Using creative technology and visualisation to rethink how we design and deliver – with Jamie Telford

Creative technologies have the potential to completely reshape the way we approach the design process, from inception through to delivery, and in turn deliver better outcomes for clients and communities.

We had a kōrero with Jamie Telford, Lead Consultant – Visualisation Aurecon, about leveraging creative technology to bring projects to life, tell stories and engage at all levels, as well as some advice for organisations just embarking on their digital journey and what is next on the horizon.

At a practical level, what is creative technology and visualisation and what is its role in the professional services consulting environment?

Technology affords us new and creative ways to communicate, tell stories, understand ideas and engage with the world around us. It allows us to express our thoughts, ideas, and aspirations, in ways not previously seen or even possible prior to the 21st century. Visualisation is one example of the creative process and is one of a range of ways we can design experiences to connect with and engage our audiences.  

It’s exciting to see consultants applying creative technologies and associated methodologies in incredible ways, and especially, see these being used as an integral part of the design process (from inception to delivery), rather than simply a tool for communication and engagement.  

Used to their full potential, creative technologies allow us to engage at all levels to really understand the environments we work in and the people we design for, which helps enhance the user experience, their engagement, and ultimately their involvement in bringing projects to life.

What current technology and tools are Aurecon utilising in this space for your clients?

Aurecon leverages technology like virtual reality and augmented reality wherever possible, but every project and situation will need a bespoke approach, so we tailor the choice of technology towards the target audience and their platform of choice. For public engagement, for example, accessibility is the most important consideration, so we leverage the piece of technology people use most – their mobile phones, along with other commonly used channels, e.g., websites, imagery, videos on YouTube etc.

Do you have a project example where this has worked particularly well? How did bringing creative technology and visualisation into the project deliver a better consulting outcome?

A recent piece of work I am proud of is for O Mahurangi Penlink, a new green fields highway north of Auckland, where we applied real time technologies. This allowed users to experience the proposed design in the broader context of the environment and community, provided stakeholders and the community with greater understanding of what is happening and enabled us to better communicate the nuances of design.

Penlink flythrough - June 2022 - YouTube

How does it improve the overall stakeholder experience?

A picture is equal to a thousand words, so an interactive flythrough experience like that described above for Penlink takes this even further. These kinds of tools support greater interaction between design teams and stakeholders at meetings and community events, in turn allowing for richer feedback on proposed designs. These technologies can help give the community and stakeholders a more holistic understanding of the broader project and a more complete representation of a design.

Do you think New Zealand professional services consultants are utilising this technology enough, or is there room for improvement?

Across the board these technologies are being used more widely, not just by consultants, but also by contractors, and increasingly, clients. Certainly, there are varying levels of maturity and uptake across different organisations, but generally there is a high level of understanding of the benefits of these technologies. That said, I feel that we are not yet leveraging the full benefits of these technologies. They tend to be used primarily for communications and stakeholder engagement and sometimes design reviews, but really, they are fundamental to the future of design and delivery.

For a firm just beginning their journey in this space, where should they start? What’s a tool, process or technique they can easily use today to start them on their way?

It has never been easier for organisations to embark on their own digital journeys. With powerful solutions that have origins in the Film/TV and Games industry (for example the Unreal Engine and Unity), we now have readily accessible and relatively easy to use software we can use to create compelling experiences, to communicate and explore even the most challenging designs.

That said, it’s important to understand, that what makes these technologies powerful is not just the applications themselves, but the methodologies behind why they exist in the first place. That is, they were developed to enable rapid prototyping and many iterations of ideas to reach a conclusion that best meets their proposed requirements. So, the process is as important, if not more, than the tool you use to reach an outcome.

For anyone wanting to learn more, where should they go to build their capability in this area?

Fortunately, there is a lot of easily accessible and high-quality documentation and training in this space. LinkedIn Learning, YouTube and other channels can assist people in their early learning journey. There are also many communities that have developed around these technologies which are a great opportunity to network in adjacent industries and learn these exciting and powerful tools.

What is next on the horizon in terms of technology? What is the future of virtual reality (VR) in the built environment?

Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning is the one to watch. It has the potential to supercharge many of the technologies we use today in ways we can’t yet imagine. This and the move to more comprehensive cloud computing offerings as we transition from traditional desktop environments to fully hosted cloud environments for development is where we are going to see tectonic shifts in the way we, as humans interact with and design with technology.

I expect VR to remain as a key technology to provide users with a ‘true’ experience of a virtual environment in advance of it being built. I am not sure about its widespread adoption by the general public though, as envisioned in the ‘metaverse’ championed by Meta and others. For me it will remain one of many tools that can be considered to better understand and experience the future we want to design.

If you were to challenge the industry to do one thing differently today, what would it be?

Creative technologies have the potential to completely reshape the way we approach the design process, and in turn deliver better outcomes for clients and communities. These technologies and methodologies exist now, so I would encourage all consultants, contractors and clients who are not currently using these technologies to learn about them and reflect on how they could be adopted into their organisation. Of course, the pace of change of technology is very rapid, so the learning is never done, and all practitioners need to be continually upskilling and staying across new developments.

Collaboration is also important, so I would challenge all consultants, constructors, partners, and clients to hare learnings and collectively upskill as an industry.

Connect with Jamie Telford on LinkedIn