Client: Digital Physical
Services: Digital Strategy, UX, UI, Creative Direction, Design Leadership, User Research, Prototyping, Kickstarter Campaign
Create a new software, and model creation workflow, to help designers create and experience their own virtual reality models.
Miles, the CEO of Variate, went to grad school at Southern California Institute of Architecture to design the future of interactive spaces. His thesis focused on the design of interactive spaces using scalable modular robotic systems. These spaces can be dynamically reconfigured based on human input and behavior. Back in school, he dreamt of creating an interactive robotic tool that would enable architects to experience their designs long before they built them.
This visionary tool could enable designers, and their clients, to have the unprecedented ability to walk inside their designs throughout the design process. They could experiment with different concepts, layouts, materials, and every other aspect of the design long before the costly construction process. For over a decade, he worked in architecture firms experimenting with projectors, digital fabrication technologies, and software to see if the right combination of tools would be available to realize this tool. In 2010, he saw a military simulation project at UCS’ digital lab, in downtown LA, and knew the technology that was needed to realize his dream was just around the corner.
Start with the fastest way to test your hypothesis.
In August of 2012, we saw the Oculus Kickstarter and knew the time was right to pursue this idea. The office was busy with a huge project designing the mobile logistics platform for the largest drilling company in the US, but we knew we needed to test our idea as quickly as possible with real customers.
The original idea was to create a business around a physical space, that designers could rent, that would include all of the virtual reality hardware and software needed for them to experience their designs. What would be the fastest way to test our idea?
You have to think outside the box to be the fastest. We thought at the time, the fastest way to test our ideas would be to combine forces with an existing company that specialized in virtual reality solutions. We were in luck! In less than a month we were able to contact a company, create a proposal deck, pitch them on the idea, borrow their technology, and setup a testable version of our idea with our extensive network in LA.
Evolve your vision based on customer feedback.
Then we ran a series of tests and invited over eighty designers, venture capitalists, students, museum curators, architects, architect’s clients, and real estate agents into our office for a demo. We showed everyone the same script to start and then deviated from the script based on the feedback from each individual. The results were the opposite of what we expected.
“Wow! This is unbelievable but it’s not what I need right now. It needs to be affordable and portable.” - Everyone
Thank goodness we did the tests before spending more time and money on the idea. The first step after the test was to separate the features into what worked and didn’t work and analyze why. Once we understood what mattered to our would-be customers then we envisioned what the next version of the product should be. The new product needed to recreate the same experience but had to be portable, integrate with existing softwares designers use, and include presentation and collaboration tools.
Miles Kemp, the brains behind a new virtual-reality visualization software for architects, has been around architects and builders for as long as he can remember. The son of a contractor, Kemp took his first job with an architect at the age of 14. By age 21, he was on a team at SOM. Kemp eventually made his way to SCI-Arc, where he completed an M.Arch2 in 2006 with a thesis on robotics. Since then, Kemp, the founder and president of Variate Labs, has worked on over 100 interactive media projects. “I’ve always been into this idea of user-experience design, of being able to create almost like a conversation between people and the built environment,” Kemp said.
Kemp’s latest venture is Spacemaker VR, software that allows architects to share virtual reality models with clients and other designers. The program exports 3D design files from a variety of formats (including .osg, .dae, .wrl, and .3ds) into walk-through models for viewing on a head-mounted display or two-dimensional screen. Users can simultaneously project the same view in mono or stereo to multiple displays, and control movements through the virtual space using a keyboard or mouse. Real-time snapshots and videos captured while in the virtual model can be saved for later viewing.
According to Kemp, Spacemaker VR has the potential to change the way architects work in two crucial ways. “First and foremost, it is a one-of-a-kind presentation tool, so that designers can communicate with other people in a better way,” Kemp said. In addition, by allowing architects to experience the spaces they create early on in the design process, Spacemaker VR encourages experimentation and risk-taking. “Architects can really push the limits of their imagination earlier in the process without risk,” Kemp said. “It’s easier to design insane things and test them earlier in the process.”
The current version of Spacemaker VR is a “base model” Kemp explained, focused on visualization. “For now what we’re trying to do is get a simple product out that has really easy-to-use features so that people without a technical background can use it.” Kemp and his colleagues at Digital Physical, the company behind Spacemaker VR, are working on features that allow architects to design in real time from within their virtual spaces.