The Virtual Reality Studio at our Madison office.
I had my first virtual reality (VR) experience at an arcade called Aladin’s Castle located in the Brookfield Square Mall in suburban Milwaukee in 1991.
The arcade was one of a few across the country that had a powerful new “virtual reality” game titled “Dactyl Nightmare” that was available to play for $2 a turn. As a video game-addicted teenager restricted by the confines of the 16-bit era, I was anxious to give this new-fangled technology a try.
From my memory, which may be slightly rose-tinted, “Dactyl Nightmare” was an incredibly immersive experience. Even with the basic polygonal graphics and choppy frame rate, it was convincing. For the first time, you could feel yourself within a virtual space and sense the scale and depth of it all without any gimmicks.
I had seen the future for a mere $2. What I didn’t know then was that I was seeing 27 years into my own future and the future of design.
It’s 2018 and VR is almost mainstream. While it may appear that VR has finally arrived, it’s still a few years from achieving commercial ubiquity like, say, smartphones or voice assistants. I find this surprising considering my teenaged self was so certain that VR was going to be in every home long before the release of “The Matrix”.
I like to make bold predictions like that based on my gut. I’m always right – I’m just off by a decade or two. As designers, we’re always thinking forward and sometimes we get ahead of ourselves. We think ahead of the growth curves of technological advancements and acceptance. What we think is going to “take off” instantly can flounder for years until the technology and market are truly ready. Looking back, that’s definitely been the case with VR during its 27-plus-year gestation period.
I couldn’t have been more excited when we decided to put together a VR studio here at Design Concepts. I’ve since fallen in love with VR – not so much as a way to play virtual paintball after hours, but as a tool for new product development. New toys and technology can blind us. It’s easy to get caught up in the magic and possibility of the technology and forget that it still needs to be useful to the design process. It must be useful to the people we are designing for and with.
I can evangelize VR all day, but until our clients start asking for VR work within their projects on a regular basis, I can’t talk much about its value to our business of design.
The discomfort of “not quite seeing where the design is going” is completely removed.
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