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How about remote collaboration and virtual design reviews?

What we’ve learned from design studios using Co-Creation for remote collaboration.

How about remote collaboration and virtual design reviews?
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Providing global design teams with the tools to better communicate ideas and enjoy working more collaboratively has been our mission from day one. Empowering teamwork and supporting design reviews where feedback can be implemented in realtime is an important part of this mission. We work with companies across the transportation and industrial design industry, where digital 3D design is critical to the development of products. We’ve identified some patterns and similarities shared by our customers which shed light on a few common challenges across all industries we work with. The developed and early release of our co-creation feature was in direct responses to these challenges and our step forward to help tackle them.

We have now learned a lot about how design teams are using our collaboration features to hold immersive design reviews. With co-creation design teams are not only addressing challenges around remote collaboration but also finding that 3D collaboration early on in the pipeline enables an entirely new way of working. Below we’ll outline several of these challenges, and how customers who are using the co-creation feature are experiencing richer, more productive design reviews.

At almost all design studios we work with, various stakeholders need to be involved in key phases of the design process in order to bring a physical product to life. Whether it’s designers, engineers, sales and marketing, or external clients, the project can not move forward without each parties’ input. Initial ideas are typically presented using 2D mediums or physical mock ups. Feedback comes in the form of sketches on top of printed out views of digital models or text based comments using post-it notes during whiteboarding sessions. Each iteration relies on face-to-face meetings as there are very few digital collaboration tools to help facility the type of exchange that happens in the studio. When it comes to digital collaboration in 3D, there are no commercially available tools that allow designers and engineers to collaborate with non technical stakeholders; as a result, receiving feedback from all parties is a challenge. This has been the case far before the pandemic with customers who have globally distributed teams struggling to work remotely and in response racking up miles to meet for face-to-face collaboration. Of course with the current climate these challenges have been amplified.

People around a table reviewing a design
Image courtesy of Achilles Design

1) At what point in the process can feedback be incorporated?

Incorporating feedback earlier in the process helps approach challenging areas of a design with a holistic approach. Bringing in engineering and marketing teams at the early concept phase is a trend we have seen customers use to avoid costly reworks and mistakes which must later be rectified. If clients request alterations later on, or engineers only encounter an issue deep into the process, there is often a lot of rework which eats away at the total project timeline; poor communication leads to wasted man hours and material cost. Presenting early stage concepts to a wider group of stakeholders helps deliver a clear understanding of the product development direction from the onset saving teams time in reduced need for renders or refined 2D sketches which are traditionally needed to help communicate ideas in the initial stages of the design process. Co-creation provides an easy way to include colleagues along the development journey, visualizing each stage of the process at scale immersively, so that everyone understands the design intent and visualises ideas in 3D through VR. This has led to better understanding of the design direction and constraints from the onset.

Spatial sketching removes the translation from 2D to 3D colleagues must make when looking at a two dimensional idea on paper or the screen. Furthermore, users can present a rough iteration of the product in an immersive environment at any scale. Designing and presenting concepts all within the same virtual environment dramatically reduces the amount of time needed to prepare concept work for reviews. More time to the design team results in the exploration of more concepts and more opportunities for collaboration. Stakeholders can jump in at short notice to make suggestions with enough time to explore and test before progressing to the next phase of product development. Furthermore, having a full scale digital model at all times can address several questions that stakeholders would normally only be able to ask after a life sized physical prototype is made.

Immersive collaboration during the sketch phase of a project
Immersive collaboration during the sketch phase of a project (image courtesy of Achilles Design)

2) Rich feedback

The effectiveness of feedback is dependent on the understanding of the person who is being presented to. Often colleagues will sketch their suggested amendments, over a screenshot via 2D sketching software or with pen and paper, the designer is then tasked with incorporating this into the design before the next review. With large full-scale mockups, colleagues must all come together in the same location to give feedback, this results in a much longer feedback loop. Colleagues or clients who are not skilled at sketching give feedback verbally or written on a whiteboard during a review.

With remote collaboration , everyone is able to add comments and suggestions directly to the model they are reviewing. Whether this is highlighting areas they want changed or actually making the edits to the model themselves, it’s easier to communicate and problem solve with this type of feedback. Customers find it simpler to understand everyone’s intentions with 3D notes. Rather than trying to decipher another’s 2D sketches or incorporate written feedback. Making suggestions in a 3D space is unambiguous and there is no risk of being misunderstood.

Attach feedback directly to the models being discussed
Attach feedback directly to the models being discussed (image courtesy of Achilles Design)

3) How feedback is incorporated

With few digital tools for collaboration, feedback loops can take a long time. Designers must go away and incorporate feedback in initial CAD models, resulting in a series of iterations. Several touchpoints with teams and clients are needed to confirm suggestions were correctly interpreted into the current iteration. This back and forth process is often a product of the 2D-3D transition that takes place from feedback to CAD model. Unclarity in the initial meetings leads to a slow design process with multiple meetings and lots of iterations to make simple changes.

Facilitating collaboration and communication as a key element within the tool, we have seen studios shortening these feedback loops the real time feedback and titration as well as asynchronous with notes saved in the 3D file itself. With collaborative design reviews taking place in the same VR tool that is used for design, real time edits and rapid iteration is second nature. Our customers are immediately test feedback, to see if it is beneficial from an aesthetic or ergonomic perspective. Faster iteration on feedback has led to a faster overall process, and increased opportunity to implement feedback to reach a better design.

Design review of an automobile exterior in Gravity Sketch
Design review of an automobile exterior in Gravity Sketch

Solution / conclusion:

The common challenges listed above are not unique to one industry, we see these across all of our customer segments. These challenges can lead to a slow feedback process that eats into project timelines reducing the number of iterations and the amount of collaboration that can take place. The results are unnecessary compromises which reduce the quality of the final product. With better collaboration, clients and teams are more engaged and the final design is more accurately aligned with the initial product vision. 

Communication will no longer rely on video calls or face-to-face meetings, it will become even easier to get immediate and seamless feedback on digital designs resulting in a much more fluid workflow. We are embracing this shift in the industry with co-creation and continuing to release new features for review. We aim to support design teams with collaboration aids which allow them to bring diverse stakeholders into the virtual review sessions. Uniting a team for remote collaboration and creation will empower designers to develop a more inclusive design process, leading to better outcomes and more efficient workflows. 

Get in touch with us if you would like to explore how co-creation can fast-track your design process.

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