Virtual reality will change everything. Eventually.

It was several years ago when I first experienced a virtual and augmented reality test. My head was spinning, and it wasn’t just because of the motion sickness. Like everyone, I imagined endless ways this could be used in a bunch of industries. Sure, entertainment and gaming are no-brainers. But what I viewed—and still view—as having the most potential are the areas of helping brands in the design/build category deal with what will always be one of the biggest thorns in their side: helping their customers visualize and understand what the final product will look like.

With all the news about VR and AR it still hasn’t broken through into a realistic solution for many brands. There are a number of brands that are pioneering the use of VR in the custom kitchen and bath space, and we all should thank them. Since technological revolutions come pretty regularly we’ve all had a chance to see the phases they go through. To keep things simple, I’ve broken the process down into three chunks:

Discovery
This is the work of technologists at the forefront of development and design. This is where we get a glimpse of what is possible. Here is where the potential is unlimited and pundits prophesy how a particular breakthrough will manifest itself in our daily lives. By the way, I’m still waiting on my paperless office.

Experimentation
This part is usually ugly and many attempts are quickly forgotten. We all point to Google and Amazon as the representatives of the internet pioneers that they indeed are. But we also have a short memory of the countless companies that gave it their best shot and came up short. Yes, myspace.com is still around, but mostly as a punch line.

Large-scale adoption
I think we’re close to this point with AR and VR. There are quite a few brands that are doing amazing things. There are still hurdles to be sure, but it appears to be gaining momentum. Last year at KBIS I noticed quite a few booths with VR installations.

But here is where a brand has to make sure they have the backbone to wade into something that is still evolving. There are pros and cons and this is not an article that is meant to chastise the companies sitting on the sidelines or put the experimenters in a pedestal. What I hope is that it will serve as encouragement for both groups.

Before you dive into VR you need to take a hard look at your situation and what you’re hoping to accomplish. I’ve advised for and against using VR, because every situation is different. Since I’m a “bad news first” kind of guy, I’ll start with what I see as the problems. Sorry, I mean the opportunities.

Can you afford to fail?
Virtual reality and augmented reality are a significant investment. If your goal is to have your products appear in 3D space, they need to be rendered. There needs to be some platform created to view them. Is it an app accessible through a mobile device? Is a closed system that is visible at POS locations? But more important than the technical and budgetary end of things, is the culture of your brand one that will throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater at the first hurdle? If you don’t have a culture that embraces experimentation then I would advise you to wait a bit.

Are your expectations too high?
The virtual world is still pretty far from reality, but there is a tendency to think everything digital is also flawless. I’ve looked at what is available in the VR/AR product world and it still tends to have that first generation computer animation feel. I’m sure as the technology evolves that will improve, but it may still be a while before we have something approaching the tool that will solve our problem of customer visualization.

Do you have the patience?
Having looked at a number of kitchen renderings and tutorials on 20/20, the leading design software for the kitchen and bath industry, I came away with the primary takeaway that this is hard. There are countless details that impact how the VR render actually looks. The light temperature and the environment all need to be thought through in order to get an accurate render.

If those challenges haven’t scarred you away, then there are two big positives to keep in mind if you’re diving into the VR space:

Being there first
There is a value to getting there first. If you create a viable, useful VR/AR tool then you can be sure many copycats will follow. But only one brand can be there first. Owning something like this can boost the awareness and perception of any brand.

You can capitalize on the newness
Other efforts will benefit from the halo effect of your shiny new tool. It will give your dealers and customers a tangible way to differentiate their brand in a crowded marketplace.

If you decide to delve into this technology or if you choose to wait it out a little while longer, one thing is certain; this is where the design/build industry is going. How quickly depends on you.