Blurring the boundaries of virtual and physical reality.
Organisations today are facing the challenge of blurring the border between their virtual and physical environment more than ever. Within this transformation process, designers have to seek for more innovative methods to increase efficiency and accessibility across the customer organizations. One way of overcoming these challenges is to involve the end-users already in the problem-solving and definition stage. While many still doubt the potential of virtual reality (VR), the implementation of VR solutions in businesses workflow has improved communication and boosted productivity. For the past year, the Agile Work team has studied the potential of VR in workplace transformation, identifying its strengths and weaknesses.
From a hyped phenomenon into a critical business tool
The main aspects of VR development can be demonstrated with the Gartner Hype Cycle. According to this Cycle, VR is currently at it’s peak. . In other words, it has been established as a strong business tool. Gartner’s brand content manager predicts that by 2022, 70% of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use, and 25% will use it for production. In fact, the future of XR and cloud computing are reaching a point where streaming high-quality VR content on standalone devices is not an abstract idea for developers anymore.
VR plays a big role in internal and external communication for spatial designers. It has assisted spatial designers to understand and imagine spaces while facilitating the process of design generation and visual communication. The potential of VR has given a possibility to create imaginative virtual environments alongside highly realistic ones, allowing the users to take part in the creation of the space with their profound emotion and senses. The audience's ability to manipulate their surroundings in a 3D environment while the computer generates the actions happening in real-time has become reality.
The first step in solving spatial problems is to communicate with the user and identify their weak spots, values, and requirements. But to collect data about user desires is often problematic as they do not have a clear vision of their needs. Thus, putting design ideas into a virtual space from the very beginning can help to communicate with users and avoid undesired changes in a later stage. When experiencing the environment real-time, clients tend to invest in products that are more suitable rather than choosing the least costly ones from the spreadsheets. VR also highly improves internal communication between designers, as they can share their visions inside the space avoiding miscommunication and misinterpretation.
From an experiential showcase into a digital twin
Recently, VR has become increasingly used in many real estate and marketing strategies. Property owners can remotely showcase their buildings to potential clients from any location. For a broad range of properties, virtual representation is crucial for bringing various professionals and creating collaborations in the future. So-called digital twin includes the representation of the built environment, systems, and people, that are brought together with data-driven analytics and established simulations.
Digital twins can be used for various purposes, such as remote training, renovation evaluations, remote access to different areas in the building, design document automation, and safety simulations. The virtual building in large scale facilities can be used to train recruits. As the process is automated and allows to reduce facility management costs and labour. The virtual building in large scale facilities can be used to train recruits and reduce facility management costs and labour by automating the process and remote simulations. Now that a substantial number of businesses has started to embrace remote work and external freelancers, it is beneficial to have a cloud-based replica of their buildings for their meetings, conferences, and ideations.
VR acts not only as an environment for people to come together and co-create the transformation, but also as an experience, facilitating the upcoming change.
Some of the key findings on the role of VR in the transformation process:
It is gameful: Since virtual reality experiences are mostly computer-generated, they have a strong connection with video games, leading participants to find themselves in a gamified experience. After experiencing VR, serious design review sessions transformed into flexible and fun experiences.
It is real-time: The real-time nature of the VR environment significantly speeds up the development phase. The ability to inspect any element of the project at any time and visualise the environment by demand enables the designer to shift their focus from visualisation to design development.
It is a storytelling medium: The ability to convey information as stories, provide opportunities for designers in curating the users’ focus. The experience of storytelling forces the storyteller to contemplate on the story’s elements more precisely.
It is a communication facilitator: In remote participatory sessions, VR allows co-existing with the information in a shared environment. The ability to use body language, sense of presence, elements of play, and the sense of agency provide a new level of communication, both for remote and in-person collaborations.
It brings empathy: VR provides an environment where irrelevant personal features are put aside, and its transformative qualities allow people to free themselves from physical boundaries. Therefore, they tend to engage in more intimate discussions and establish the desired culture.
It is sustainable: Instead of allocating time and resources on the physical environment, and testing against new scenarios, designers can share their ideas with the employees and examine the resulting risks and values and then implement them in real situations. Many companies adopt virtual communication to reduce the environmental damages of unnecessary travels, to reduce their carbon footprint.
It is transformative: After the experience, users’ visual memory frames a preliminary picture of the space, helping them better imagine themselves in the new environment.
It is tangible: Spatial quality of VR environments aid users to understand various design choices. Users can observe various alternatives in the context, considering every aspect that may affect their decisions, such as daylight, material composition, space proportions, accessibilities, and other influencers.
This article is a part of a Master thesis project (Aalto University) carried out by Soroush Kalatian from Agile Work. During the year-long research period, the utilization of VR in workplace transformation was assessed through prototyping various use cases and with involvement of the end-user.
Soroush Kalatian is an Interior Architect and XR Designer who holds a MA Degree in Interior Architecture from Aalto University. His interests revolve around blurring the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds.