Gravity Sketch and Ford: Working together to build a tool for a more user-centric design workflow

An interview with Gravity Sketch Co-Founder, Seyi Sosanya

Martin
Gravity Sketch and Ford: Working together to build a tool for a more user-centric design workflow
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What are you announcing today?

For the past year we’ve been working closely with the 2000x team at Ford Motor Company in direct collaboration with Michael Smith, Design Manager, to tailor Gravity Sketch for the bespoke Ford workflow based on their internal objectives, goals, and future design ambitions.

What does the partnership entail?

Although Ford is technically a customer, we don’t only look at it in that light. As a young and flexible startup there’s a lot we learn together beyond the traditional buyer-supplier relationship. We have built a relationship that has become a collaborative initiative by two companies looking to build a powerful long-lasting design workflow. As ambiguous as that may sound, if we look at it at a practical level, Ford and Gravity Sketch have an open, transparent relationship where we synchronise with each other weekly. Design teams meet engineering teams to discuss the product, it’s integration into the workflow, and what tailored features would be beneficial to accelerate their workflow. Our lean approach means that in a very small window of time we can develop and deploy solutions to Ford and receive feedback with a fast turnaround. With this practice we do not try and nail the exact solution in the first go, but rather we iterate until we solidify ideas and concepts.

Is this an exclusive deal within the automotive industry?

We chose to work with Ford as our first company because of how established they are in all aspects from design, to engineering, to distribution. We felt working closely with this customer will help us build a blueprint to how we can continue to work with customers in a much more intimate way and build a great product at the same time. At these early stages of our business we are handpicking the customers we want to have this collaborative relationship with. Ford was an obvious choice for us, and as our company develops further into other segments we want to mirror our relationship with Ford.

Why is Ford working with Gravity Sketch versus other tools?

We have developed Gravity Sketch to be a highly flexible piece of software that has headroom for explanation, we’ve developed our software to be modular and flexible to develop which isn’t the case with most design softwares. This was quite refreshing for Ford and what drew them to us. If you look at other industry suppliers, especially in the 3D space, they have this legacy of releasing versions one at a time which in turn binds the customer to a specific version and its feature sets. This means the customer can only leverage the version they own and take it with its faults. What Ford saw was the opportunity to leverage a small, lean and nimble company that can work in a cyclical fashion free from locked versions and feature sets. It was an attractive opportunity given the two companies can work well together.

How much time will it save in the design process?

From a time perspective, getting into digital 3D as early as possible is always going to save time. Designers think in 3D and the final results of the design process are 3D, so working in 3D from the ideation phase is a benefit but only if the 3D tools used allow designers to have the hand sketch feel and leave enough ambiguity to open more conversations prior to committing to a final direction.

We’ve received a very wide range of feedback from our user base with regards to time saving benefits. We have calculated a time savings of 30–60% depending on how the designer is implementing Gravity Sketch into their workflow. If we try to look at quantitative metrics as opposed to just time, and look at the number of concepts designers can generate in the same time period, we’ve seen an increase by factors of 10x the number of designs generated in the same amount of time a designer would spend exploring one concept through 2D mediums. This could be a measure of savings, but also of creative freedom.

What’s been most impressive about the interaction between Ford designers and the software?

The output of those using Gravity Sketch is clearly impressive, however, the buildup of designers becoming fluent in the use of the tool has been the most impressive thing. Seeing a designer who has spent 15 years sketching in 2D transport their entire knowledge base of 2D and clear understanding of 3D form into a digital physical 3D environment in such a short period of time has been astonishing. It has also been very inspiring to see the designers’ non-bias approach to VR and the open-minded outlook about the tech we are developing. The team we work with don’t have a strong stigma against the tech but rather see the opportunity to adopt something new and help craft it into a tool that can be used as a daily workhorse; this is extremely inspirational to us as a team.

Working with a company with a great legacy, recognition, and level of experience, is very humbling to a young company still growing in the industry. Coming from a design world myself, it is rare to see designers of this calibre so willing to lay down some of their dependable conventional tools and take an honest and earnest approach to something new and unproven, especially in an industry as competitive as automotive where the margin for error is very low.

What was the insight from your time working at Jaguar Land Rover that enabled you to develop a tool that fits so well into the automotive design workflow?

