According to insights at this year’s SXSW, virtual reality (VR) is set to be as ubiquitous as the smartphone. Matt Whale, managing director of innovation consultancy, How To Impact, wholeheartedly agrees, believing that VR will change the way pitches are presented and research developed. Here he presents a case study to demonstrate how this technology can convince clients to commit to change.
The rapid evolution of technology has disrupted business across the board but no industry has felt the effects more than the original content creators – photographers and visual creatives – who on the one hand have lost the community and connection of the old print centres, and on the other have seen their industry opened up to new players with expectations for greater collaboration, flexibility and different ways of working.
In late 2014, SUNSTUDIOS, the largest professional photography studios in the southern hemisphere, engaged How To Impact in a project designed to provide future-proof support for visual creatives and fill the gaps in their community.
Our approach was audience-centric as we partnered with those working within the industry – the end users – to understand their challenges, desires and needs. Following in-depth exploratory research, three iterative rounds of hypothesis-testing and a deep dive into SUNSTUDIOS business, our solution was The Treehouse. This is a dedicated co-working space within SUNSTUDIOS to help image creatives connect with industry peers, provide the resources they need to thrive, and generate new revenue streams for the business.
The use of virtual reality (VR) technology was vital in developing both the business model, including membership and service tiers, and the spatial design within a tight timeframe.
By using VR technology we were able to implement an on-going test and learn approach, using accurate and continuous feedback from the end users to make rapid prototypes and effectively develop a service design and creative environment specifically for them.
According to our insights, a critical factor supporting the co-working hub’s success would be the creation of a sense of inclusiveness and openness. It needed to actively invite photographers in from the main atrium in the existing space, which is contradictory to the traditionally private and secluded nature of photography studios.
To create this open and welcoming environment we needed the main entranceway of The Treehouse to be built into the existing atrium. This would not only mean physical re-construction but also the loss of valuable exhibition wall space. SUNSTUDIOS was understandably reluctant to continue with this design proposal, which is where the VR became vitally important.
Alongside a fully clickable prototype for the central service experience and detailed membership models, the Oculus Rift headset demonstrated the power of the new proposed space layout.
Tawfik Elgazzar, a photographer who took part in the research that led to The Treehouse development, said the VR allowed him to be immersed in the concept in ways that miniature models and illustrated videos could never match.
“It made the visualisation of the development much easier to understand and grasp given that the space we were in was completely different to the end product at the time. It was amazing to be able to look up and down while standing in the space, to see the stairways and ceilings around you.”
Alan Brightman, general manager of SUNSTUDIOS, said resulting feedback from the photographers and the ability for the internal team to experience the exact design was what ultimately persuaded them that this was the right decision.
“The plan for how the space was to best work was challenging, with a tension between an open, communal space and individual privacy. Having a virtual 3D walkthrough allowed us to get a clear picture of how the build would take shape. More importantly, the real benefit was that it enabled our potential clients to give us better feedback on the proposed look and feel of the site.”
Digital technology has created waves in the photography industry, eliminating the need for people to create in a set space and increasing competition as the profit margins and brief opportunities for skilled workers erode by the influx of uploaded content from semi-professionals or ‘pro-sumers’.
It was hugely satisfactory to use digital technology to bring connection and growth back to the visual creative community, and reimagine the SUNSTUDIOS space in a way that would meet their needs.