In these same hours of 2020, the concept of phygital was the number one candidate to become the keystone for a resilient future, in which design could continue to grow despite the pandemic, with one foot in the physical world and the other in the digital world.
The furniture excellences were studying new or renewed platforms, promising to transform the purchasing experience into something hybrid, which could happen by exploring any collection comfortably from home to overcome the restrictions of the pandemic era.
Three years later, the irruption of the metaverse suddenly made the keywords imposed by the health emergency age, so much so that we can now talk about the 'metaverse of design'.
“It's something that is much more than phygital”, explains Gianmarco Biagi, CEO of Vection Technologies, a rapidly growing multinational company, based in Australia and with its core in Italy, which helps companies transform production processes by exploiting 3D data< /strong> through powerful extended reality interfaces.
“Phygital was the immediate solution for companies to get out of the impasse and invent a way of approaching the public remotely, which was a little new but also sounded reassuring.
The professional metaverse is instead that system dedicated to the entire value chain where communication and marketing are only the last phase: it is the construction of the product itself, and even before that the research and development phase, which digital helps implement a new and totally scalable model for the world of design.
With certain advantages in terms of sustainability, savings in materials and cost reduction".
Welcome to the (true) virtual reality of design, where any office or factory is digitalized and even a prototype does not need a gram of material to take shape.
How it works, in practice, this new immersive chain is further explained by Biagi: "The starting point is the virtual square generated by a simple video call, as is already done in millions. So far, however, we have used these opportunities above all to eliminate physical distances: the challenge is to make it a driver of the business.
With our 3DFrame app integrated into the Webex by Cisco platform, for example, the entire supply chain becomes digital: from the designer to the head of the technical office , anyone can bring their avatar into the virtual factory to draw or build in real time, working with colleagues connected from all over the world.
It is not simply a saving of time, but also of costs and environmental impact, because a prototype created in this way costs infinitely less and reduces the margin of error".
Finding yourself designing in a virtual room, possibly in a team and without having to create material prototypes, is an experience that Arturo Tedeschi, a lively intelligence and one of the main interpreters of computational design, has lived several times in recent years.
In full lockdown, Tedeschi participated in Volkswagen's Future Technology for Car Design workshop, creating the prototype of the Iris car in just five days in his studio in Milan, with hardware and software accessible in terms of cost and availability.
“This approach drastically reduces the time that separates the rough idea of the product from its hyper-realistic visualization,” he says, “but the revolutionary aspect of the process is that there is no longer any need to create a physical prototype, which often has very high production costs”.
Two years earlier, Tedeschi had attempted a similar undertaking: in collaboration with the Apulian startup Mindesk, specialized in virtual reality at the service of the project, he had created the Oyster armchair , which, he says, had been commissioned to him by a pianist friend, who would have tested the session remotely through a viewer, and then delivered it to his home.
“It was a totally challenging process, in which the reduction of design times and prototyping costs was the fundamental aspect of a completely new design practice.
Designing in immersive reality means no longer using pencil and paper, and therefore no longer having meeting tables made up of people who reason and exchange visions with traditional tools and approaches.
In some respects it is like returning to a primitive experience, when human beings did not draw but directly sculpted matter. 3D models disappear, prototypes disappear.
Ours was a totally virtual studio: it was enough to send a link via email to the customer to test the armchair. The same production took place by connecting our room with the factory where a robotic arm created the seat eliminating any waste of material.
It may seem, and is, a revolutionary process: in reality it is simply the declination in the world of design of that phenomenon which in the space of a few weeks made us move millions of work meetings remotely, when until a moment earlier we were flying from from one city to another without asking too many questions."
Things like Tedeschi's experiments and Vection's practice are already a reality in the world of luxury, where supercars and superyachts worth millions take shape digitally to be optioned by future buyers on the basis of very advanced virtual images that they reduce prototyping costs, which are unsustainable even for those markets made of unique pieces.
However, if we move from the world of luxury to the more accessible world of furniture, there is still a long way to go, argues Tedeschi: "The new frontiers of design clash with the technologies of displays that are not friendly,which still do not help these avant-gardes to gain a foothold in the furniture supply chain.
Perhaps because, when we talk about home, we are still looking for reassuring experiences and therefore at least partly physical.
Probably, the future will settle halfway in a mixed dimension of analogue and digital, without fully exploiting the potential that immersive technology offers the buyer".
More optimistic is Biagi, an entrepreneur and manager who combines the most advanced hi-tech in his background with the point of view of a supply chain where the human factor is central.
His long experience at Fendi Casa has led him, in fact, to develop the knowledge which, now, with the addition of immersive technologies, represents the vision brought to the Made in Italy supply chain.
“Fromthe reduction of time-to-market (the time from the conception of a product to its actual marketing) up to distribution, passing through prototyping that reduces the margin of error and waste without giving up to quality, the entire value chain of a company can be rethought with immersive technologies, as Boeing, Volkswagen and Toyota are already experimenting >”.
Since last autumn, Vection Technologies has been a partner of Tricolore Design Hub, the space in Milan born from the expertise of Ghénos Communication: together with the multinational, the agency stages the possibilities of a technology that represents a strategic hub, the ideal example of a phenomenon that not long ago we would have defined as disruptive.
“We are experiencing an epochal transition” explains Biagi, “comparable to the arrival of the web at the end of the last century, but with an absolutely revolutionary potential for use in the world of manufacturing. The metaverse of design is not the future: it is already the present."