Intangible Communication

Fall 2017
(2 Weeks)

Role: Research, Prototype

Advisors: Daphne Peters
In this project, I create a spatial communication system that affords a greater understanding of large-scale physical designs, ones that are difficult to physically prototype to scale. Here I use a model I created for a separate project, which you can find here.

Problem Space —

Communication might be at the heart of any designer’s work. To assess the quality of a design, one must have a fundamentally accurate communication, often in the shape of a prototype. These prototypes/ communications are also used frequently to get feedback from outside parties.

In the context of communication design and product design (digital and physical), communicating a design seems more 1:1, for they can be experienced in their own medium and at the scale they were designed for — posters can be printed, forms can be handcrafted.

Products prototypes and Graphical prototypes can be communicated at the scale they were designed for.

However, when designing futures, services or environments, where scale is significantly larger, it can be challenging to give an accurate communication. With environments, many things must be communicated at once: scale, spatial layouts, spatial interactions, environmental typography, etc. Without experiencing the space itself, it is a more difficult jump to understand the design.

Existing paradigms don’t allow for an intrinsic experience. It is difficult to imagine these models to scale. (From Google Images)

Problem Validation—

It is difficult to know with certainty whether this limitation that I experience comes from my lack in skill of using existing communication paradigms, or if the paradigms themselves are limited in their capacity to communicate effectively. Given the time frame, I was only able to recall past experiences and collect sentiments from my friends and faculty within the School of Design and in the School of Architecture.

Recently, my class had a critique session and invited several students trained in Communication Design. However, we found that after every presentation, the questions that were asked were primarily clarification questions, rather than questions on the decisions made. To me this seems like an indicator that the presentation was not communicative enough for the students critiquing to have enough confidence to give feedback.

In my experience, there have also been times when my professors can see far deeper into a model/ drawing to instantly know if the space will feel too tight or disproportionate, while I could have never recognized that problem. While it is very helpful in the moment, this phenomena indicates to me the idea that there is a spectrum of levels to which one can “think in 3D.” To see a 2D abstraction of a 3D space and deeply understand the feeling of the space is a skill that not many people possess, and it would be irresponsible for designers to assume that everyone does, especially in high stakes situations.

A classic example of when Architectural paradigms fall short. From Zoolander.

Here I will only delve into what the paradigms are. To understand their strengths and weaknesses, you can go to my Medium post.

Research of Existing Paradigms—

Before creating a new paradigm to communicate space, it is important to observe the strengths and limitiations of existing ones.

2D Maps

Perhaps the most common understanding of a large 3D space is a 2D map. It is a paradigm used by most navigational tools, meaning that it is likely to be easily understood by most people.


The Pinpoint is an interesting abstraction, because it reduces human complexity to it’s core relevant details: the position and orientation. With this reduction, we are able to understand the important information at a glance. Once again, I think this abstraction can be assumed to be fairly easily understood.

Photo Montage

A photo montage is a photograph with a perspective-matched model layered on top. This method relies on comparisons of scale between recognizable objects such as people and cars. This practice is used a lot, especially within architecture.

Scale Model

Scale models are built as a physical object to represent a much larger space. They are often accompanied with an appropriately sized figurine, to give a sense of relative scale. Like most tools, these models have to be made with a high fidelity to really be communicative.

Virtual Reality

Architecture firms are starting to use VR to communicate their designed spaces. This platform allows people to access their organic spatial exploration tools (stereoscopic vision and head moving) to understand a 3D rendering created computationally. VR is a highly immersive experience that affords greater believability—the 3D digital model can be crafted to feel almost photo-realistic.

My proposed framework for communicating spaces.

New Paradigm—

“Evidence that bears on questions of any complexity typically involves multiple forms of discourse.”

—Edward Tufte, Beautiful Evidence

Much like how most communication tools use image, text, symbols to explain a complicated idea, I imagine a system that uses multiple platforms through which people can experience the designed space at different levels of scale and immersion.

This system is composed of a 2D projection, a headset, and a headset view display— components that are then arranged in an intentional, spatial way.

Drone Footage

I chose to use drone footage as a contextual anchor. People seem to inherently understand scale and size in relation to other recognizable objects, and the use of cars and people would hopefully offer that relationship. Because drone footage is image-based, it would require less abstraction, so less friction to understand. 


As I mentioned during my research on 2D maps, the pinpoint is an abstraction that many people can easily identify and acquire information from. It conveys position and orientation clearly, which is important when looking at the view of someone exploring that space in VR.

How I prototyped this experience
Virtual Reality Environment

I can’t take credit for this whole environment—some of these assets were created with the help of Marisa Lu and Monica Huang. However, I created an immersive environment within Unity3D replicating one that the space was designed for. I used existing Unity tools as well as Cinema4D and Sketchup.

I also created several scripts that would allow me to look/ move around the space with the Google Cardboard headset.


Because I am trying to create a paradigm for communicating 3D space, the setup itself must reflect the system well. I had to consider the switching between views, as concurrent information streams are only effective if they can be received concurrently. Because of this, I decided on this layout.

The screen showing the VR audience view would be stationed right on top of the projection, allowing the view to transition between them easily. The VR view is somewhat isolated, and can exist anywhere.

Without a solid use case, this whole system is in vain.

I imagine this system coming alive in a situation such as a client presentation. This kind of tool can be used to present spatially, much as a tour guide might. Perhaps the presenter would start by entering the Virtual Reality environment while the audience watches what they see and where they are. As the presenter highlights different aspects of the space, different members of the audience might be interested in different aspects, and now have a greater ground on which to stand and question, pushing the design forward.

Based on personal reflection and feedback from faculty and friends!

Lessons Learned and Future Steps—

Balancing Platforms in 3D: Design Systems

When concurrently displaying multiple streams of information, it is important to have a consistent visual language, a standard fidelity. I started to realize that because my projected environment (the drone footage) was image-based, while my VR camera was model-based, resulting in friction in understanding.

This helped me understand the importance of design systems and style guides. I had been learning about how large companies keep their various products visually consistent through these central systems, and this project helped me understand how that is visible in 3D experiences as well. Having a consistent 3D visual experience across the board is perhaps better than having the best version of each part, with the friction their differences cause.

Layering Information on the VR experience

As a first prototype, the VR experience does not have much interface within it, just the pure visual experience. However, I would be interested in exploring the idea of a “3D Keynote,” or a series of informational points oriented in context within the 3D model. Perhaps there is a drawing functionality where notes could be left at different points within the model itself.

External Control over VR View

Currently, the VR user controls where the pinpoint lands, but I would be interested to see the effect when one could control the viewing angle based on the projection itself.

Greater Physical Presence

Perhaps I want to showcase the materials portrayed in the VR experience. I would be interested to see how this could manifest in the project.

If you so wish, you can read more about the project here!

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