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    TECHNOLOGY:Virtual Reality

    While some retailers have yet to embrace 3-D CAD technology, others are quickly becoming dependent on its ability to review colors, materials, fixtures, lighting programs, and even merchandising plans.

    By Jenny Summerour

    in 1999, Burger King conducted a focus group to tour a new store concept—a 3,300-square-foot '50s-style diner. What made it unusual was that the group never left their seats, and the store didn't exist.

    The tech- nology that made it possible–3-D computer-assisted design (CAD)– brings a new dimension to standard CAD applications, which designers have used for more than a decade to sketch store plans electronically.

    3-D takes that process a step further by offering a new perspective, thus making it easier to picture shelf sets and giving clients more input at an earlier stage in the design process.

    "3-D helps designers communicate better with store owners. Frequently, building owners aren't comfortable with reading 2-D construction documents and may not fully understand the design. This causes costly changes late in the design

    or construction process," says Clay Freeman, senior product manager of the AEC Market Group

    for Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif., makers of AutoCAD.

    "Using 3-D also helps identify errors, such as interferences between ductwork and the building's structure, early in the design process, which eliminates costly change orders in construction and speeds the time to successful project completion," Freeman says.

    While some retailers have yet to embrace the technology, others are quickly becoming dependent on its ability to review colors, materials, fixtures, lighting programs, and even merchandising plans.

    Digital Sculpture, a full-service visual production studio and consultant group based in Columbus, Ohio, worked with Fitch, a Columbus-based design firm, to develop a video simulation of the store for Burger King.

    "The design was such a radical change that any retailer would hate to build it and be dramatically off. This technology allowed them to do it cheaper with as much feedback as if consumers were in the store," says Peter Scott, president, Digital Sculpture.

    Scott and his team were given prospective hand sketches, color swatches, graphic boards and menu boards in digital format. From there, they put the materials into computer models to show the full design, including transparencies and reflections. The entire process took them just over a week.

    Digital Sculpture also worked with clothing retailer Eddie Bauer last summer to present design simulations not to consumers, but to executives. "We sat down with their designers, 3-D and CAD departments, and went through every single fixture. We also met with the merchandiser to look at where that was going to be placed," Scott says. After working on the preliminary design, Scott and his team presented Eddie Bauer with print images and videotape of theproposed store. They talked over changes and made repeated presentations until both parties agreed that the project

    was right.

    "The greatest thing was that there were no surprises when the store opened. We walked in and they said, 'It looks perfect. It's exactly the way we thought it was going to be,'" Scott says.

    A big advantage to 3-D is that it saves time by facilitating collaboration down the pipeline, designers note. The same digital files used in the creative process are passed down for consumer and client evaluation, and finally in the pre-production and production stages. "It allows you to save a tremendous amount of time and do multiple things," says Jim Warner, president, FutureBrand ID, New York.

    "3-D computer visualization can be directly translated into 2-D for construction documentation, so the drawings are about 50% done right off the bat. It streamlines the entire process," Scott notes.

    Hand sketches could never achieve the same success level, according to Rebecca Huston, creative director at Twenty Four Seven, a brand imaging and design firm in Portland, Ore. A former hand renderer, she notes the process is extremely subjective. "By the nature of it, you're going to choose a flattering perspective and make things look good. If there's something you don't understand or haven't thought through, you won't put it in," Huston says.

    Electronic renderings force designers to be more objective and think about perspective. Additionally, mistakes are a matter of a mouse click. "Once you've done a hand rendering, there's nothing you can do to change it. It's not a particularly responsive tool in terms of speed and revision," Huston notes. "If somebody can see how something is going to work, they may choose a design they'd otherwise avoid. The same is true for materials."

    Twenty Four Seven has worked with clients such as Levi's and Dockers to develop fixture programs for multiple stores. "They've gotten really used to the technology. They use it to evaluate whether they're happy with a design and whether the department stores they work with are happy. So the retailers, working through the manufacturers, have an in-vestment in the design," Huston says.

    New supermarkets typically ship in 20% to 30% more fixtures than the store needs, according to Kevin Stadler, vice presdent of collaborative business solutions for JDA Software, Scottsdale, Ariz. The main reason is that they tend not to match up fixture plans exactly. "With 3-D software, they're not just marrying CAD, but also marrying up the real product categories with the fixtures they'll be on."

    erchandising and category management–key concerns for food retailers–can be im-pacted in some interesting ways with

    3-D tools. For example, JDA Software recently developed space management and assortment planning softwarethat utilizes 3-D computer animation technology.

    "Right now in grocery, we're seeing more use on the manufacturer side, because they're very concerned with the display impact—how the total section looks as you walk through," Stadler says.

    But retailers can use 3-D to measure how product placement will affect sales, according to Stadler. "Whether you're talking about bakery, produce or health and beauty, you can plug in the sales, units and other numbers and measure your space-to-sales productivity. So you not only have the 3-D capability, but analytical capability on top of that.

    "If a store is too large, the retailer can go in and figure how they should shift space to higher-producing areas. A top-down CAD view of the store combined with a histogram of color-coded hot spots shows the highest-performing items," Stadler says. Chain operators can measure sales on a store-by-store basis as well.

    Twenty Four Seven's Huston says her clients often utilize 3-D to explore lighting options. "It's one of the first things people want. Before, people would stick with what was safe. The lighting designer was seen as the guru because they were the only ones who knew what would happen," she says.

    Scott agrees that retailers haven'tutilized 3-D as much as they could to improve lighting, noting that alternate lighting designs can dramaticallyaffect a store's environment and


    Additionally, 3-D enables retailers to design space to accommodate seasonal or other changes, Huston notes. "A supermarket could design an empty space, like a market square, and then look at different ways to use it, such as product demonstrations or a wine fair."

    Newer retail designs that incorporate multimedia can also be explored. "We're able to use computer animation to look at the effects of adding video screens or plasma displays. We can

    take the camera through a synthetic environment and show live footage of video, audio and other technology," Scott says.

    Liquid Pres-ence LLC, Re-dondo Beach, Calif., is using 3-D animation software to create a virtual grocery shopping environment for supermarkets' online shopping programs. The company can incorporate everything from shopping carts with multimedia ads to misting in the produce aisle to user-selectable Muzak.

    Looking to the future, haptic devices that enable touch and digital-scent producing devices could be used in similar fashion, says Bill Furlong, vice president, Liquid Presence.

    "Customers could actually simulate squeezing the tomatoes and smell fresh-cooked bread right at their home com-puter," he says.

    "It's where the future is. Whatever you can do with photographs, you can do with 3-D programs. For a photograph, you need to have the real thing. With 3-D, you can illustrate virtual

    situations," says Chris Yessios, president, AutoDesSys Inc., Columbus, Ohio, provider of advanced 3-D modeling technolog

    By Jenny Summerour
    • About Jenny Summerour

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