This past fall I was asked to help a graduate student at MSU with her thesis project. She need a control for her experiment. She was testing virtual reality as a design tool against tradition design tool, drawings and 3D images or models. I agreed help her out by going through the same design process with middle school students but she would use virtual reality and I would use traditional drawings and images.
It was a pretty cool idea and process. We had two groups of middle school students that we meet with once a week. After our initial meeting we did share what we were doing with the kids. They were suppose to act as our client asking us to design an piece of “furniture” for their classroom. And it had to be something the GS could actual build to see how close the drawings vs virtual reality came to what they expected.
I will admit that I may not have given this 100%, so my renderings were definitely not on par with what I would show a real client. I definitely cobbled together various chairs in SketchUp at one point, but it got the point across to middle school students, who, I’m pretty sure, forgot whatever I told them within a 10 minute time span. We started with random images of different pieces and when through what they wanted. One idea was a double decker sofa. Another was a table that made me think of King Authur and the Knights of the Round Table. We moved down the path of a simple desk and chair that had a lot of moving pieces. One of the key features was that they could tip back in the chair and hook their foot on the desk to not fall. As we progressed I felt we need to pick just one and the chair was it. The key feature that had to remain was the ability to rock back. So I came up with a spring idea on the back legs. Once we had that idea in place, they wanted more privacy, so people couldn’t cheat. I didn’t question this, they are the client. The professors at her review were concerned with what that meant in terms of social interaction as cell phones. As I stated above, I was not in this to get a social experiment out of it or looking for one, but I’m sure it would be very interesting.
The Frankenstein Step
The end result was a chair with rotating arms, a parachute or tent like material that could pop out of the back and fold over the top on to a desk and, of course, it had springs on the legs. I couldn’t be there when the GS took the finished products back to the students to test out. The main take away was that, for both teams the items looked like it was suppose to but the the traditional route expected it to be bigger, they didn’t understand the scale of the chair, even though we talked about it in relation to other chairs and even went and tested other chairs to see what they liked.
It will be really interesting to see where virtual reality goes in the design field. I got to try on the head set and it was pretty cool, though a bit dizzying, to walk through a space and see the desks her students created. I think the disadvantage for someone in the field is that we inherently understand scale and space, so we don’t realize when someone may not understand how big or small an object or space is in drawing. This gives us the opportunity to really understand what we are creating. It might be awhile before it is common practice to use in architecture firms, right now it is a bit clunky, but I think it will provide great advances when it does between the client and architect.
Chiar desk Grad project