Faster, faster: Tech has turned design upside-down

Now that all the Chinese New Year celebrations are behind us, I am ready for all the exciting things that the Year of the Dog will bring.

Well-rested and energized again, the holidays were very much needed as the weeks leading up to the big Lunar New Year break were hectic as ever. Traditionally, it’s that time of year where all of our Chinese and Hong Kong clients try to wrap up presentations, meetings and decisions before taking off to – depending on whom you ask – see their families, stay home and do nothing or get ready for a trip to Europe.

So, needless to say, everyone in our studio has been extremely busy in keeping everyone happy and ensuring that all the high expectations are met. However, one team in our studio I would like to highlight is the very talented group of people behind all of our incredibly photo-realistic renderings. The latest technologies really make us blink twice these days, whether it’s a real-life photograph or something computer-generated. This makes high-quality renderings and perspectives very attractive for our clients. It has become so easy for them to visualize the design. It truly is “what you see is what you get,” from the exact color of the walls, the materials of the door knobs to the fine details of the ceiling finishes.

A rendering of Hong Kong’s Pacific Place Residential Project, 2005
A rendering of Hong Kong’s Pacific Place Residential Project, 2005

Turning the process upside-down

Hence, it’s understandable that clients are always asking to see “the design” at the early stage of the project. Basically, they are asking for life-like renderings of photo quality. This is almost turning the whole design process upside-down, whereas the end result is already required at the very beginning of the design process.

It’s such a stark contrast from 25 years ago, when my design career was still young (and so was I) and things like CAD and 3-D perspectives were still in their baby shoes. A lot more time would be spent with the client on truly designing. Instead of renderings, I would be hand-drawing all the perspectives – almost like an artist’s impression of the space. Of course, even back then, we would still determine the overall color scheme of the interiors and present this to the client at an early stage, but it still allowed designers to really spend much more time on the fine details (shall we go for silk or woolen rugs, should the floor be horn- or flame finished, and so on) as that level of detail would develop concurrently along the design process.

Nowadays, our clients request to see every single detail of the space, visualized by renderings, almost literally from day one. This has truly turned the way we design and its process completely upside down compared to the early days.

I do applaud the technology and admittedly, I am still in awe every time I see what our 3-D designers are able to produce. It really is picture-perfect, and we can get the overall look and feel at a very early stage.

I guess that’s the whole point why this presentation technique has evolved so drastically over the past two decades. We can go faster, faster, faster in an accurate manner, and our ultimate goal is to eliminate any ‘room’ for imagination, quite literally. But the ‘evil’ is that the main design process is basically over as soon as the renderings are done and signed off on – which is very early in the design process these days – and therefore the design is very much cast in stone.

This process is in a way pushing the limits of a designer to make very decisive and accurate decisions right from the very start. Yet, I sometimes do reminiscence about the old times, when there was more rooms for imagination and anticipation.