Design Visualization is the idea of using any medium to construct a temporary visual of a concept or idea. Regardless of the design, a design cannot be fully understood until it is either illustrated in or it is mocked up. Designs will often need to be visualized by the designer themselves or by the person or group that the design is being created for.
What is Design Visualization? Design Visualization is the idea of using any medium to construct a temporary visual of a concept or idea. Regardless of the design, a design cannot be fully understood until it is either illustrated in or it is mocked up. Designs will often need to be visualized by the designer themselves or by the person or group that the design is being created for. More often that not, the designer themselves have difficulty visualizing their designs. If the designer themselves cannot fully understand their design, there is little chance that their client will be able to visualize it.
When it comes to visualization methods for Architectural Design, there are many to choose from, each having its own strong point and preferred use. Most of these techniques view a design from the outside in. In other words, you will be visualizing a design on a piece of paper, a physical model, or will be viewing the visual on a screen. To name a few, a design can be visualized through the use of a hand sketch, a cardboard mockup, a 3D printed model, a computer-generated 3D rendering, a computer-generated animation, or virtual reality. There are many ways to visualize a design with the previously mentioned being the AEC industry standards.
Since there are monetary and time costs associated with each method, the purpose of this article is to help you understand that when it comes to Healthcare Design there is one clear method that will save time, money, and provide ideal outcomes by allowing you to become an integrated part of the design process. Clarity and understanding is after all the reason for Design Visualization.
I will briefly explain each of the above methods.
- Hand Sketches can be done very quickly and depending on the artist can be compelling. Due to the nature of this visual, there will generally still need to be some imagination used to help you understand the design. Typically, any visual created by hand is going to have a conceptual feel. A great way to get a general idea, but not the best way to make informed design decisions.
- Cardboard Mockups can be true to size to give a sense of space and scale or can be created at much smaller scales. This can sometimes be done relatively quickly and inexpensively depending on the scale and design. Larger scale mockups would generally be used for interior spaces. Either way, since our world is textile and colorful with this method your imagination will still be needed. Compelling, but not the best way to make “complete” informed design decisions.
- 3D Printed models are essentially the same thing as a miniature cardboard mockup. At this scale spatial qualities must be ignored and geometry relationships focused on. This method is typically used to see how a structure looks in relation to surrounding structures. Details can be printed, but are too small to fully understand their relationships to each other. Think Matchbox car.
- Computer generated 3D renderings can be relatively inexpensive and quick to produce at an average cost of $2,500 per render with 2 days to produce each rendering. Depending on the level required, they can be what is called “photorealistic”. This has been the most widely used method going back to the early 90’s in that it comes as close to reality as technology allowed at that time. The downside to this method however is that you are paying for essentially a snapshot of a particular view. If you request another render/perspective of the same space you will be paying for either a discounted rendering or an entirely new rendering depending on how much of the previous space was modeled or left out of the scene. An excellent way to make design decisions when materials and lighting from only one vantage point are the only concerns.
- Computer generated animations are the same thing as a 3D Computer Rendering with the added benefit of movement. Movement is great as it allows you to see more of a space therefore able to make more complete design decisions. Animations typically require several weeks to complete with an average of $4,000 to $5,000+ per minute depending on complexity. A typical animation length will range from 2 to 4 minutes. As with a 3D rendering, this method allows you to understand materials and lighting only. A great way to market a project. Not the best way to make informed design decisions.
- Finally, Virtually Reality is the only method that allows the designer and owner to fully understand a design by becoming one with the space. At a similar cost to an animation, VR can be used from day one all the way through to the end of a project. Many design changes with this method can be made in real-time with no need to lose days or weeks while renderings, models, etc. are updated with additional design reviews required. And as an added bonus, depending on the VR software used, renderings and animations can be produced directly from the VR model when required.
VR can also allow the viewer to interact with their design. Haptic feedback is the idea of allowing your sense of touch to experience the design. With proper model preparation, the viewer can reach between a wall and the edge of their workspace giving them a complete understanding of the distance between the two. Objects can be moved and relocated allowing the viewer to truly be a part of the process. There are processes currently being developed that will allow the designer to design within the virtual environment eliminating the need for the back and forth between design software and visualization software.
With all of the described methods, consider the time and cost implications when designs are changed and further review is required. Each project will inevitably have a speed to market concern. Each phase of a design and construction project will have its challenges that will affect completion time. Each of the listed methods for visualizing a design will have their strong points and in many cases some of these methods will be used in a way that really will not greatly benefit the design process. For instance, renderings and animations are best used for pursuits and marketing purposes. In both of these cases the method is being used to not only explain design intent, but even more importantly emotion can be injected into the visual. We are talking about the difference between a visual that barely gets a second glance and one that evokes an emotional response from the viewer and ultimately gets shared. A good visual can leave a lasting impression. As stated, each method has its strong point, but only VR will help facilitate a full understanding of a design and helps the entire design process move faster than it typically would when using other methods.
Here is another way to think of the use of Virtual Reality. If you were to completely build a project, walk through it, tear parts of it down and re-build based on design changes, and do this over and over again until the completed space was truly perfect, you would be describing the Virtual Reality process. This can clearly only be achieved in a virtual world. Multiple iterations is the nature of the design industry. It has always been and will always be this way. Based on the old adage, “time is money” I would venture to say that if you are the one spending the money you want the highest quality you can get, as quickly as is possible.
With today’s BIM technologies, software used to create design and construction documents is already doing much of the work of creating a “virtual environment.” With faster computers and more robust software the BIM process is becoming quicker and more complete than ever before. There was a time when CAD or Computer Aided Drafting was the method used for creating construction documents. With today’s modern technology, CAD drafters are now called modelers because they are no longer working within a 2D environment. They are modeling in 3D and creating 2D construction documents simultaneously. BIM technologies and Virtual Reality really are the perfect union, and this is not a thing of the future. It is here now. If your design firm is using Revit or another BIM based software, there is no reason to not at least consider the use of VR over any of the other visualization methods.
Design Visualization is becoming an integrated part of the design and construction industry. The idea of handing off notes, specs, and drawings for an artist to do their work is becoming a thing of the past.
There are many ways to get an idea across. With over 20 years in the industry I can say that when you see how someone reacts to seeing a design from the inside out verses the outside in, you start to understand the power of inclusion and complete understanding. It works because when you’re standing in the virtual environment, it’s as real as you can get. Nothing is left to the imagination. For example, the Grand Canyon can only be truly appreciated when viewing it from the edge. A post card does not do it justice. You have to be there.
We can discuss the costs, fees, and logistics of using VR in the future. For now, I hope that I have helped you to understand the different visualization methods and why Virtual Reality is now an integral part of the design process, and really why it should be used as a tool to not only inform the design process but to include the client. Allowing them to become a part of their projects design process is truly inspiring to watch.