In our Discovery Studio we get a chance to not only be creative in our projects but also follow our curiosity as we dive into trends and emerging technologies. One trend I’ve been watching and considering closely are the new digital realities being explored in virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality technologies. I am always probing how new technologies like Visual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) will shape and influence future products and the way we design and develop them. Having the ability to efficiently gather feedback, design, and simulate multiple levels of fidelity throughout the product development process gets me excited about the future possibilities for our customers.

What is VR, AR, and MR?

­What is VR AR MR?

Digital Realities & the Discovery Phase

In the early discovery stages of product development, we try to get a better understanding of where the user is coming from. We seek to empathize to help define the needs and the problems we are solving; we work to understand them from the user’s perspective. This is fairly straight forward if we ourselves are part of the user group. However, when we are designing for someone we have never met, or we have not shared their experience, it is wise to spend time to truly put ourselves in their shoes. With the increased accessibility of 360° cameras and virtual-reality devices, it is now much easier to both document and experience personas. This level of user experience can make a profound difference as you get a sense of space around the user. For an example of how VR can be used to build empathy, check out Stanford’s project Becoming Homeless.

Digital Realities & the Design Phase

During the design phase of product development, it’s important to remain centered on the user while working through the various problems we solve through a design. While virtual environments and rendering is standard in most CAD programs, many are starting to add AR and VR modes. Augmented reality can be used with a head-mounted display, but the most common method is to use a phone or tablet that overlays the CAD model on the camera image and allows the viewer to walk around and inspect the design as if it were on the table in front of them. Being able to see the product in real scale and context can be greatly beneficial and highlight issues early. In addition to this, now teams are able to have discussions around a virtual object on the table instead of all looking at a screen. This can help bypass the need for some early prototypes as more of the experience goes digital. I recommend downloading PTC’s Vuforia View app to see a demonstration of AR CAD models.

Digital Realities & the Prototyping & Testing Phase

Later in the development process, it’s important to validate the designs to make sure you’ve created a good user experience. Usually, we create prototypes that look and work like a production product to gather valuable feedback from the user, learn about any missed issues, or validate the design. I am hopeful that we are getting close to mixed-reality prototypes which would allow users to interact with virtual models in their environmental contexts to make user testing and validation quicker and more accurate. To see more about mixed reality in areas outside of product development, check out the community space Dynamicland and see how UX design and projection mapping merge to help programmers in the creation process.

As a Conceptual Engineer, efficient tools like AR, VR and MR get me excited. Having more tools in my product-development toolkit, especially when they are centered around the human experience, can only bring positive outcomes for users and product developers alike. If you are part of the product design and development process at your organization and need help developing what’s next, give DISHER a call. We are passionate about user-centered product development and we would love to collaborate with you on your next project.


Written By: Dan Parker, Conceptual Engineer
Dan is experienced in multiple facets of product development including aesthetic design, concept development, modeling, prototyping, testing, and FEA. He’s trained in user-centered design, design thinking, and design for manufacturing/assembly. He has a BS in Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering from Grand Valley State University.