Space Designer is an online architectural space planning application made for both professionals and amateurs to let them virtually inhabit a 3D world of their creation. More than just a visualization tool, it also aims to improve the overall quality of an architectural project.
In this article, we will compare Space Designer 3D to its direct competitors to define a roadmap of improvements that will create a better application.
Each application participating in this comparison works in the cloud with any web browser and implements the following features:
- Short learning curves adapted to general public
- Built-in floor planning tools (walls, openings, …)
- Built-in home furniture catalog
- 2D and 3D real-time visualizations
Missing at least one of the features listed above, SketchUp, IKEA Home Planner and Sweet Home 3D are not taking part in this comparison.
The first impression counts a lot, and incomprehension creates discomfort. The secret behind a great graphical user interface made for the general public is to appear very simple in the beginning and reveal advanced features gradually. That is the main strategy adopted by all compared applications.
The second challenge is to resolve the problem of media diversity where the application interface is used. It is not only the size of the screen that changes but also the user interaction modes: we do not interact the same way with a mouse, our fingers or a stylus.
With their newer versions, Homestyler, HomeByMe, and Planner5D have tried to make an interface that works the same way on tablets and computers. Although they work (hardly) on tablets, they have been primarily designed for conventional computers. On the other hand, Archilogic is more mobile-oriented but lacks too many features.
Perhaps it is preferable to identify the most common ways of use and create a custom interface for each. This approach brings comfort to the end-user but also increases the development costs. Assuming the cost challenge, we are currently assessing technology choices to generate modular interfaces to ensure at least three types of use:
- Fast and clean visualization interface for mobiles,
- Simplified interface with basic editing tools designed for finger interaction,
- Complete interface with advanced design tools for desktop computers.
2D and 3D Visualization Modes
The floor plan is a simplified outline drawing of walls and furniture seen from above. It is the most objective graphical representation type that allows understanding of the spatial organization of the architectural project. This view is used for drawing the walls and openings, and placing furniture in a simple but efficient manner.
The first person view in 3D gets a glimpse of what your project would look like in real life. It has a strong subjective value depending on the point of view and puts the emphasis on ambiance and emotion. This view is also used by the application to assign colors and materials to the walls, floors, and ceilings and make final adjustments to an architectural space initially drawn in 2D.
Bird’s-eye view combines 2D floor plan objectivity and emotional aspects of 3D representation, making it the users’ favorite view.
The next version of Space Designer 3D will also leverage other view types used by architects to highlighting various aspects of a project:
- Sections to analyze the vertical relationship of interior spaces,
- Facades that allow us to understand how the project looks from the street,
- Schematic views such as exploded axonometric view.
3D Real-time Visualization
To quote Le Corbusier, “Our eyes are made to see forms in light; light and shade reveal these forms”. We also believe that lighting and shadows are essential to appreciating the architectural space. Besides, they are the most difficult parameters to reproduce in a virtual environment.
In this chapter, we will demystify several lighting techniques and how each compared software composes them to achieve the level of realism needed by the end-user.
Drop shadows are the result of direct light sources, such as the sun coming through the window. They are relatively easy to calculate in real-time and very useful as they add depth and contrast to the final rendering. Consequently, the majority of the compared applications have been making use of this technique since their first releases.
Global illumination raises the challenge of “realism” higher by taking into account the reflection between every surface of the scene, which is very expensive regarding processing power. Currently, only Floorplanner dares to offer a quick approximation of this technique.
One way to turn around the “global illumination” problem is to pre-calculate and save the light data into textures. Called “light baking,” this method increases the 3D item production and online data transfer times, but it is certainly worth it considering the extra quality it provides. Space Designer 3D, Homestyler, and very recently HomeByMe adopted this technique.
Fake shadows, only used by Homestyler, consist of a horizontal dark gradient plane placed under each 3D object to simulate very approximately the shadow occlusion. While this old technique is easy to get done, the final result can become completely incoherent in many situations.
We know that for the end-user, one of the most important things is the realism, which is provided mainly with a good illumination strategy. At Space Designer 3D labs, we are looking for efficient ways to implement innovative lighting techniques such as near real-time path tracing to surpass the end-user expectations.
