Designing for a New Reality: Preparing Your Spatial Design Portfolio
As Apple announces its new spatial computing product category, an important question arises for the Product Design community: What does it mean to design products for this new reality?
How important is it to incorporate spatial design into your portfolio and experience?
Recently, we sat down to dive deep into spatial design and its emergency in technology with Julian Park, co-founder and CEO of Bezel, a collaborative spatial design tool.
AR/VR: A growing opportunity for designers
This summer, Apple announced the Vision Pro. It’s a significant moment in the evolution of computing overall. With spatial computing, designers are unleashed beyond the rectangular small screen we look at, designing for the world around us.
At the moment, AR/VR tends to be viewed as a cool idea … but somewhat impractical for everyday use.
There are a few reasons for that. First and foremost, as Julian Park notes, “It’s going to take a lot of killer apps to get people to put a device on their heads.”
But there are a few challenges that need to be addressed when moving a digital world from 2D to 3D.
Practical challenges of designing for spatial environments
Before Bezel, Julian worked at Oculus as an engineer. During his time there, he worked with designers who used tools like Figma to show what the layouts of AR/VR panels would look like.
“It was an interesting experience, and one that would take weeks to move from design to implementation,” shares Julian.
This was because the tools that designers used — like Figma — were in 2D. In order to “design” in 3D, you’d have to work closely with a developer, who would put together a 3D environment for your 2D design using a tool like Xcode (for Apple).
“For spatial design, we didn’t have a decent collaborative tool,” Julian notes.
The multi-week process inspired Julian to search for a better method … and he ended up leaving Oculus to build Bezel.
“A lot of apps are still in 2D, reminds me of that awkward phase when the iPhone first came out, and the apps were pixelated or were just a small screen in the center,” Julian laughs. “We’re experiencing a similar transition with the apps that we design for the spatial computer. A lot of the apps are ported over from iOS, but there are new design challenges.”
And, for a designer: “There are new design challenges that need to be solved, making this one of the best possible times to get into a space like this, to build your career.”
What industries are currently investing in AR/VR technology?
Julian: “In the next 1–3 years, I think a lot of it will initially be focused around entertainment. So you’ll probably see a lot of experiences in the apps oriented towards media consumption. Or gaming, which will also be a huge portion of what gets people to try out spatial computers.”
However, while spatial design is new and exciting now, asking what industries will use AR/VR is, according to Julian, analogous to asking what industries would use mobile devices two decades ago.
At the moment, the potentials for spatial design are fairly endless.
Let’s take Airbnb as an example … Currently, their product is interfaced through a website or mobile app, which provide a somewhat similar experience.
With spatial design, the opportunities open up: what if Airbnb had an app that allowed people to explore these spaces-to walk around each room-before committing to a rental?
Some of the current user base for Bezel include the following industries:
- Many designers at Meta are using Bezel to design for the next OS.
- Automobile companies, who want to put together spaces of how their vehicles would look.
- Gaming studios that use Bezel as a 3D whiteboard of sorts to collaborate and design how that 3D space might look before committing to a particular level with Unity or Unreal
- Architectural or interior designers who are looking for a collaborative space to work in when concepting
What design jobs are available in AR/VR?
Julian: “The short answer is yes, there are designer jobs in AR/VR. A lot of them currently would fall under either big Tech, where a bunch of tech companies are building AR/VR experiences on hardware, or on the gaming side.”
How fast the field opens up depends largely on the talent currently working on spatial designs. There’s a need for innovative, talented designers who can design the immersive experiences that are needed to encourage more widespread adoption.
What should go into an AR/VR design portfolio?
With tools like Bezel, there’s nothing stopping you from tailoring a 3D experience for the user, and you can embed a project from Bezel (or Unity, another 3D design tool) into your portfolio site.
However, the industry is still pretty new, which means that a lot of the standards for what makes a great AR/VR designer just aren’t there yet.
Jessica Campell, program manager for Career Services at Designlab, shares, “From a recruiting perspective, I’d recommend using the same principles that you’d use in your other portfolio projects: why did you make the choices you made, can you show me what you started with and where you ended up? If you’re a UI designer [for example], I’m going to want to see more highlights of the color choices and the designs and starting from sketches to final iterations. But if you’re focusing on research, I want to see an understanding of what the problem was and why you came up with the solution. Really focus on helping a reviewer see that this isn’t just cool, but why and how did you get here.”
Julian agrees: “Plus one on the importance of process. It’s rarely a good decision to do something because it’s cool. It’s like: well, here’s the problem statement and here are the alternatives of options I explored about how we could do this, and this is why this option is the best.”
What tools should you learn to break into AR/VR as a designer?
The most common one that tends to be listed is Unity, although there are others that might be included, depending on the company and its history with (or understanding of) spatial design.
However, it’s worth knowing that you don’t have to learn how to build something in Unity (which has a somewhat steep learning curve) just to design in AR/VR, which is where the need for tools like Bezel come into play.
Bezel is “inspired by 2D design tools like Figma and Canva,” and focuses on helping designers to get into spatial design quickly-and incorporate the work in a portfolio. It allows the entire design team to hone in on this interactive, spatial design space.
How can designers start learning to use a spatial design tool like Bezel?
Daniel Marqusee has a great YouTube channel to check out for spatial design tutorials and tips.
If you’re specifically interested in connecting with the resources that Bezel has to offer, you can connect with them here:
Watch the full conversation, complete with a hands-on tutorial for designing in 3D:
Learn more about Julian Park
Julian Park is the co-founder and CEO at Bezel, a collaborative spatial design tool. Built on the web, Bezel enables design teams to easily turn concepts into 3D designs and interactive prototypes. Prior to Bezel, he was an engineering leader at Oculus heading key projects across VR multitasking and UI frameworks, where he converted the org to use Figma and got the idea for a similarly seamless design tool for 3D. He lives in San Francisco and loves to bike around the city with his wife.