The Coming Virtual Content Crises

A few moments ago I received an email from a former design colleague. The answer was “No”. He did not have the skillset needed to create virtual content. In fact, none of the Industrial Designers I know have the skillsets needed. They know surface modelers like Alias and Rhino; know solid CAD applications like SolidWorks and Pro/ENGINEER. But none of them have done any videogame modding or even dabbled in the relatively simple world of Second Life. They’re basically clueless.

Now some people would say “Who cares? There are others out there who can do it.” Not quite and not for much of the content. For anyone who has done 3D development work in some of the videogames out there (including mods) or has seen what’s coming in the nextgen titles, it will probably be obvious that the skillsets needed to create compelling content are going through the roof.

The traditional animators media content creators I’ve seen doing this kind of work aren’t good enough in my opinion. Their work is too imprecise. They don’t think immersively. They tend to think in terms of a Hollywood set where a building is only the front facade and the camera never shows the paperclip and rubberband backside. A controlled environment where the camera hides the details that don’t pass muster. You only see what they want to show.

The game developers seem too few in number. There’s just not enough of them and they’re rarely designers in the sense I’m speaking. They’re also mostly polypushers who’s only real skillset is modeling in a variety of applications. A valuable skillset to be sure, but ask them to sketch something real or develop a design and they’ll probably freeze like a deer in headlights. Ask them to model an object that looks real, and they’ll put the parting line in the wrong place, assuming they even put it on or know what one is. To be sure, there are some talented individuals out there who can handle all these things. Just not enough of them.

What that means is that there is very likely going to be a significant lack of creative talent serving what I expect will be a rapidly emerging and expanding market for 3D content. And I don’t need much more to reinforce my thinking than an article over on Ad Age (Link) about the very same problem… only for the old internet/new Web 2.0 stuff. Well, if ad agencies think it’s bad now, wait til things go 3D. Are they ever in for a rude surprise.

9 thoughts on “The Coming Virtual Content Crises

  1. Well, dont say you werent warned. :) there are those industrial designers in the past who warned and waiting for the postmaterial revolution to occur. Look at my “censored” writings for ID (indutrial design ) mag over a decade ago:)…

    Well, afer spending the weekend at the SLCC i have now met the prodgeny of my and their thoughts over a decade ago. They dont have “2d html websites” yet they build and code 3d virtual products and make more in a year than most “real” industrial designers working in firms.:) yep. thats who i met- and lots of them.

    the postmaterial product age is here….
    industrial designs are now invited to the party that took the livelyhood of the print designers 20 years ago with the desktop publishing revolution.. first text and photography, then video, now 3dimentional design, thye all have gotten “tools” that can create “products” without much “intent” needed by the author.

    and yes, realtime 3d is the providence of tech pixel pushers today and designers in the game industry are called programmers stillin that very samll and narrow field
    – Even with the 20 million dollar visual budgets for games, but thats all changing very quickly, and thus the game bubble collapses and 3d artist number 424 at EA is job hunting:)

    lucklily realtime 3d can be used like 2d for many types of visualiations and projects..but again designers in mass prove to be followers of technolgies and media types, not the master of them.

    and as for “design” as process and good design as intent and planning.. well….that will only occur again when “designers’ dont allow temporary skills and versionitis from running the proffession….

    i guess it was my youth that hoped designers were the creative thinkers and doers that they said they were:) First it was the mac “religion”, then the ‘maya” religion, and now confronted with realtime 3d issues, wil it be another religion of a tool from a single corporate tools interest? or finally will designers get back to design/ process/ and problem solving.- how 1930s of me:)

  2. I remember reading Gibson in the 80’s and thinking that “cyberspace” was the future of ID, just as you mention the Mac ripped through desktop publishing, graphics and all things 2D. It’s going on 20+ years since I figured it out and left aerospace behind. How is it possible that IDers don’t get it? Probably because you’re right – as a group they’re not the thought leaders they want to think they are. They’re followers. And the glass ceiling isn’t going away for followers.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this issue as well and suspected that, as an industrial designer, I am perfectly positioned to take advantage of the inevitable 3D future of the web.

    However, I’m sure your right that I don’t yet have the skill-set to take advantage of this up and coming market for design talent, but that’s partly because I haven’t taken the time to explore the tools people are using to create these virtual objects, people and creatures on the net. On the other hand I’ve become proficient enough for the demands of today’s web (or maybe last year’s web) by learning XHTML and CSS while improving my graphics skills.

    Let’s say I wanted to acquire this skill-set you’re referring to. What tools would you suggest I learn, and how should the typical ID approach to 3D generation change to best serve this new market for our skills?

    Designers, like anyone working today, must be prepared to learn, change, and keep their options open if we are to thrive professionally. Things are changing too fast to do anything else.

  4. I put less emphasis on tools than mindset. Second Life’s toolset is rudimentary. Anyone can learn it and build things (the democratization of 3D). Other simulation engines usually use polygonal models. There are many tools available – free and otherwise – for that. The issue with those is that each game/world has its own way of working with the models. That can be difficult to deal with. In addition, the highend stuff now uses normalmaps and other techniques that require both the “low-rez” polygon mesh (6,000 to 10,000 triangles) and “high-rez” meshes (millions of tri’s). The “high-rez” is really no different than an exported .stl file taken from Pro/ENGINEER. Hence: convergence.

    That said, I believe that the best thing for designers to do is get into SL and let their imagination take hold. It’s not the visual stuff that’s amazing. It’s what people DO with the tools they have. Not the 3D tools. The programming tools.

    Here’s a good example: a HUD that’s a translation device ( ). There’s no reason that kind of thing couldn’t be a real product. Imagine a deaf person traveling to a foreign land trying to communicate. A visor, speech recognition device, translation code, and an output. Here’s a prototype.

    Industrial designers need to think less like form-making craftpersons, and more like authors writing a book; populating it with not just objects, but entire systems. I just read a book from way back where the author has the protoganist arguing with the freezer in the deli. (“I wouldn’t buy that. I don’t keep anything cold anymore. The owner won’t fix me.”).

    The future isn’t individual worlds afaic. It’s one big one filled with sub-worlds which are themselves divided down, aso aso. Get the big picture first. Then worry about the tools.

  5. funny how you used the word “picture”
    i think it indicated part of the truth..industrial designs need to think more about a “narrative” and “story” for the objects and places they will design. This is already common place for those involved in brand design and even visual prodcution design for film(the better ones).
    the lone “cool” looking item of the mantra of the 1980s-2000- is not very relevant in the world of 3d as a media, not a just a tool or fashion discussion.

  6. I’d extend that to say that it’s no longer relevant in the Real world when objects aren’t just dumb collections of base material, but can be spimes or kirkyans.

  7. looks like form WILL be following Function again;) lol but this time for the marketers not the housing makers of a product or service .:)

  8. There will be no “following”. It’s all converging. Design, advertising, engineering, distribution… etc. It’s moving toward the future version of the ecoToroid. The fantasy world of Star Trek replicators. Only the transition – which could take a couple of centuries, is going to be a real shock to both our entrenched systems and our cultures.

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