEC industry, and humbling that so many people are willing to share and teach you something. A lot of the VR and AR tools and platforms are either open-sourced or very easily accessible. That is an important undercurrent of the VR and AR world, that a lot of people feel very strongly about democratizing access to creation tools and processes. I have learned so much from the XR community.

The Future is Now

It’s an encouraging sign that people are happening upon VR and AR more and more in their everyday life. I love that people are approaching IA with some type of previous experience, whether it was good or bad, and a willingness to continue to explore the technology. I continue to be excited about the core technology. As every iteration of a new headset evolves—it seems like we're moving more closely to the technology being an extension of what we already do and how we interact. With things like hand tracking or eye tracking, the headset forms getting lighter and lighter, I think the intimidation factor of XR continues to dissolve.

quote
The biggest thing I encourage people to do is to use VR and AR to solve a problem, and to be really intentional about how those technologies can solve that problem in a meaningful way.
Kat Schneider
quote
Kat Schneider

Meetings Reimagined

In our experience when creating a digital clone of a real space, we find that the end users are inherently more familiar and comfortable in virtual contexts because they already know everything about it—where the conference rooms are, where to go, what to do. It’s not a totally different thing they've never experienced, and there is comfort in that, even though they are experiencing a virtual space for the first time.

Through the course of the pandemic the digital environments that we created, both for ourselves and for our clients, became a really important place to have safe and meaningful interactions with each other at a time when we couldn't be safely in the same room. For example, in the midst of the pandemic we had our firm's leadership get together in a digital environment that we had created and that was so amazing to see. At the time, it was comforting to return to something familiar, like watching a group of people gathered around a virtual fire pit having a conversation that had nothing [and everything] to do with work. We noticed that all of those social interactions that we couldn't have together we were able to replicate in different ways. We found that we didn't have to be in the same room to have a meaningful connection with somebody, but that feeling of being in context with others was critical.

Breaking the Rules of Design

Designing for XR is really fun and playful, and we as designers can check certain limitations at the door when it comes to creating virtual environments. For example, there's no weather in VR, so if we want to have an open patio with a projection screen, we can do that. I love when the two are connected—when the virtual environment has some nods to the physical world, but it also has a very intentional attitude about what rules we can break and still have it feel like an actual space. One of our first projects was a digital twin of our Atlanta studio. There was a lot that was already set in stone because the space had already been physically built, but there were certain things like desks that we don't really need in VR—because if you're going to do solo work you'll just do that on your computer. This allowed us to free up an area of the floor space to add a fire pit, a little reflecting pool, and benches—spaces where you can be “outside” in VR. You wouldn’t be able to work outside in the real world 365 days a year, but with digital environments you have more agency to customize the world around you. If you want to meet in the French countryside or a small seaside town in Africa, you can do that. If the experience is really well crafted, you can use it as an intentional departure from how you do the rest of your work.

(Below: IAXR Atlanta studio meeting, image courtesy of Interior Architects)

1
Featured Articles
View All Articles
View All Articles