Examining Virtual Reality As An Empathizing Tool For Early Ideation Stage in Design

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Velasquez, Alex C.
Wang, Wei
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Whenever there is a new design project to undertake, one of the first and most important steps is to empathize and immerse oneself into the design brief early in the design process in order to gain a better understanding of the problem space and be able to create concepts that accurately target the design context. Some of the traditional tools employed by industrial designers include; sketching, storytelling, journey/mind mapping, persona exploration, post-it note brainstorming, role-playing and field observation. However, some of these tools in the early stages of the design process rely heavily on the designer's imagination, assumption or prior knowledge of the design context which could be flawed, inaccurate or not current. Other methods such as field observation or traditional research requires effort and time and as far as field observation goes, certain elements, behaviours or other factors may not be replicated or duplicated easily for further and thorough examination. This project aims to investigate immersive Virtual Reality as an effective tool for the early design stage compared to traditional industrial design methods. Leveraging by off-the-shelf technology, it is easy to film 360 degree videos in the context of Virtual Reality, which can capture an immersive scenario that can be replayed and reviewed by designers in order to discover problem spaces/design opportunities with empathizing the problem space. This project examined a group of participants in order to conduct a simple design challenge involving designing an external visual communication system for autonomous shuttles in the pick-up phase of shuttle riding. One team will use virtual reality to empathize with the context while the second team will use traditional methods of empathizing. The design methods as well as the designs themselves are evaluated by the participants and a third panel body including experts in industry and the general masters of industrial design student body and the evaluation scores are measured to compare the effectiveness of both virtual reality and traditional methods. Findings reveal that while traditional industrial design empathizing tools are more effective in some areas compared to Virtual Reality, V.R. was able to perform as a usable system for empathizing and offers vast potential as am empathizing tool in other more challenging design scenarios.
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