Interior designers and architects have been using computer-aided design (CAD) for years to help create 3D mock-ups of their designs to show and discuss with their clients. This technology has allowed clients who sometimes have very little design experience or vocabulary visualize and communicate with their professional designer what they would like in much more detail than has previously been possible.
Well, this group took that concept to a whole new level, by using virtual reality to help include the ideas of prospective residents of a retirement center in designing a retirement center. As you can see in the video, the focus group members were able to explain how various design concepts made them "feel," because they were able to actually experience walking into and around in the building they were designing.
In this case, the virtual world "Second Life" was used. Second Life was a good choice, because it operates largely using user-generated content. Residents in this virtual world have been developing their design skills over a period of several years. Virtual homes, some furnished, some unfurnished are bought and sold in-world for use as meeting places, and backdrops for virtual photos and digital art.
Other virtual worlds that have the potential to be used in this way, but have not yet developed this aspect of their in-world experience to the level Second Life has, either because of a centralized control system that discourages the implementation and development of user-generated content, or because the tools needed for building and development have a much steeper learning curve than those used by Second Life. Examples are The Sims, InWordz, Twinity, Blue Mars, and Open Simulator.
Wagner James Au, of New World Notes interviewed the architect, Jon Brouchoud, who used the site in designing a health clinic several years ago, and has used it as a tool for many projects over the years. Jon explained how user feed back gained from the virtual world experience was helpful on the retirement community project:
"We had an idea that the outdoor spaces, garden and screened porch could be part of the entry experience, but they didn't like that idea at all...We also assumed the new building would have a more formal entry desk, but they definitely preferred something more subtle, that blended into the environment instead."
It will be interesting to see how this technology is used in upcoming years to help people make their design dreams a reality.