How confident can you be without working with true scale?

How industrial designers can design with confidence by ideating with real-life constraints at any scale. Designers are not only using immersive technology to visualise designs but to solve critical manufacturing and ergonomic challenges from the earliest stages of their workflow, importing engineering hard-points and designing at any scale necessary.

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How confident can you be without working with true scale?
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A key part of understanding where Gravity Sketch will fit in a designers’ process is learning the tools and methods currently used to tackle different stages of the design process. In this blog I’ll focus on some of the various external factors designers must take into account and our observations of how they work with/around them.

The products we buy and use must exist and function in a variety of environments and respect various conditions. Whether a product will fit aesthetically in its intended environment; ergonomic factors; and complex engineering requirements are all crucial. We’ve had the opportunity to speak with designers of a wide range of products ranging from shoes, cars, consumer electronics to medical devices and they have shared the techniques they use.

Whilst investigating some of these methods, for example sketching over isolated views of engineering CAD models to understand components and constraints, making quick physical mockups and 3D prints, and virtual visualization through tools like VRED, industrial designers typically identify a few key drawbacks:

  • Current techniques often restrict creativity
  • Not fully effective in capturing ergonomics and physical constraints through the two dimensional medium (print-outs)
  • Too costly and time-consuming to be used as frequently as needed especially early in the design process.
Full size clay model of a coupe car
Full size automobile exterior clay model milled from design data created in Gravity Sketch - designed by Svott

Ultimately, the status quo is a ‘means to an end’ and can often cause issues later in the manufacturing process; concepts that cannot be accurately validated early on risk the possibility of issues cropping up later down the pipeline after a significant amount of time and resources have already been invested. 

As a result, we are seeing more industrial design studios embracing new ways of validating concepts virtually early in the concepting and ideation phases. One of these is through spatial  sketching in virtual reality, which allows for the visualization and incorporation of real world constraints at scale during the free-form creation phase of their design process. Through spatial  sketching in VR, designers can retain and amplify their creative freedom, whilst having confidence in their concepts. We have outlined some of the use cases from the various studios we have been working with, and how VR has helped them to validate designs earlier.

Scale

The scale of a product in comparison to the user and its environment is one of the most important considerations designers must make during the design process. Visualizing internal components of a handheld electronic device, a car chassis, or a series of objects that need to fit together within a space can help the designer build confidence in the creative direction during the project kick-off. Building creative confidence in this way requires a good understanding of scale which is very difficult to get from sketching with paper or on a computer screen.

One of the current ways designers attempt to solve issues around scale and engineering constratings is by printing out a view or multiple views of a CAD model of the internal components of a product and then sketching over the top. This is a powerful technique, however, understanding the proportions and the 2D-3D transition is very difficult and takes some skill and practice. We have a few interesting examples of design teams using Gravity Sketch to solve this problem:

  • Using Gravity Sketch to model the internal wiring of drones, by scaling up to the size of an ant and virtually feeding the wires through the components making sure they fit into the casing.
  • Importing a 3D CAD assembly model into VR to sketch over in three dimensions. This has helped to ensure the proposed concept will be technically feasible. This technique enabled designers to maintain creative freedom whilst still understanding how their design proposals would relate to engineering hardpoints and avoid any costly physical prototyping in the early stages of the process.
Aircraft exterior wooden mock-up
Aircraft mock-up

Ergonomics

Almost all products must respect a set of ergonomic conditions; how will the end user (a human) interact with the products is one of the most important problems for a designer to solve. The consideration of scale and proportions is very important here – we hear regularly how designers spend weeks on CAD models that look perfect from a styling and proportion perspective behind a screen, only to find out that the real world physical proportions are non correct when a 3D printed prototype is made. By seamlessly switching between scales – in order to design the smaller details and retain an overall understanding of the 1:1 scale of the product – VR sketching can shed light on challenges which may only ever appear down scream in the process; preventing costly reworks. Furthermore, the ability to import full sized human mannequins and design from the users’ perspective helps teams make better decisions with respect to usability and ergonomics at the earliest stages of their process. Here are a few examples of where using VR could de-risk the design process and lead to a more user-centred design:

  • With larger products, for example an Electric Vehicle charging station, the ability to quickly sketch an idea and test how the handles will fit into the hand or if they are in the right place can save significant time and costs removing the need to several rough physical prototypes to be made and gives the team more confidence in the final few 3D print prototypes that will inevitably be creating for final ergonomic testing.
  • With studios designing interiors for transportation; sightlines are very important as these influence how much space passengers feel they have. If passengers have a clear view of the cabin they will feel less constrained in their seat. Aerospace companies spend a lot of time and money building full scale mockups to help test this. The process of iteration is a lengthy one with lots of physical prototyping and user testing. By importing a computer model of the plane interior sketinghtin seating ideas and duplicating them, is possible to set up and test a scene in minutes, rather than days.
Backpack modelled in Gravity Sketch
Backpack created in Gravity Sketch by Noah Sussman
Wireframe sketch of glasses over the top of a mannequin head
Eyeglasses sketch created by Lucas van Dorpe, Achilles Design

Aesthetics

With the existing tools, industrial designers are typically unable to visualise designs in context until the prototype stage. To truly understand the aesthetics of a product, it is important to see it at full scale as it would exist in a real-world. Through designing in an immersive environment, it is possible to quickly mock-up sets that replicate an environment where the final product will be presented. Understanding how a product looks at full-scale is an important part of the validation process, with products such as cars, this requires expensive full sized clay models. With VR designers can validate concepts at scale digitally, this is done much earlier in the process and at a much lower cost.

Mannequin sitting on a chair, modelled in Gravity Sketch
Chair created in Gravity Sketch by Matthew Antes and Cullan Kerner
  • Automotive design studios go through many different clay models to uncover the final design of a car. Often the early design proposals will not work in full scale, whether that’s due to proportions or aesthetics which are only discovered once the designer has the ability to view their design at different perspectives that could not be captured through 2D mediums. Talking about the new Defender, the Land Rover design team explained that it was not until a full scale clay model had been made that they realised the whole front-end of the car needed to be redesigned. Visualising designs at full-scale from the ideation stage reduces the need for multiple costly full-scale models and shortens the time needed to validate a design.
  • Products do not spend their lives in a design studio or blank environment. To win over stakeholders or management, it is important to tell a story which is intrinsically connected to the design and its existence in the real world. With Virtual Reality, you can quickly create an environment around the proposed design helping set the context and drive a narrative of how the car would look in a city-scape, for example. We have also seen examples of this in footwear, with designers recreating a shop environment to present their shoes to stakeholders.

Conclusion

Initiating the design process in a virtual environment has helped users visualis various ergonomic, engineering, and design constraints at the very front end of the journey. Gravity Sketch is giving designers the confidence to push their creativity forward by designing at any scale with full understanding of the constraints. The challenges of understanding how a product will look or interact with users in the real world can be visualized virtually giving creatives a clear picture of the feasibility of their designs. Rather than uncovering issues later on in the design process, it is clearly possible to maintain creative freedom and confidence at the same time. We are interested in learning more about the challenges you face when designing with conventional tools or how you are leveraging virtual reality to drive better designs.

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