Building inclusivity in the design process with real-time visualization

Building Information Modeling (BIM) software is used by companies across the architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) industry to document, visualize and develop designs for infrastructure. Several software packages are available in the market to meet the needs of the AEC industry. Last week, Paul Kesky, Editor in Chief at Architizer, hosted a webinar on Architectural rendering with Roderick Bates, Head of Integrated Practices at Enscape, a company that provides software solutions. Listeners from around the world continued to hear their discussion, “How to Build Inclusion in the Design Process Using Real-time Visualization.”

“Although it’s a great tool for what it is, it’s meant for trained professionals,” Bates says. “It is not for the end user of the building.” Stakeholders – especially customer groups or the public – do not have the expertise to navigate BIM models nor to interpret traditional building drawings. “If you try to communicate with BIM, you exclude stakeholders from getting a full understanding of what that design is.”

Enscape’s real-time rendering software integrates with major CAD platforms. Bringing in expertise in architecture firms, and as a “channel for customer feedback,” Bates’ focus is to ensure Enscape products are aligned with the needs of the AEC industry. Enscape builds bridges between the necessarily complex and possibly abstract BIM/CAD interface and the reality of the project being created. This helps both designers and their clients visualize what the design will look like when built. “To BIM data, we add the key components — movement, spatial exploration, and engagement — to allow for a comprehensive and broad understanding of building design,” says Bates.

How to build inclusivity in the design process with real-time visualizationPresentation slide Understanding virtual space L) front elevation c) lateral elevation R) visualized through motion, image by Enscape

To illustrate these three components, Bates cited a series of studies testing participants in virtual reality environments.

Elevations or similar graphics are too far from reality for many to understand them at a sufficient level to make quick and informed design decisions. However, input Suggestion Helps – When you see something from multiple perspectives over a short period of time, it becomes much easier to understand.

How to build inclusivity in the design process with real-time visualizationPresentation slide “Understanding Virtual Space” L) 2D state C) 3D static state R) 3D immersive state, image by Enscape

spatial exploration Also important for understanding – it unlocks people’s ability to navigate a space on their own and create mind maps. Bates cited a recent study in which participants in teams of three were asked to choose an apartment based on digital representations. As one might expect, 3D virtual environments are more effective in supporting an understanding of space than 2D information displays. However, Bates noted that while 3D immersion is best for individual understanding, 3D still images are best for shared understanding and group decision-making.

To illustrate the third component, link, Bates referred to a VR user study that looked at the effect of visual complexity on users’ spatial orientation. When participants viewed 3D maps with different levels of detail (building blocks, terrain, etc.), the added visual complexity made their location easier to locate and increased the attractiveness of the overall environment.

How to build inclusivity in the design process with real-time visualizationPresentation slide “Levels of Detail”, Inscape Image

So, what does this mean in the context of design?

The tool provides a variety of ways in which information can be presented. For example, ‘white mode’ (the isolated form) helps focus attention on specific details, while more details are favorable for increased interest and engagement about a particular design.

In Enscape’s current offering, users could flag and make comments, however, it didn’t have the kind of oomph they were hoping for. Users want a more casual, inclusive interface, like a scratch pad, “something that doesn’t know the device, has an intuitive interface, and is easy to use,” says Bates.

Enscape is actively exploring the concept of a product called Collaborative Annotations where users are equipped with a drawing board and can draw and annotate directly on top of a drawing and share feedback across the entire design team. “It’s an accessible way to provide accurate feedback on the design, and to increase their level of engagement and their overall agency.”

How to build inclusivity in the design process with real-time visualization“Real-time Comments – Collaborative Annotation” image, by Inscape

The Enscape product is constantly evolving, and the company looks to users to provide for their needs today and tomorrow, ensuring their entry into the product roadmap.

Audience questions included software, augmented reality, volume issues, and different types of users. One survey asked across the web, “What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to connecting with customers?” To which the audience answered overwhelmingly: “Ensuring clients understand what is being proposed,” and “Perceptions take a long time to create.”

One of the challenges designers face is that realistic graphics early in the process tend to intimidate people, because they feel the design is already over. Echoing audience comments, Keskeys discussed wanting RT presentations that look more like a diagram – less realistic and less permanent – and inviting stakeholders to mark/crop/rearrange the way they want a microcosm or loose graphic. “It fills a gap in the physical model on the table that has been the transition as part of the architect’s view and the transition to the digital world… Innovative ways to combine the two.” This is also something that Inscape is looking for.

These kinds of emerging technologies can bring stakeholders who are not experienced in “reading” drawings to really understand the design (at any stage) in a way that they can get valuable input into the project itself.

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This story is not intended to be an endorsement by UrbanToronto of this software solution over other possible solutions, and no promotional fee has been paid for its publication.

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