The research presented in this thesis has its base in product development methodology and examines product representations and visual displays as tools for product design. New visualisation technologies, such as VR, has entered the market, but unfortunately, questions of usability and accessibility for the designer are often set aside in favour of development of the technology itself.
The aim with this research is to acquire knowledge about the use of, the need for and the possibilities offered by immersive visual displays and navigation means for engineering designers engaged in product design activities. The purpose is to draw up recommendations for the meaningful application of these tools, i.e. find a means of assisting the engineering designer in his everyday work. At the end of this thesis, the conclusions drawn from the findings of the research are presented as a series of guidelines to help product designers understand the possible benefits and drawbacks of introducing virtual reality techniques in their product design activities.
The research approach is mainly explorative and is based on several studies, for example four experimental studies, an interview study and a questionnaire survey, all focusing on Swedish industry.
The results can be divided into two categories, descriptive and prescriptive. The descriptive results concern the use of product representations and visualisation techniques in companies engaged in product development and design consulting. It was found that the overall view of these techniques is positive and has resulted in investments at a number of companies. The use of VR techniques primarily concerns tasks involving analysis, such as the assessment of product properties and early concept evaluation and selection. Its use, however, is not coherent between companies, but depends on factors such as company size, type of product, existing CAD software and a company's own traditions with regard to product representations.
The prescriptive results primarily consist of a set of qualitative guidelines referring to different aspects of the visualisation and representation of a product-to-be. Digital product representations have been found to offer good possibilities for replacing physical mock-ups, assuming that a conscious strategy has been established for their use. The concluding guidelines include user aspects, degree of immersion, colouring, and level of detail. Together, the aspects form a basis for understanding the possible benefits and drawbacks of digital product representations - visualised for product design.
The research has also shown that a supportive visualisation tool is not enough to be able to use VR-technology successfully. The possibility for a user to easily navigate through the virtual environment and manipulate objects therein is also an important factor. Haptics presents a means to introduce more senses for a better understanding of the product or product concepts. The use of haptics significantly improved subjects' results, compared to using a mouse, and is just as efficient as working with pen and paper, while holding additional properties of its own. This opens up for the possibility of having parts of the conceptual design stages supported by a computer environment, for more efficient handling downstream in the design process.
Linköping: Linköpings universitet , 2004. , 71 p.
2004-06-04, Sal C2, Hus C, Campus Valla, Linköpings Universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (Swedish)