What is the best way to design an architectural project: draw and align the rooms one by one, or start by drawing exterior walls and subdivide the interior volume with partitions?
Here is the same question asked differently: when designing an architectural project, do we think in terms of volumes or boundaries? Alternatively, are both true as in the chicken and the egg causality dilemma?
One thing is sure: there is no one right way to design architectural space. It depends on the project and the designer. However, the ideal architectural application must allow its users to express themselves freely without imposing “a way of doing.”
To our surprise, online floor planning applications put the emphasis more on their visualization modes than on drawing features. The majority of them are designed to create simple projects composed of a few rectangular rooms. Because most users are satisfied by “four walls and a good catalog of furniture”, they never thought they could go any further in their design.
However, as a software created by architects, this is certainly not the vision of Space Designer 3D. More than just a visualization tool, it also aims to improve the overall quality of an architectural project with adapted built-in tools.
The comparison tables below list only what we could do until now, given budget and time. Our initial challenge was to make rather technical features appear to be simple and useful for users. However, we certainly do not stop there. We will let users express themselves with an increasingly rich geometric vocabulary while keeping the inherent simplicity of the application.
Resistance is futile; we will convert all of you into amazing “space designers.”
- Impossible with brands
- Highlight item in red but doesn’t constrain user
- Rotate furniture when it is near a wall
- Can’t search an item, just category
As said before, for many users, architectural design simply means to decorate the space with furniture and to assign materials to surfaces. Therefore, the furniture and material catalog has a significant importance. It should be generous enough to respond to diverse needs and styles.
To better meet the needs of users regarding diversification, most of the applications provide not only a substantial number of items but also various customization settings such as changing colors and sizes.
Space Designer 3D, while having fewer items than his opponents in its catalog, pushes the limits of customization further by offering an inequivalent number of parameters.
Despite this complexity, we will catch up with our competitors regarding the item number in the catalog and intend to add 100 new furniture items per month. We will also pay more attention to diversifying the styles and giving privilege to American and Asian cultures.
Today, even in design agencies, creating a photorealistic image from a 3D drawing is a precious know-how. With the applications participating in this comparison, this challenging task is summarized in one simple click, making the rendering feature a game changer.
HomeStyler and Floorplanner use a more conventional rendering technique called Ray Tracing, which is a very fast method, but requires a lot of tweaking for indirect light approximations, to reach a good level of realism. Still, both applications generate very satisfactory results.
On the contrary, path tracers are easy to configure and always give life-like results, but they can take up to five times longer for the same level of quality. Planner5D, Space Designer 3D, and HomeByMe are using this technique.
Unlike the others, Space Designer 3D uses the user’s computer to create the rendering, instead of a distant render farm. This way, we have reduced not only the cost per image but also the average time to completion because there is no queueing system. Finally, we produce a preview in seconds allowing the user to make final adjustments faster.
Embedding and Integration Options
Floor planning tools are not used only by individuals who want to see their project without sharing it. Space Designer 3D, HomeByMe, Planner 5D and Archilogic can be embedded in a website, but only Space Designer 3D and Planner 5D offer a simplified interface with simple editing options.
Space Designer 3D, HomeByMe, and Floorplanner provide branding features for professionals who would like to add a floor planning software to their business. Space Designer 3D also has a plugin for e-commerce platforms.
While most software includes a gallery and a help section, Space Designer 3D is the only one to provide chat support directly from its staff. Floorplanner and Planner 5D have a forum linked to their website where users can ask their unanswered questions.
Over the last five years, we worked tirelessly to develop our technology to exceed global standards in terms of online 3D visualization. Today we are a major player in a market where there are well-funded, larger players such as Homestyler or Floorplanner. Our aim is to move ahead of our competitors by redefining the rules of online architectural conception and promotion. Here is our roadmap:
- Overcome technological barriers regarding ergonomy, performance and rendering quality.
- Offer architectural design tools that adapt to different end-user needs.
- Establish the first online real-time collaboration platform to meet the end-users and professionals (architects and designers).
- Fast Acquisition: recognition and reconstruction of floor-plans from photos and drawings to online ready-to-view projects with the lowest possible costs.
- Simplified integration with online real estate market leaders to attract more people.
If you have any question or suggestions, feel free to contact us.