Happy new year! (It’s still okay to say that, right?). How are your new year resolutions going? Whether you’ve got one or not, we’d like to propose one more for 2022 – especially to those who got a VR headset for Christmas or are currently digging through the January sales. Your goal is to Run a successful VR workshop. If you are not sure what we mean, don’t worry, we’re going to walk you through what a VR workshop is, what decisions you need to make and how to get the most out of it.
What is a VR workshop?
VR workshops are project meetings with VR technology at its core. They can be run internally between colleagues or externally with clients and other stakeholders, just like any other meeting would be. Collaboration can be as remote as the other side of the world or as close as being in the same room, all while being in the same virtual space.
Why run a VR workshop?
Technology has come to a point where one click of a button provides a high-fidelity VR experience. These experiences help clients make connections to the design far easier than traditional methods, but is that enough to prioritise the use of VR? Here are some other things to consider:
- Decisions take less time to make, and those decisions are not likely to change later either.
- Virtual reality helps clients turn their attention from schedules and reports to the experience of being in the project.
- 2D drawing mistakes are more obvious in virtual reality than on 2D drawings, 3D views are often distorted and may be hard to interpret without roomscale proportions.
- Helps designers focus on the design, whereas we often get lost in producing a set of ‘instructions’ for the client.
- Construction Design Management (CDM) principles become more obvious when tasked in virtual reality, leading to a reduction in health and safety risks.
- More value out of added BIM effort.
- Experimentation in affordable and controlled environments, where users have the capacity to fail.
What do I need?
What you need is very much dependent on what you value. Deciding on what hardware and software to get has plagued teams long before VR and unfortunately, it’s no different here. To help guide you in the decision-making process, we’ve listed some key considerations below:
This is usually already decided for you as you will most likely be using something you are accustomed to long before you implement VR in your workflow (that is unless you’re still using 2D CAD!). Most VR software platforms integrate with industry standard modelling software such as Sketchup, Revit and Rhino. That said, Revit and Rhino integration often comes at an additional cost, likely because companies that can afford paying for Revit/Rhino licenses can also afford the extra integration costs – so be aware!
When it comes to choosing a headset, it’s hard to pick something that isn’t an Oculus Quest 2. Despite the annoying Facebook account linking process (which may be removed in future releases), it’s the most affordable headset out there and the specifications are unmatched when compared with other VR technology providers. In addition, most VR software providers host their collaborative experiences though apps on the Oculus Quest store.
That said, if you are after visual quality and most of your work is selling a design to a client, a tethered headset such as the HTC Vive Pro might be more suitable. In some cases, you may be able to combine both, allowing the client to experience a high-fidelity version of your model using a tethered headset while you are in the virtual environment with them using an untethered headset.
Once you have your model and your headset, you now need the software to bring it all together. There are many different types of VR software available out there, but the majority can be classified under two categories, single user, or multiuser.
Single user software such as Enscape allows users to jump into a model quickly without having to export the model or complete any further set up. It provides a decent high-fidelity experience for an affordable cost. Multiuser software such as SentioVR or Iris VR Prospect, provides similar experiences with the added possibility to collaborate virtually within the same model, usually at a steeper financial cost.
For more complex visualisations, and if you have the time on your hands, game engines such as Unity (with Reflect integration) and Unreal (with Twinmotion integration) offer AEC software plugins that can be customised to the users’ requirements. And dependent on your financial turnover, this software (without Reflect/Twinmotion integration) is free to use!
Other than the obvious VR tech, you may also need the following:
- VR Ready PC or Laptop: To host the experience, laptops being the more portable of the two.
- Seating: For seated experiences and accessibility considerations.
- Charging station: To ensure the headsets are always ready to go.
- TV Screen or Tablet: For those that do not have a headset on, to experience someone’s POV when in the room with them.
- Good Wi-Fi: Might seem like this is obvious but poor Wi-Fi can break an experience
Highlighting the need for a VR Workshop
Unlike your standard ‘round table’ meetings, VR workshops are for specific situations. Yes, it should be used as often as possible but its not going to be any use when discussing staff salaries or potential business leads. It’s best used when a 3D model is involved and a question needs answering.
Below is a list of scenarios where a workshop would fit in nicely:
- When you’ve finished doing a lot of 3D modelling, regardless of completion.
- When you have a series of options you want to get an agreement on.
- During the massing and conceptual stages of design, where scale and proportion matters.
- When you are trying to understand other consultants’ drawings, and a model is available.
- When you want to understand how a user would experience the building (sunlight, privacy, circulation, etc.)
- When producing a designer’s risk assessment and want to establish the construction risks.
Getting Ready for the VR Workshop
Once you have an idea of what you want to use a workshop for, you now need to prep for it. A lot of the prep work is going to be considering the 3D model itself, similar to how we would consider 2D drawings for a typical “round table” meeting.
Prior to asking any of these questions below, you should take some time to check out the 3D model in VR yourself before sharing it with others. This may bring up more points that need to be considered. Some of these we have touched on in our previous blog post “why your 3D gamified models are not VR ready” – here are some of the key questions to ask:
Are there any 2D elements which would benefit from a 3D mass?
Because we can’t see 2D elements in VR, a 3D version of it is required. However, 3D does not need to be detailed or complex, a simple box to indicate the location of a chair can help steer a conversation better than not showing one at all.
Do we need to be showing materials?
Not all workshops need beautiful models. Sometimes materials are key to help enable the decision-making process, but for non-material elements like clash checking, daylighting and layout options, materials aren’t needed.
(Note: in some software like Enscape, you can set your model to display entirely white without needing to change the model)
Is there more than one model in the visulisation?
The reason for this question is twofold. One; if you’re checking clashes and whether someone else’s model aligns with yours, then you may not need to show the whole 3D model. For example, if you’re checking an MEP model against a Structural model to see where items penetrate, do you really need doors and windows in the model?
Two; Z fighting! It’s likely two models will align at some point (that’s what we’re hoping for anyway), but that also means that items such as floors and walls can clip into one another and cause a visual anomaly called “Z fighting”. To resolve this, temporarily turn one or the other persons ‘same instance’ off in the 3D view. We wouldn’t recommend moving anything to resolve this unless you have no other option, and even then, remember what you have moved so it can be moved back later!
Running a Successful VR Workshop
So now all the prep work is done, you’re ready to run the workshop! Here are the key things to consider while doing so:
- Always come with an agenda in mind, a ‘why’ to focus the conversation on.
- Guide the conversation with ‘presentation modes’ that teleport users to the location you wish to discuss should your software allow it. Alternatively, hide any irrelevant items so that the conversation can be focused.
- Be wary that typical meeting times of an hour don’t work well in VR due to motion sickness and headset weight, aim for 10-15min bursts.
- Feel free to make edits on the host computer so that they can be updated in real time, should your software allow you to do so.
- Provide chairs for people to sit down if they are tired of standing or becoming motion sick.
- Having a rug or a change in floor texture allows users to feel when they are getting close to a wall.
With some consideration, it really is that simple! And like anything, practice makes perfect. Note that there are lots of other headsets, tools and software out there, and this is just our preference based on personal experience. Key things to remember:
- Invest the in right tools for the job
- Highlight where VR workshops could be used in your workflow
- Prepare for the meeting by preparing the model
- Have a focused agenda and don’t make it too long.
So have at it, and let us know how you get on. Was there anything you think we should have mentioned? Let us know!
Attribution: Banner created from media obtained from FreePik