Virtual reality: Change the way we experience design

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Virtual reality touched my life first as a child and marveled at the idea of immersive technology that could figuratively transport you to another time and place. I saw it as an opportunity to explore brand new boundaries outside my sofa, my house and my life as I felt it. Today, the enthusiasm of an adult and design professional child controls virtual reality’s powerful potential to influence architectural design for the better.

The extensive advertising for the last holiday season highlights the spread of virtual reality in the gaming and entertainment world, but its capacity is much greater and, in my opinion, more relevant in business applications. The virtual reality design process has the power to change the way we create, imagine and experience areas, and offers better design decisions and end results to customers.

VR is experiential.

One of the biggest challenges in the design process is clearly communicating the idea with confidence in design and drawings. Even with 3D rendering, it can be difficult for someone outside the design world to fully understand the real consequences of a design solution. With VR, both the designer and the customer can experience a significant sense of walking around the room, understanding the composition, seeing details from all angles, and responding accordingly to shape the next step.

VR is intuitive.

As a designer, the experience of creating and exploring with all dimensions has an instinctive and immersive quality. The ability to quickly transform vision into virtual creations feels both natural and unlimited, providing unlimited creative possibilities.

In addition, VR offers unique opportunities for shared experiences. I was recently caught up with my colleagues. We all work in different industries – finance, medicine, government and design – in the opposite language and with daily experience. For them, architectural design is like a foreign language, so we decided to experiment with VR to explore the design world. As a group, we put on VR headsets and it felt like we could immediately identify in a new way. Although I have always taken for granted the relative ease with which I could imagine a model, I realized that other people were challenged by trying to imagine a sketch in a real context. With VR, I was able to help my colleagues experience design in an immersive way that changed their understanding of what I’m doing. This experience also showed that VR has the potential to reach out to and engage the public, providing a process that makes conceptual design relatable to the viewer.

VR improves sensory design. As designers, we constantly study the experience of space and consider different perspectives. We look at form and function and constantly challenge ourselves to create a concept that has an emotional impact on the building’s user. VR gives us a unique opportunity to experiment with new perspectives and experience the environments we design better than we would be someone else.

At a recent AIA meeting, I had the opportunity for the first time to observe people interacting with VR as designers from around the world gathered to explore new trends, materials, and technologies. Personally, VR is a compelling and effective experience. You can be instantly transported to another world, and observing people experiencing this phenomenon for the first time was a powerful experience in itself.

I’m thinking about how VR expands our ability to communicate with many types of audiences, including customers. What if you could share a project as a virtual experience with a customer, maybe even change some aspects of the design as it is presented? The potential impact is huge and has far-reaching implications for the design industry. The virtual experience of an undeveloped project and the ability to respond instantly to customer feedback make the game successful projects.