At JLR I was in a unique position sitting between engineering and design teams to help deliver creative interior concepts. It was a perfect position to be in prior to launching Gravity Sketch as it helped me identify how designers started to cook up ideas and what their expected level of delivery was to hand over to other teams and engineering in order to see these ideas through to fruition. Being the bridge between these two parties meant I got to see some of the pain points from both sides. The fundamental means of communication was at the sketch level; I believe this is because of the level of freedom and flexibility which sketching provides. Once a design gets into the digital 3D realm the process becomes more rigid, and the ability to go back and change the ideas becomes less possible. I developed a real empathy for both the designer and engineer, and a clear respect for that relationship which is instrumental in the process of delivering a compelling design. This respect for the users and process has driven the product and the company.

Why do you think such a technology as Gravity Sketch can change the industry itself?

I want to give full credit not just to the technology but also to how our team has leveraged the tech and approached the design and development of the product. We’re taking an integrated approach, including the users in the development as we are breaking the conventional norms of computing with these new technologies.

Navigation, manipulation, and creation are pretty well defined with 2D design tools, specifically when you look at keyboard and mouse based applications. The industry is moving to touch-based interactions and we’re starting to get a much clearer understanding of the kind of standards that are required for a good user experience. When it comes to spatial computing it’s still the Wild West — there’s no clear and defined logic. Converting an application design for a 2D interface for VR is quite straight forward if you are simply carbon copying the 2D UI and using it as a floating window in the VR environment and using a laser pointer in place of a mouse. Our team has taken a more research and interactive approach. We are looking at what works in the physical environment and how we can bring physical interactions into the digital space. This approach is the disruptor but it makes complete sense, because when you’re creating anything in 3D the physical world is the final point of reference, it is where your design will live once born.

There’s almost no 2D equivalent when it comes to the development of a 3D object. The end output for many of these companies is the 3D object that will go to market trying to mimic the physical interactions that we (humans) are familiar with in the digital world. The design of digital 3D objects is where we’ve made a real breakthrough with the user experience as well as the technology.

Is Gravity Sketch being used in other industries?

Yes, it is used by a wide range of professional creatives.

We are not making a tool that is completely prescriptive, instead we take more of a balanced approach. We could spend all of our time making a very automotive-centric product, but as a company we need to have an inclusive approach. We deploy a version of our software on platforms where any creative can access it. This allows users of all walks to use the tool and offer feedback, giving them a real voice in the development of the tool. We gain insights that influence our roadmap which results in a tool that’s far more utilitarian in nature. As we expand our clientele and deploy our enterprise solution in automotive design studios, our customers get a much richer product which was designed through the leveraging of a wide range of use cases. For example, the concept art segment has a lot of great workflow techniques that designers in the automotive world may not have the time to fully investigate. We bring these insights to our customers through updates to features and the further development of our product. By learning from other segments we can fill gaps and solve problems in the workflow. Designing a flagship vehicle is a careful balance of several wider constraints beyond 4 wheels: vehicles are becoming autonomous, the built environment is ever changing, purchasing behaviours are evolving, and customers expectations are increasing. Designers are looking for any advantage or insight that will help them generate successful design. Leveraging tools and workflows from other industries is beneficial not only for our company, but also the clients who get to learn from these other industries through the use of our tool.

My top three exciting industries currently using Gravity Sketch are: concept art, where designers are creating characters or scenes for films; apparel design, where we’ve seen designers creating shoes and garments; and fine art, where sculptors are using Gravity Sketch to create beautiful forms and 3D printing and even casting in metals.

How do you see Gravity Sketch evolving even further in the future?

Through working directly with customers and our community of diverse users in a collaborative way we’ve identified more than two dozen unique workflows, and through that we’ve identified a number of additional tools that we can create to support these workflows. As a company we need to focus on making our current tool the best we can in the geometry space, but it’s clear that after the ideation phases our customers want to enter the next stage where he/she presents their work to their team or peers. By looking at this need and where things head after Gravity Sketch, we are starting to build tools that can help bridge more steps in the creative process. In time, we will have a suite of tools that work seamlessly together. If we look a bit further into the future and what’s needed from the audience standpoint, there are ways we can be more inclusive and useful for people purely consuming the content and not just the creators. We have a strong vision of bringing everyone into 3D and the creative journey. We’re going to get there by doing more of the same: learning from our customers, exploring and developing unique user experiences, and supporting our community of creators from all walks of life.

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