VR at Work: Creativity and Design

This is the second in a three-part blog series exploring how VR is changing the future of work. You can find the first part of the series here.

Recently, I explored learning and training as uses for VR in the workplace. It’s a powerful example: all of us, no matter our jobs, need to learn and develop to ensure that we’re at our best.

In this piece, I want to focus on a more specific use for VR at work: creativity and design. Not all of us are creatives or need to collaborate on visual design processes, but for those who do, tools that can bring people together to work on 3D objects or scenarios are essential. VR has a fascinating role to play here, as it unlocks the ability to move beyond flat surfaces and step into a virtual world for the design process.

Let’s start by looking at using VR for designing physical objects. Until now, anyone looking to design anything from clothing to cooking utensils or cars would need to move through a phase of 2D design before translating this to a 3D concept. But even at that stage, they would only be able to look at that concept on a flat screen until a physical prototype or model could be made.

VR changes this dynamic. With a headset, designers can choose from a range of apps and services that help create objects in 3D right off the bat. This can speed up the initial design phase dramatically, accelerating the development of ideas and helping teams work out which ideas sink and which swim.

Some notable examples come from fashion, and in particular the world of footwear. Nike has shared insight into how it develops trainers like the Air Max Scorpion, where VR allowed designers to create models and test different versions at an unprecedented speed. The company saved time and effort as it had to produce fewer physical moulds, and reached the final design much quicker than with traditional 2D design processes.

A similar story comes from rival Adidas, which designed its Futurenatural shoes in a similar way. The design team also found that once it had chosen the look and feel of the shoe, using VR made it easier to communicate its plans to other teams like marketing and manufacturing, accelerating their processes.

Another segment that has embraced the technology is automotive. For example, Ford has used VR to allow its designers to collaborate in 3D using tools like Gravity Sketch, finding that this also kept staff closely aligned throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Hyundai has also adopted this technology: its VR design evaluation system promised to reduce vehicle development times and costs by a fifth. But over time, this has further benefits, like reducing carbon emissions associated with shipping for materials and travel for staff.

A common finding of automotive companies is that VR helps them to be more customer-centric by quite literally putting them in the driving seat. From the very start of the design phase, carmakers can now see how their decisions could influence the experience of those behind the wheel.

The same principles apply for designing places, too. For architects and engineers involved in creating buildings and open spaces, VR allows people to step into the project from the very beginning. This helps the designers, but arguably helps clients even more. Stepping into a virtual world to see the design rendered in 3D makes technical blueprints more accessible and allows clients to feed into design decisions early in the process.

Interestingly, VR is also being harnessed in areas like maintenance technical support. For example, the construction of the new HS2 high-speed railway in the UK includes real-time monitoring sensors to allow proactive measurement of performance, with a 3D replica of the line available in VR for engineers.

This type of VR application won’t be used by everyone day in, day out, but the technology seems almost indispensable for the teams that have bought into it. Being able to sketch, design, refine and finalize products and spaces in a 3D environment feels like a step change for industries that have always had to start on a flat surface before, helping creatives think and work in new ways.

You can find the final part of this blog series here.