Innovation’s New Realities

Virtual Reality is an essential tool in any product development kit, and if you’re not using it you probably should be.

Formation Design Group
Jun 20 · 7 min read

Lately, when asking ourselves what tools work best for a given mission, the answer is increasingly VR.

We’ve been using VR in our development process for a little over two years. During this time, we’ve used it on over twenty-five projects. For us, this is a testament to how transformative VR has been to our practice. We didn’t know what to expect when we started using VR but now we believe it’s a game changer. Older readers may even remember hearing similar things in the early 1990s. This time is different.

Above — Using mixed reality to combine physical and virtual assets creates a multiplying effect that allows designers to develop more harmonious and integrated design solutions more efficiently.

VR is a powerful, usable and accessible tool and it’s here to stay.

On an elementary level, VR tools allow us to see things at an unprecedented fidelity much earlier in the development process. In its most basic form, VR allows you to experience virtual objects or spaces similar to how we experience them in real life. This ability affords creative freedom and the freedom to experiment. The more iterations we complete, the more we learn and the more refined our solutions become. VR tools are a natural fit for the iterative, creative process we follow as professional product developers. It only stands to reason that advanced tools like VR should enhance the creative process. Think of using VR as “casting a wider net longer”. Designers can achieve better results with a similar amount of effort. Designers are free to iterate and explore while the preciousness and expense associated with many traditional methods are dramatically reduced.
Even when used just for visualizations (such as photoreal renders/animations), VR is a compelling and beneficial tool.

Above — A 360 version of the VR visuals users would see when interacting with the physical prototype in the previous images.

With traditional tools, by the time a team is committed enough to model a large solution, most design decisions have already been made.

The real power of virtual reality in product development becomes apparent when it’s used as more than a “medium” or presentation technique. It is a convergence point, an environment for collaboration in which scale, proportion, interactions, movements, experiences, and relationships can all be easily explored. Extending its capabilities further we can model and simulate experiences by “mixing” real input devices with virtual products in virtual environments with virtual UIs. By introducing and blending real components with virtual components we create MR or mixed reality demonstrators. This mix of real and virtual assets, interactions and experiences have a multiplying effect and result in more harmonious and integrated design solutions. Once created these mixed reality simulations can be easily shared and evaluated at unprecedented levels of detail and resolution.

Above — Real controls can easily be integrated with VR to create a rich mixed reality simulation of future product experience. In this case, we are evaluating a dynamic driving experience in a lift truck demo.

In VR, there is less interpretation, and no opportunity to hide behind a glistening farkle, garbage in — garbage out.

Industrial designers and product developers have always been on the cutting edge when it comes to using new tools. The past 20 years have witnessed many new additions to our toolbox, software, hardware, modeling tools, drawing tools, research tools, and methods. We strive to use the best tool for the job, the tool that will help us find the right answer using the most direct, highest quality process. In our daily practice, VR is rapidly finding its way to the top of this collection of development tools due to its boundless capability and its relative efficiency. After many projects in VR, we know these tools enhance the quality of our work. Concepts demonstrated virtually accelerate the development process, build momentum and generate excitement by rallying key stakeholders. In rare cases where initial skepticism exists, it quickly melts away once someone dons a VR headset. We’ve seen VR reassure decision makers and cause them to be less risk-averse.

Formation Design Group

A product design + development company focused on human centered design innovation.

Formation Design Group

Written by

A product design + development company focused on human-centered design innovation.

Formation Design Group

A product design + development company focused on human centered design innovation.