VR – it's not the tool, it's the approach

By Nathan Lonsdale on 26 November 2018
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Virtual reality (VR) has been around in our sector for a while now. For some, it remains a fad and a distraction which will pass. For others, it’s a panacea which will cure all ills. So, which is it?

In truth, VR is just a tool, and most are yet to grasp its full potential, despite it becoming more accessible and affordable by the day. This is because using new tools with old ways of working only gets you so far.

As an industry, we’re still relying on archaic practices and, frustratingly, people are using tools like VR as gimmicks purely to impress or opportunities to charge more, rather than as enablers of innovation. 

At Spacelab, for the last 12 months we’ve been re-discovering why we exist, and this has led to us revolutionising our approach. As a result, we’re now harnessing the latest technology to improve the way we work for those we are designing for – people. VR is one part of this and it’s helping us create amazing spaces that really work for those that will be using them.

Understanding your need

If you’ve worked with us, you’ll know that before we even think about design, we get to grips with your project and aims in various ways. These include workshops, interviews, online surveys, observations, ethnography and shadowing, and spatial analysis. We’ve started taking our research a step further by testing people’s personality types and using VR environments to discover their space preferences. The links we found were so strong that we’re now developing personality testing we can use for clients, which means we can tailor spaces even more specifically to your needs.

Collaborating to get it right

Our designers and researchers now team up to produce models purely in 3D (unless 2D plans are specifically requested) as these can be quickly shifted into VR. Quite frankly, who can really read a 2D drawing, and understand what we are designing for them, anyway? This saves us valuable time compared to our previous approach. No longer are we doing numerous design presentations preparing for that ‘ta-dah’ moment with the client, only to find out it doesn't quite meet their expectations. No longer are our clients left wondering about our design intentions. No longer are we having to do numerous visuals to explain a part of our design. This is now done in real time with nothing left to the imagination. And no longer are we having to produce wasted 2D drawings when everyone from the client to contractor can see exactly what we have designed, all viewing it from the same model. All of this frees designers to spend their time on what they should be concentrating on – designing!

Contrary to what some may tell you, using VR in this way costs next to nothing if it is built-in to the overall design approach. Using it throughout the design process also means you can move around inside the design at every stage and really understand how the space will look, feel and function before it's built. We can join you and other stakeholders in the same virtual model to discuss changes – even if we’re based in different places around the world.

Taking everyone on the journey

Our approach means anyone can be involved in the project and VR makes this fun, engaging but, most of all, worthwhile. The Chief Finance Officer can walk through alternative designs at different price-points before finalising the budget. A receptionist can sit at their desk to see if they have the necessary visibility of new arrivals. Any potential user can learn how to find their way around and get the best from their environment. Rather than relying on a major change management programme to help people adopt new ways of using the space, people can be familiar with it before they walk through the door.

The great news is that both our team and the people we are designing for are loving our approach, which we’re continuing to develop. VR is only part of it and will eventually be superseded by a tool that will help us design even better spaces. By focusing on our approach and always #puttingpeoplefirst, rather than the tools we use, we’ll continue creating amazing spaces and, hopefully, our industry will join our revolution.

Topics: design, team, spacelab, workplace productivity, architecture, virtual reality