This content relates to : DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION


Extended Reality (XR) encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality technologies.

These technologies can improve product design processes and generate better new product outcomes. 

Designers trained on these technologies can add immense value to their organizations. 

Ralf Schneider

Syracuse University

Technological developments have enabled digital transformation of the product design and development process. For example, computer-aided design (CAD) led to a transition from manual product designs to digital ones while web conference tools facilitated real-time, cloud-based collaboration between product designers. Against this background, the author suggests that the next paradigm shift in the design process will be powered by Extended Reality (XR). XR, which refers to digitally enhanced environments, encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality environments. Virtual reality denotes complete immersion in a digital environment, augmented reality refers to experiences where the real world is enhanced with digital objects, while mixed reality indicates a blending of the real world and virtual environments. To explore their impact on the product design process, the author interviewed thirteen professional industrial designers who had experience implementing XR technologies. 

The application of virtual reality technologies during product design is demonstrated by the Raymond Corporation which markets material-handing products such as forklifts. Designers at the company use virtual reality simulation software to evaluate potential forklift configurations, to compare future products with current ones, and to “drive”  potential future products in customizable virtual warehouse environments. The design team also takes the simulation software to tradeshows where they elicit customer feedback early in the design process. Augmented reality technologies  can also affect the product design process. Essential, a Boston-based company used augmented reality when working with Kopin to design performance eyewear for cyclists. During the design process, performance data were overlaid with  first-person point of view photos of the bike ride to evaluate alternate ways of presenting performance information to cyclists. 

The relevance of mixed reality technologies for product design is illustrated by Formation, a design consultancy firm  located in Atlanta, Georgia. Asked to redesign the interior space of an airplane, the firm recognized that constructing a full-scale model of a fuselage to test alternative product designs would be expensive and time consuming. So designers combined a physical plywood model that included seats with an overlaid virtual environment via the use of virtual reality headsets. This mixed reality setup which allowed designers to get an actual sense of the cabin space made it possible to test and refine interior cabin designs prior to committing to a full-scale design model. 

The product design possibilities offered by XR technologies suggests that designers trained on these technologies can add immense value to their organizations. Using virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed reality tools they can improve product design processes and generate better new product outcomes by reducing the cost and enhancing the speed of new product development. 


Ralf Schneider 

Associate Professor, School of Design, Syracuse University

To learn more, read: 

Schneider, Ralf (2021), “Extended Reality: The Next Frontier of Design,” The International Journal of Design Management and Professional Practice, 43-62.