January 10, 2018

Moving beyond the image: test drive your visual designs

By Ken Pimentel

Ever since the first designer sketched an idea on a piece of paper, images have been used to convey how a design might be realized. Today, as computer-aided design has become pervasive, the production of rendered images has greatly aided the conceptualization and communication of design amongst all stakeholders. As an architect once told me, “blueprints don’t sell, images do.” At this point, the value of using rendered imagery to communicate design intent, both as part of the process of design and the process of involving stakeholders is well established. 

However, using static images to communicate the intimate details of a design or structure has a glaring flaw; our experience of design is not static, it is immersive and ever-changing. While images are necessary to the process of design, they can’t fully engage our capacity to evaluate design by experiencing it. If you could translate the ideas of a designer into a fully realized virtual experience, what insights and issues might you find before fabricating the first piece of it? How might the design be improved if you could fully evaluate the aesthetics, scale and function of any design? 

Welcome to the age of experience. 
Soluis Group used Unreal to drive the design process of the Radisson RED project

Unlocking the power of “what if”

With real-time technologies like Unreal Engine giving designers and artists the tools they need to create fully-interactive designs, they can now immerse themselves and others in a compelling experience of their design. Instead of pixels frozen on a piece of paper, the computer now reacts in real-time as they explore a new vantage point, or interact with the structure or object. Because the experience is dynamic and reactive, the designer has the freedom to explore countless “what if?” questions.

“What if we moved this over there?” 

“What if we changed this to look like this?”

All these questions drive better design.

Unlike a static image, if the designer does find an issue, they can make changes in real-time -- even within the immersive experience. No longer do they have to break their focus and wait for hours to get a new rendering of a proposed change. Real-time technologies free the designer and artist to work more naturally and interactively. More time is spent refining a design and less on waiting for feedback.

Theia Interactive used Unreal to build a VR experience to let designers experience decor variations

What does it mean to experience design?

As a designer, there’s only so much you can convey with a static image, and the limitations of the format impede the ability to customize aspects of your design after-the-fact. Real-time is expanding what’s possible in the design space by shifting away from the idea of a static image and moving towards crafting a direct experience that can be tailored to different users, clients, and stakeholders.

Consider this: when you’re going to buy a new car, you wouldn’t buy it based-on a picture alone, right? You’d take it for a test drive and feel what it’s like to experience the ride. You’d sit in the seat and soak in your surroundings. Experiencing design has the same benefits.

Real-time engines let artists create fully-interactive designs that engage the senses as a whole, drawing users deeper into the moment. It’s moldable reality, in essence, where sight, sound, and even touch can be combined to heighten the sense of reality, whether the design is something that already exists in the real world or just in the imaginations of its innovators.

Designing for many different experiences

The range of unique ways that companies across many industries are choosing to experience design as a way to enhance their business continues to grow. For some, it’s an extremely effective way to build a more emotional connection between potential customers and premium products.

This Toyota interior comes to life when viewed in Rotor Studio’s sales configurator using Unreal

Australian-based Rotor Studios, for example, used Unreal Engine to create Toyota Showroom 360 -- an advanced custom car configuration experience that lets customers use a touch-screen interface to view car models and adjust design elements, color configurations, and more all in real-time. Other automotive manufacturers have tapped into real-time technology as well, to give their customers more ways to interact with and view vehicles to build a closer connection between driver and their prospective rides.

Because of the breadth of experience possible using Unreal Engine, design firms in the architectural engineering sector are increasingly turning to real-time technology to let clients interact with structural designs and interior spaces well before the first brick is ever laid. Italian architectural firm Lissoni Associates wields Unreal Engine to build interactive photorealistic architecture scenes that are indistinguishable from the final buildings crafted from it. Neoscape -- a creative agency that focuses on strategy and branding design for real estate -- also goes beyond traditional architectural visualizations to craft videos and interactive real-time experiences in Unreal Engine to immerse their clients in the possibilities of their designs. The benefit of being able to experience an architectural space before it’s created is revolutionizing the design process.

Fusion worked with NASA to bring the experience of a manned mission to Mars to life with Unreal

VR and AR applications also are frequently paired with real-time technology to deliver more immersive experience design for a broad range of applications. NASA uses Unreal Engine and VR to train astronauts -- even putting them in a virtual simulated environment like the International Space Station to practice zero gravity training sessions in a fully-designed 3D space. Another innovator, Abyssal, uses Unreal to aid global real-time subsea oil field monitoring operations, with a mix of geographical data and a virtual overlay that syncs up with real-world cameras to assist navigation and visibility in poor subsurface conditions.

Using Unreal, Abyssal shows the invisible; a subsea visualization of where the submersible is operating

Unreal Engine is ushering in an age of experience where industries can put their products in front of customers in amazing new ways and create unique solutions to tackle design challenges across any discipline.

One last thought, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the value of an experience?

Curious to learn more about how Unreal Engine and real-time can help you create compelling design experiences to boost your brand? Join the free Unreal Studio beta today!