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The use of digital reality in the design field is nothing new. But recent advances in immersive technology — including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed realities — are providing the field with new and exciting ways to experience and evaluate the potential of the built environment.

Three of the most recent VR studies added to The Center for Health Design’s Knowledge Repository are highlighted here.

A paper by Joseph and colleagues provides an overview of the history of VR’s use in design. They discuss how VR can be a powerful tool for creating digital realities — both for visualizing proposed designs and for testing design alternatives. Design researchers always struggle to “isolate the variable,” or, in other words, to set up a research design in a way that shows if an outcome can be attributed to a specific aspect of the design.

This paper highlights this unique opportunity exactly; VR can facilitate the ability to experiment systematically by swapping out design options, keeping others constant and observing differing outcomes. Additionally, the paper offers a clear conceptual framework to support those interested in using VR in design research.

Another paper exploring the use of VR in design research comes from Kalantari and Neo. This literature review explores the challenges in applying VR, mainly rooted in the fact that virtual reality lacks actual reality (consider the static representation of natural light, or the lack of accurate sensory feedback).

They provide suggestions for using VR effectively in research, especially around careful consideration of which immersion technology to use in order to achieve your goals, designing appropriate tasks to get the data you need and the value of qualitative methods when using VR.

While the above two papers will give you a 30,000-foot view of VR and helpful general pointers for getting started, you may also be interested in reading a specific example of how VR is used in a study by Jafarifiroozabadi and colleagues.

This paper focuses on the use of VR to understand how care partners choose where to sit in outpatient surgical center waiting rooms.

The research team used VR to simulate an outpatient waiting area, and tested various scenarios to see what factors influenced participants’ seating choices. They found seating selection was primarily based on what phase of waiting they were in. The authors discuss the benefit of using VR to allow participants a fully immersive experience in different scenarios.

Beyond these three papers, we have noticed a general marked rise in the use of virtual reality in evidence-based design research. Perhaps, in the context of COVID-19, this trend will continue to expand, providing us with capabilities to design, engage and conduct research at a distance.

For more information on the latest trends in evaluation methods, as well as several other topics related to health care design, health facilities professionals should visit The Center for Health Design’s Knowledge Repository.

The following citations from The Center for Health Design’s Knowledge Repository of health care design resources were used by the author when writing this column:

  • A. Joseph, M. H. E. M. Browning, and S. Jiang, “Using Immersive Virtual Environments (IVEs) to Conduct Environmental Design Research: A Primer and Decision Framework,” HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal 13, no. 3 (2020): 11-25.
  • S. Kalantari and J. R. J. Neo, “Virtual Environments for Design Research: Lessons Learned from Use of Fully Immersive Virtual Reality in Interior Design Research,” Journal of Interior Design, 2020, in press.
  • R. Jafarifiroozabadi et al., “Evaluating Care Partner Preferences for Seating in an Outpatient Surgery Waiting Area Using Virtual Reality,” HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 2020, in press.

ABOUT THIS COLUMN: “Design Discoveries” highlights research from The Center for Health Design’s Knowledge Repository, a user-friendly library of health care design resources. This research effort is supported by the American Society for Health Care Engineering, the American Institute of Architects, the Academy of Architecture for Health Foundation and the Facility Guidelines Institute. 

Melissa PiatkowskiResearch Associate, The Center for Health Design