The evolution of design software tools

For this post we're turning the writing over to Jonah Gardner, a recent graduate who has made VR design a focus for his graduation thesis. His unique workflow is a combination of two design software tools, Gravity Sketch and Photoshop. This approach leverages the speed of VR sketching and the flexibility of Photoshop rendering to arrive at properly proportioned design and concept quickly.

The evolution of design software tools
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Photo of Jonah Gardner from Cleveland Institute of Art and Strate College of Design
Jonah Gardner, Cleveland Institute of Art and Strate College of Design


For years, designers have sketched in two dimensions and then spent an immense amount of time in 3D programs trying to capture the original sketch that they imagined with their 2D tools. The final output of a vehicle designer’s work is three dimensional geometry – whether it is to define the hard points of a design, to work around a defined package, or to pass off data to an engineer; all require 3D data. So, why would you not start your design in 3D? A designer might say, 3D programs are too complex to work efficiently, or they get in the way of my creativity… Maybe this is true of a traditional digital 3D tool set – however, it is not true of virtual reality. Virtual reality enables a designer not only to sketch and create directly within a three dimensional space, it offers designers the opportunity to analyze, annotate, and curate their design intent in ways that a two dimensional screen cannot offer.

Gravity Sketch - The design evolution process. From pencil, clay, tablet, digital to VR design
The evolution of design

Gravity Sketch has made the most use of the virtual reality creation space – it combines the on the fly creative ability of traditional 2D sketching, with the precision capability of 3D design software, and the inherent dimensional capacity of VR. Making it the most efficient design tool for expressing an early design concept.

To prove this point to myself, I set out to create, design, and display a holistic vehicle concept, from scratch, in a single day. I had it in my mind that I wanted to do a couple animations to show off some functionality, as well as a few Photoshop renderings to show more detailed design intent. To allow time for that, I knew I had to be as efficient as possible during the creation phase; so I set out to build a wireframe model.


Wireframing is a fantastically efficient technique:

  • It allows the designer to carefully consider the proportions of the vehicle whilst creating it
  • It generates an output that enables a designer to do more detailed drawings over top of
  • It simultaneously gives the designer, sculptor, or engineer clear hard points to build a more developed model later on down the road.

In a traditional digital 3D program, wireframing is useful – but it can be a time sink, as it takes time to create a relatively simple wireframe sketch – and it never produces anything presentable. In Gravity Sketch VR I can create faster than I could with a mouse and keyboard, and the output is far more visually interesting.

VR design of car exterior using Gravity Sketch
Exterior sketches made in VR using Gravity Sketch

Before getting started, I had two things in mind. First, I was getting sick of working from home; I wanted the ability to have a change of scenery and still get some work done. Second, I had seen that Volvo was hosting a design competition and that there was one day left to submit an entry. Volvo is famous for their estate cars, so it was natural to create a wagon that allowed you to work from anywhere – with that in mind I put on my headset and got to work.

One day Volvo VR design process
One day Volvo VR design process

Just like a two dimensional sketch I started from the ground up, beginning with the wheels and wheelbase – then moving to wheel arches, roof-line, and belt-line.
This vehicle is essentially a rolling office, which would require comfortable seating, so that is where I started. Using Gravity Sketch’s built in mannequins, I positioned them in a comfortably seated position and began to sketch the seats around them. From the seating, I moved to the desk surfaces, then to the steering wheel and instrument panel.


I used both three dimensional and two dimensional outputs to communicate the design intent behind this concept. The fact that I had 3D data meant that I could easily produce simple animations to show off the seating kinematics for when the vehicle transitioned between the two modes.

Development of interior design in VR

With a body of screenshots to pick from, I was able to highlight certain areas and show off quick ideas for color and material intent.

Seat design using Gravity Sketch
Seat design
Car interior design in work mode, designed in VR with Gravity Sketch
Interior design in work mode

For the exterior, I had a multitude of angles to choose from to use as a base for quick photoshop sketches to show surfacing intent; and with a few minutes in Photoshop I was able to create quick sketches to show off the key theme elements that defined the exterior.

Development of external design in VR
Development sketches of the external design
Exterior car design, rear view
Exterior design - rear view
Car exterior design from the front view, created in Gravity Sketch
Exterior design - front view
Turntable of exterior car design
Turntable of the exterior design


From scratch to a full vehicle concept in a single day – and the output of this makes it easy to go to the next step, whatever that may be. If your client wants to see more angles, you simply take more screenshots. If your boss wants to see a more detailed design intent, you can use the line-work as the base for a more developed Photoshop sketch. Or if you’d like to move forward and develop this model out, you now have hard points to build from. Whatever the next step is, you are ready to tackle it. For me, I wanted to explore more detail on the interior, so I took the next day to do a more detailed Photoshop sketch – again using the Gravity Sketch line-work as a base.

View of interior car design through the window - designed in VR using Gravity Sketch
Interior design seen through the window

If you enjoyed Jonah’s work and want to see more please see the links below.


Behance profile

Follow @gravitysketch on Instagram where we regularly share a wide range of inspiring work from designers within our community!

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