BIM / Digital

Getting a running start in VR

Written by Jonny Breen, Digital Principal

26 November 2019

We use virtual reality (VR) to bring our clients, their stakeholders and project team into the design. VR enables people to experience how their new space will feel and operate once built.

But it’s not only at early design stages where VR is beneficial.

While construction is underway, project managers can use VR to understand how the space will look, track progress and advise teams accordingly. Retailers, developers, managers and leasing teams can also use VR to engage with their new building and share it with staff and stakeholders - without trying to bring 50 people to a building site.

Increasingly, we’re supporting our clients across a range of industries as they use VR for purposes well beyond design, including stakeholder engagement, training and sales.

1. Sharing the vision

In high-profile design and build projects, there are often important considerations around public perception and stakeholder engagement. This is particularly true when proposed design solutions challenge traditional norms.

We’re currently working with Massey University to use VR to share their progressive campus design plans with multifaceted stakeholder groups, including students, professors, University leaders and others.

“We’re in the process of rethinking our design approach at campuses across the country to help our students learn in collaborative, experiential ways. It’s a significant design shift in higher education, where learning spaces have largely been based on traditional lecture hall models,” explains Massey University Programme Manager Peter Vause.

Context is supporting Massey as they share proposed design solutions virtually, with VR models stakeholders and future students can walk through and experience these highly innovative unbuilt spaces. It’s a process that’s building engagement among incoming students and in certain cases, turning design sceptics into advocates.

“By taking stakeholders and students through the VR, we’ve been able to share the vision and the thinking behind it. This creates trust and increases understanding. VR is helping us bring everyone on board,” Peter says.

2. Spark-ing up new learning


Having used VR throughout the design journey to test signage, digital and product displays, Spark decided to add VR to their staff onboarding programme for their new flagship store at Westfield Newmarket.

Training is fundamental in retail, particularly in a store with design features that are new to staff. Spark wanted to ensure their teams were familiar with the new flagship model so they could be fully focussed on providing an excellent experience, taking advantage of all customer-centric features.

Using VR off-site, Spark introduced employees to the new design, simulating customer service scenarios in a setting that mirrored employees’ actual work environment.

As Spark Learning Partner Niall McCarthy explains, using VR to bring designs to life can leverage important learning experiences.

“With a single mobile headset, you can run a VR experience with a large number of people without taking them away from their workplace during trading hours. We were able to bring our Spark retail team into a virtual representation of their new store months before it was due to complete build, says Niall.

“It also allowed us to understand our customer journey more deeply. We used the interactive VR environment to explore the use of agile furniture for customer education sessions in store. Experiential learning was a key component to our immersion programme, which I ran on the lead up to the grand opening,” Niall explains.

Compared with traditional staff onboarding which includes two dimensional presentations and paper-based work, VR training is more dynamic and memorable. In 2017, American retailer Walmart began using VR to train a selection of 150,000 team members. Of those who participated, 70 per cent outperformed their traditionally trained counterparts on learning evaluations .

On the job, this increased retention equates to better service, fewer mistakes and time and cost savings. It can even mean a safer workplace. We’re currently working with retailers to use VR for staff health and safety training to simulate experiences such as robberies, aggressive in-store behaviour or other emergency situations.

3. Attracting tenants and securing sales

VR has been used effectively in real estate for some time. Rather than viewing properties in-person, prospective buyers can check them out virtually without leaving home or the real estate agency.

VR models created by architects offer an even greater advantage in that they enable earlier and more effective marketing of a development or precinct. Using VR also allows for a degree of customisation. If decisions around paints, finishes and furnishings haven’t been made yet, buyers can test different options and have a level of control over how their new home will look and feel.

In the past, organisations would need to rely on renders or visualisations to sell or let an unbuilt space. With VR, they don’t have to wait. Because people can see the design potential of an unbuilt space in an accurate and compelling way, VR eliminates the usual uncertainty of buying off the plan and gives prospective buyers or renters the confidence to say yes.

A full and accurate depiction of exactly what’s on offer – from the comfort of a user’s headset.