”It cuts away the first prototyping stage — you can do that totally in 3D and it saves a lot of time, money, and effort”
On how VR will transform the design industry
April 05, 2023
Who are you?
— I’m a freelance designer. At Stockholm Furniture Fair I presented a quite special sofa where also the project behind it is quite eye-raising, Winsth explains. He continues:
— It’s made in collaboration with Lammhults Möbler. They’re a huge furniture producer and I got a scholarship from them, so I had the opportunity to work with them and use their workshops for one year to develop a product. One year is, of course, quite a limited time to develop a sofa but I wanted to take the opportunity to show how I work and my design process, and also introduce them to the world of Virtual Reality sketching and developing of a product. The idea basically comes from when I worked as a mechanical engineer at Scania. They use VR headsets to communicate with their mechanics in Brazil instead of flying there or having telephone meetings. They want to be able to walk around the truck and pick out details and point at them and say what needs to be changed and such so that it can’t be misinterpreted. I took that idea to furniture design, so instead of going to the Småland region, where most of the producers are located, I can sit in my living room and show my sofa or any design on a scale of 1:1. The client’s product developer can meet me in the same room and we can walk around the sofa and I can explain in detail what changes need to be done or what they need to emphasize. There’s a program called Gravity Sketch that I’m designing in, which is good to do these organic shapes. For a sofa and doing padding and such, it’s basically effortless to just draw out volumes and explore different puffiness or volume — it’s almost like working with clay with your hands.
We’ve seen similar initiatives by architects working with VR but how common is it in the design sector and as a designer?
— I haven’t seen it in furniture design yet and it’s also quite a new tool. I saw it first in sneaker design as that’s quite a free form of design where they don’t really have to have the exact measurements but more of a visualization. It’s now getting picked up by car manufacturers and such. As a designer, especially when you work in big teams as they do, they can all put on headsets and work on the same object at the same time from different locations. It’s also opening up other doors for designers, says Winsth. He adds:
— For instance, I can do a collab with someone in Australia where I just call them up on the phone and we put on our headsets — and then we’re in the office together. So I’m heavily promoting this kind of design process and I’m trying to get the producers to understand the benefits of it.
You also mentioned before that it can cut the time spent on producing a product. Can you explain?
— In the prototype phase, it’s always a matter of building up things in what’s basically scrap material, to find the proportions, height, and size of the object that you’re designing and trying out different combinations or what radius it is. But in the VR world, you can actually change them in real life to the exact copy of the furniture itself and have them before you in scale 1:1. It might sound crazy that you still need to do the actual prototype but that’s where you’re just trying out the scale and different variants. So I would say that it cuts away the first prototyping stage. You can do that totally in 3D and it saves a lot of time, money, and effort. It’s much faster to change your radius in 3D than grinding them down…
It’s also a sustainability aspect here with prototypes going back and forth from the manufacturing facility.
— Absolutely! And also travelling because, for instance, Lammhults is located far away. It’s a long drive. I’ll much rather just put on my headset and meet them there.
And what has the feedback from Lammhults been like? What’s their reaction to the sofa that you’ve made?
— As the time was so short to make it, we agreed that it would only be two prototypes and not go into production. The product is simply not developed properly yet and will not be. We focused on the aesthetics and it’s basically a ’Frankenstein’ of different sofas underneath. But I felt like it was better to take the opportunity to show them how I work and how we would work in futural, bigger projects than to just downsize everything, just to have something to show. And I think that they’re aesthetically pleased with the sofa in itself. It’s always a bit of a struggle to introduce something as 3D and try to implement that in another corporation but apparently, they had a VR headset from a fair from a long time ago. So they are very much open to trying it out and maybe not working with it continuously but at least introducing it. And that’s all I’m asking. I think they will understand the benefits quite quickly if we actually start using it.
And what are the main challenges working with this sketching program? What have you learned?
— Probably that it’s so free. It’s hard to do really strict and controlled designs, which is why I only use it for the cushions and the ’floppy’ shapes. But it’s also possible, when I do a design in, for instance, Solidworks or another CAD program, to just import it into Gravity Sketch to be able just to walk around it and get a feel of it.
Have you also noticed any interest from other designers or industry players to do similar things?
— No, I think it’s a lot of interest but it’s also a big threshold to get over — people are still not really used to VR at all. And then also having to learn a CAD program in VR is another big threshold. So, that has basically been the biggest obstacle; when you try to introduce it to someone, you first have to learn to them how the entire thing works, how you move in that world, and how you can grab the objects and scale them. But as soon as you get the basics of it and as soon as the ’VR life’ or VR as a whole becomes a thing that people use in their everyday life — which is soon, I guess — I think it will be much faster.
Are designers in general good enough to work with technology and be open to new technologies?
— The new generation is. A lot of design schools now teach CAD in a much different way than they did before. And for me coming from mechanical engineering, I need CAD for my design process because I sketch in it. It’s faster than doing it on paper or building models and I’ve always done it. I think a lot of those younger designers coming up now are using CAD in another way. And also, the best way of actually introducing this kind of VR world to the design and furniture is probably to just introduce it in the schools and get the next generation to realize that it’s a tool that you can use.
And how will you develop your work with it?
— I’ll continuously use it in every design aspect that I’m involved in, says Winsth. It’s a part of my process to be in that world and to do my sketches in it, it usually goes from paper into the CAD program quite fast and I import every sketch that I get into the program. I then built this little world where you can look around you and you have your pictures of inspiration and sketches and you can just stand in the middle of it and draw and continue doing like that until you have something that you think is worth doing the actual thing of. And then I usually go into solid works because then it needs some structure and back and forth like that.
— Working in 3D and VR has the potential to save a lot of time, money, and effort — The new generation of designers is way better to adapt to new technologies — After architects and heavy truck manufacturers, VR is now being picked up by car manufacturers — are designers next in line?