High Tech or Low Tech? Analyzing design with an immersive environment

Presented by: Li Han

Design and visualization are two inseparable disciplines. All design needs to be analyzed and communicated through visual forms. High tech has brought dramatic changes to how we analyze design. However, this does not render low tech an irrelevant method. The goal of this research is (1) to understand the advantages and limitations of Immersive projection and (2) to understand how high tech and low tech methods can complement one another in design communication. This research is being conducted through a series of progressive case studies over a semester in an advanced visualization class, including several interim student presentations as well as final student presentations involving the client.  In addition to the Immersive projection facility, this research employs Techviz, Rhino, Autodesk Showcase, Revit, HDR (High Dynamic Range) images and manual renderings at various levels. 

Immersive Projection and Communication 
The fundamentals of an immersive environment are simple: a system displays two images to mimic what is seen by two eyes and filters out one image through a receiving device, often a pair of stereoscopic glasses, to allow the eyes to see two different images to create depth. “The principle is based on a technical device that separates the images so as to show only the desired image to each eye” (Fuchs, Moreau, and Guitton 2011, 213). At the same time, a tracking system is often employed to respond as the viewer changes position. 

In this case study the software (TechViz XL Base License for 2 Channel) and hardware (a Barco Display System and ART trackpad Basic) provide an immersive experience for visual depth and body movement; however, it does not provide the experience of gravity or collision. 

Spatial perception is the perception of the size, shape and distance of various objects in the field of view (Hatfield 1990, 32-33). Immersive technology brings realistic experiences of spaces to viewers. Research shows the sense of movement, balance, sound, and other sensations of physical presence in the environment enhance spatial perception (Hernandez et al. 2007, 489). A significant improvement is noted in communication between designers and clients. Clients rarely have the same level of comprehension of spaces as designers. For the clients, immersive environments are more engaging and can be understood easily. In contrast, the case studies show less significant improvement in visual communication for design students and faculty during the interim project presentations. The initial responses from the students suggest that they were impressed by the immersive projection; however, due to their prior understanding of spaces, the improvement in communication is less significant. 

High Tech and Low Tech
There is a noticeable disconnection between high tech and low tech in design visualization. Manual rendering is often overlooked in digital visualization. However, manual rendering which brings more poetic and emotional experiences deserves to be preserved and brought into the realm of high tech as a meaningful complement. People often believe what can be seen is realistic; therefore the same environment should be perceived the same by everyone. However, that’s often not the case. Human perception is often abstract and selective and therefore differs from person to person. Visual perception happens in three stages—a physical stage, a physiological stage and a psychological stage. At the physical stage, light is reflected by an object into the eye and is formed into a retinal image. At the physiological stage, the optic nerve transmits the retinal image into the brain. Eventually, the mind is affected by the physiological process of the sensorium and generates mental images upon the event (Hatfield 1990, 33). The final mental image is generated by the mind; therefore the perception of the same visual stimulations can be vastly different for people.
Manual rendering often presents “unrealistic” environments with particular


  • Hatfield, Gary C. 1990. The Natural and the Normative: Theories of Spatial Perception From Kant to Helmholtz. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. eBook Collection. EBSCOhost (24389).
  • Hernandez, Luis, Javier Taibo, David Blanco, José Iglesias, Antonio Seoane, Alberto Jaspe, and Rocio Lopez. 2007. “Physically Walking in Digital Spaces - a Virtual Reality Installation for Exploration of Historical Heritage.”
  • Fuchs, Philippe, Guillaume Moreau, and Pascal Guitton, eds. 2011. Virtual Reality: Concepts and Technologies. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
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