Visualisation came so fast and changed so much — Why the revolution?

Visualisation, images, animation and — more recently — in the form of Extended Reality, is changing how product designers, architects, and automotive designers communicate their intentions.

On the face of it, you may be thinking, visualisation is no different to 3D modelling, but there is an enormous difference. A model is just that, a model. Visualisation provides stakeholders with an opportunity to get as close to experiencing the real thing — be it a building, a machine or component, a car, or an entire envisioned environment for replicating behaviours (as might be required, for example, in a training scenario).

In this blog we explore why visualisation is a revolution, transforming the face of design as we know it. Or, rather, as we see it. We counter the most commonly held misconceptions, and we explain why to leave consideration of visualisation in your design approach to a later date—or disregard it, or wait until the associated technologies mature a little more—will be to run the risk of missed opportunity, on multiple fronts, whatever sector you operate in. We’ll also look at what those fronts are.

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The Essential Role of Visualisation

Visualisation does far more than clarify design intent. It is not just about what the finished form will look like (modelling can do that adequately). Visualisation engages stakeholders directly into the experience to be offered by the subject of the design. It gives them the opportunity to relate personally to the designed item, feeling what it will be like to use it, be in it, see it in its physical 1:1 as-used state.

By doing this, visualisation empowers stakeholders to make pragmatic or aesthetic contributions to the design evolution. In other words, it provides a medium through which intended users can provide actionable feedback, stimulating smarter decisions earlier in the design process. Designers are empowered by gaining significantly enhanced end-user or client feedback, moving more swiftly to an undisputed outcome, addressing such issues as:

  • What it will feel like to use it
  • How it will interact with the environment it is intended for
  • Impact on the world that the designed object is destined for. For example, how a building will look within the community, how it will satisfyingly merge with or stand out from its surroundings.

As visualisation answers such questions, it brings another significant benefit, one which came to the front when new ways of working arose in response to restrictions on physical attendance in offices and other locations at the time of the pandemic. This was when video conferencing went mainstream, and then became an everyday norm. It was when remote collaboration became an essential element of working life.

This collaboration leads to better designs.  With designers able to quickly ‘step into’ their design, complete with materials, environments, and multiple configurations, they can better understand their own design decisions earlier. They gain more time to iterate, and more confidently optimise design; in a way that has been impossible for previous generations of designers.

Driving Faster Time to Market

Some of the most illustrative and inspiring examples showcasing the benefits of visualisation (and deploying a robust visualisation strategy) came from the automotive industry, in both design, and sales and marketing. The development of a new car design has traditionally involved making multiple physical porotypes, with some often coming in at a cost of close to £1million. Today, physical prototypes, particularly those created throughout the design phases for validation, are more of an option than a necessity. This has been achieved by extracting as much value as possible from digital assets:


Using Extended Reality (XR—the all-embracing term for Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality), and remote collaboration processes, design studios were able to create prototypes digitally, and share around the world in the same way. Nobody had to travel anywhere. The beneficial environmental impact was considerable, and when stakeholders did meet onsite, reviews were enhanced due to an improved understanding of progress. So, in summary more efficient design is achieved alongside more sustainable processes.

Sales & Marketing

To launch a new model has previously involved transporting a prototype around the world, to exhibit to dealers and the public. Trade show calendars dictated a vehicle’s launch dates. Attendance at trade shows required transportation, insurance, security, personnel, travel and accommodation costs, and hundreds of hours of preparation. The process is then repeated for the next trade show. Covid put a stop to these events. Visualisation filled the communication vacuum and was really stress tested which established a new practice. It revolutionised how cars are designed and sold.

An engaging new norm now pervades the automotive sector. Almost every car manufacturer now creates digital prototypes for their websites, advertisements and online configurators. The cars look real. They’re not, but everything else about the selling process is — orders come in and sales are made. Enormous extra value is extracted from CAD assets; design, user experience, maintenance, sales and marketing, XR, instruction manuals are all derived from the same base assets.

