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Virtual Reality: One of our Best Design Tools

By David Tracy, The LAB at Rockwell Group

There’s currently a huge amount of creative capital and energy going into the development of media for Virtual Reality. While hardly a new concept, cheap, powerful computing and high-resolution displays have enabled immersion that was previously unfeasible. Below, read how the LAB at Rockwell Group is using VR to explore design decisions, communicate ideas, and create unique architecture experiences.

The LAB at Rockwell Group is a design studio that merges strategic insights and interactive technologies to create unique architecture experiences. One of the many tools we use to explore and communicate our designs is Virtual Reality (VR). As a design tool, VR gives us quick insight into issues of scale, context, and experience. Because it is immersive and interactive, VR gives designers another tool to quickly evaluate their decisions. Designers can be “dropped” into the middle of their designs, gaining new perspectives. Of particular relevance is the sense of scale, proportion, and spatial flow which elude more traditional media. The ability to walk through a design at full scale is one of the most important capabilities of VR.

Because the LAB operates at the intersection of technology and architecture, we have to use tools that allow us to understand how media and technology alter a physical space.

We used VR to test our holiday lighting installation, Luminaries, at Brookfield Place in Manhattan.

VR is an excellent vehicle to understand spatial interactions; think of it as three-dimensional UX (user experience) design. By programming simulated interactions into VR, we can better understand our design decisions and iterate through them more rapidly. (One such R&D project was our VR kaleidoscope app, available for iOS.)

As a presentation tool, VR earns merit as well. Immersive media can tell the story of a space and communicate designs to collaborators and clients alike. As media and architecture become more and more entangled, such a tool will only become more important for coordinating and understanding the spaces we introduce to the world.

Looking forward, the LAB is exploring how VR can be improved to stand alone as an experience and transcend use as a niche platform.

A screenshot from our kaleidoscope app.
  • How can VR become a communal experience?
  • How can VR activate more sensory capacities beyond vision?
  • How can VR become a design environment in its own right?
  • What are the interface design challenges that go into making a good VR experience?
  • How does interface design for VR inform what’s on the horizon, particularly, augmented reality?

These are the questions that keep us actively engaged in exploring the boundaries of Virtual Reality!

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