The integration of technology and multimedia are changing the way we do business with builders, developers and homebuyers seeking virtual tour instead of model homes.
By Joe King
Driven by fast-paced lifestyles and busy schedules, today’s home buyers are turning to the internet to begin their searches. Most companies have a project website set up to attract engage and encourage buyers with only a click of a mouse.
Virtual tours have been around for many years in many formats — from photography based 2D content driven applications, to fully integrated 3D technologies. Ripple, a multimedia design studio specializing in architectural design communication, 3D virtual tours (VT) and real estate marketing, along with their IT partner Dynamic Concepts, a full service internet software developer specializing in custom application development and online technologies, have now pushed the envelope of the virtual tour experience.
Ripple was challenged to produce a VT for the ultimate green home — the “Affordable, Buildable, Certified” (ABC) Green Home project. The task included the development of a 3D VT that would appeal to a wide audience, from designers and home builders to product advertisers and end-users. And, with flexible distribution channels including websites, self-executable files, and portable source code for compatibility with the next iPad or smartphone technology, the VT becomes a vital tool in stretching a projects value.
One unique aspect of the VT was to offer product manufacturer’s advertisement opportunities allowing them to highlight specific products used throughout a house. A furniture manufacture could display their latest product line in the 3D model with links that bring up specific product branding along with an explanation of the company and links back to their website.
In developing this concept, our team did extensive due diligence and beta testing on the user interface — the visual and functional displays — for the VT. What we found was most 3D VTs, in the current marketplace, lacked key, fundamental features that kept users engaged. Topping this was a clean and easy user experience. The moment users (potential buyers) get lost in the navigation of a VT, is the instance they get frustrated and lose interest. “It is important to create way finding devices that are visual and easy to understand. This helps users orient themselves within the VT and keeps them engaged,” explained Sako Khachikian, co-founder and director of architectural media at Ripple.
Another important feature within the VT was the actual 3D content. It needed to look and feel as if the house was already built. The renderings needed to appear photographic to convey that an actual model home had already been built and that this product was ready for purchase. The products within the house needed to represent the manufacturer’s actual products as accurately as possible. This meant we had to carefully consider the 3D formats for the content within the VT. Most VTs include combinations of 3D animations, renderings and / or panoramas. 3D animations were a consideration in our development; however, when we considered all of the various arenas in which the VT would be shown, we felt that animation would take too long to download on standard websites, which would lead to frustrated users. Our solution was to develop 3D panoramas for each interior scene in the house and renderings for the exterior. Our approach in creating a 3D environment that would engage potential buyers and entice them to explore the design, furnishings, appliances, and materials exceeded all expectations.
Finally, we had to consider the flexibility of the VT as an application that needed to be deployed on a variety of hardware and software platforms. Dynamic created source code that would enable the team to save the VT in multiple formats. They also created a vehicle that would give the team flexibility in updating the VT. “This is not a trivial undertaking. Usually simplifying content means hours of complicated code; however, we were able to address key delivery formats that would give the team the most flexibility in how and where the VT was showcased,” said stated Terri McCormack, business development director of Dynamic. The target formats included websites, laptop / PC presentations, Flash/CD/DVD deployments, exhibition on HD monitors and iPad/portable devices. These are all very different technologies and required innovative approaches in the development process. Dynamic was integral to making this possible.
Virtual tours enable us to create engaging and memorable narrative experiences. With the ABC Green Home project, our team demonstrated that it was possible to develop an innovative virtual tour that incorporated interface simplicity, hi-end aesthetics, and flexible functionality. Through the collaborative efforts of Ripple and Dynamic, a new, adaptable and cost effective VT emerged, ultimately leading to pleased advertisers, satisfied builders and happy homeowners.
Joe King is co-founder and director of advanced media of Ripple Creative Group. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.