Whilst car manufacturing has been evolving its adoption of enterprise-wide visualisation and XR for decades, both the general manufacturing and AEC sectors are now quickly realising the benefits and adopting the technologies more widely.  

In manufacturing, for example, the prototype of a valve can be created; no need for using machines, lathes, drills and facing all the possible mis-starts and errors. Going physical at what seems like a logical stage can delay time to production. This is a consideration that amplifies if variations are required by customer, by final use requirements, or even by country.

With visualisation, such variations become merely tweaks on the screen, with the adapted version shared digitally, instantly, and modifications highlighted for the next digital representation.

In AEC, visualisation is impacting more deeply than ever. In its early days it was, indeed, used as a sales and marketing tool — effectively, a ‘sales-aid’ when presenting concepts and proposals. Now it is viewed by forward-thinking organisations as an intrinsic element of the design evolution that facilitates informed discussion, contribution, and refinement. Visualisation also has a rapidly progressing role within BIM strategies; see the comparison table below.

See the Visualisation Advantage

Visualisation has progressed from imagery to animation to real life through XR. Industry leaders in all sectors were in the vanguard. Yet even now, in all sectors, misconceptions prevail. Here’s a check-list of what you may have thought Visualisation was, compared to what it actually is:

You may think Visualisation is…

Consider this:

Just a sales and marketing tool for impressing clients, and getting projects approved. It’s an add-on.

…integral to the design process; a powerful tool for collaboration, used in design processes in all industries, departments, and functions (HR, onboarding, training, viewing data at scale, simulating hypothetical events and more).

Somewhere between a fragmented and a non-existent ecosystem.

…a connected, cross-workflow process.

Expensive, outsourced, and highly specialised.

…accessible with limited outlay via wide choice of software and hardware, a natural evolution of the design process.

A design process benefit, and that’s it.

…a valuable contributor to carbon footprint reduction.

Perhaps saves some time and effort on re-work.

…Visualisation is saving £millions for car manufacturers who no longer have to create physical prototypes.

Just for how things will look.

…the meeting of all design elements and all practical considerations; can incorporate wireframe views, clash detection, movement and walkthrough, enabling thorough review of physical constraints (and opportunities not envisaged in the very early design phase).

Great for car manufacturers but limited in use within AEC.

…ideal for use with Revit through a range of visualisation tools.

Has no role in the AEC BIM environment.

…through BIM, visualisation capability is now embedded within the authoring software, allowing designers to directly produce wireframes to photorealistic impressions of their design, which will update automatically throughout the design iteration process.

Best suited to bigger companies, with bigger budgets.

…Visualisation is being used as much by start-ups as it is by multinationals. In fact, it elevates both the competitive advantage and capabilities of start-ups as well as client perceptions of the value a start-up can add.

Just for rendering images.

…a digital handshake to a global audience, or dispersed stakeholders.

Where do you want to go?

Technology moves at an astounding pace. Some keep up with it, benefiting from new features as they become accessible.  Some organisations catch up with it, adopting a little later than the early enthusiasts. They evolve and modernise just in time to be viewed as innovative, and to gain a competitive advantage.

Some ignore it, viewing various new technologies as ‘trends’ or ‘fads’; offering novelty value rather than incisive business value. Depending on what the technology is, these organisations run the risk of losing out on business opportunities to the first or second wave of adopters, or both.

Symetri works with customers across AEC, manufacturing, and automotive manufacturing to guide them through the path to these many new realities made possible by Visualisation. We are able to bring observations to our customers not just from their own sector but also from other industries with parallel opportunities and similar pressures — to drive collaboration to move faster to final iterations, to completes projects more quickly, to reduce costs, and to pay close attention to the impact their operations have on our planet.

If you would like to discuss how visualisation can benefit your organisation, please do not hesitate to contact us by completing the form on this page.