By Andrea Kingsbury, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C

As designers, we often rely on visualization strategies such as 3D modeling, renderings, and video fly-throughs to convey concepts to our clients. In the past, advanced visualization software was often unavailable to smaller-scale firms or projects with limited budgets. Today, with the prevalence of rendering software and plug-in tools becoming accessible to more users, the bar is continually raised between competing design firms to provide visual aids that are more realistic and engaging. This race to the top is met with increasingly shorter turnaround times in which to create these state-of-the-art graphics.

In this age of digital visualization, how does a firm differentiate themselves from competitors? Prior to advanced computer-aided drawings, design studios created branded identities through the art of their drawings as each artist had a unique style to lend to their creations. Those familiar with the works of Renzo Piano can immediately recognize his sketching by the green pen. The world-renowned architect Frank Gehry is known for his seemingly chaotic sketches that reveal themselves as astounding feats of architecture and engineering once built. Now that designers are often using the same software as rendering tools, how can firms create this branded aesthetic?

By manipulating the atmosphere of an image, adjusting the depth of field, and creating detailed vignettes, we can intimately connect users to conceptual designs while also establishing an identity unique to our team.

While the direct output of a computer rendering can feel flat and generic, modifying the atmosphere of an image to support the identity of the project makes the visual feel more personal. For example, by changing the time of day, levels of natural and artificial light, and weather patterns such as fog, rain, clouds, and sun, we mimic real-life situations, making the images feel more realistic. This manipulation of atmosphere can aid in telling the story of the project as we can place the design in a context that is native to the design.

We naturally see the world with attention to one element while objects in our peripheral vision are out of focus. Adjusting the depth of field of an image can drastically change the focal point and direct the viewer to key points of a design. For instance, when speaking to the approach of a building, we may manipulate the focus towards the mid-ground of an image showing the entry canopy and leave the foreground out of focus. This directed focus pulls the viewer into the image allowing the team to better communicate the design intent.

Detailed vignettes provide another way to connect viewers to conceptual designs crafted specifically for their projects. These curated views make the connection between precedent imagery used to cultivate a design approach and the manifestation of those ideas at a human scale. Seeing textures, materials, and colors in close proximity, one can almost feel the environment as if they were already inhabiting the space.

As technologies advance, the bar will continually be raised in how we communicate conceptual ideas to our clients. The increased use of virtual and augmented reality is opening new doors to immerse clients into the possibilities of future worlds. By constantly evolving our skillset and approach, we provide a comprehensive design experience to our clients with the touch that is distinctly our own.