Friday, November 7, 2008

Virtual worlds for real world design - interview with Shenlei Winkler

IBM Global Business Services and Fashion Research Institute (FRI) partner to renovate antiquated product design methodologies.

Apart from entertainment and social mixing, right from the outset, virtual worlds have been used for product design. Most modern automobile design today is done with cutting edge VR visualization techniques. Yet when it comes to the apparel industry, much of the design work today is still done undertaken with antiquated techniques.

This is set to change however as virtual worlds come down in price and advance in capability and usability.

A recently announced deal with FRI aimed at IBM enterprise customers, allows designers to enter the virtual world, receive training on the rools and then create a design from concept through to prototype - with all steps short of actual manufacturing being done virtually.

I invited Shenlei Winkler from FRI to explain the project and its impact on the industry.

Welcome! What are the advantages for a apparel brand to go through this new virtual design methodology? Is it mainly about time or cost savings?

Apparel brands reduce costs, cut time to market, and reduce the carbon footprint of the industry. The system produces a true-to-scale model with high data fidelity, so the designer is providing the factory with a model that exactly captures what the designer had in mind. This means both the fit of the garment can be improved and that the designer can move design elements around on the model in scale. this is critical for under-served marketplace niches like plus-sized clothing can have more attractive designs developed for them.

In future iterations, we will be able to offer individuals access to our design system as well as factories who can take their vision and create it for them, rather than buying mass off-the-rack clothing.

Apparel brands generate huge amounts of data as they do business; right now it's virtually impossible for them to manage their designers in any real way. Our system actually enables these brands to more efficiently manage their design process and by extension, their designers.

Initially we thought we would be able to cut 1/3 of the design cycle time and up to 2/3 of the sample costs, but our early tests indicate we can do much better than that. I can't be more specific, but early results have been pretty stellar.

We're working on a comprehensive virtual show room capability, where purchasers can share feedback with a brand manager as well as being able to make purchases directly from the showroom. While we are aiming our product at the B2B market, at some point we'll license our solution for the consumer market.

Does this lifecycle also incorporate user feedback, and how would this be managed?

Yes. We're really focused on the design houses and manufacturers. The entire cycle is designed to capture input from all the users and do it in an extensible, searchable fashion.

Brands will manage their consumers as they currently do and whatever input that they accept from consumers will simply continue as before.

What are the steps to take finalised designs through to manufacturing and production runs?

Our final output in our system is what's called the factory-ready technical specification package, which includes all of the information that a factory requires to produce the initial physical prototype sample. Once the tech pack has been created, it gets handled by the design house and the factory in the same way they have always handled it. Our solution cuts out repetitive sample cycles, so one design, one sample, but ultimately the factory handles production runs just as it always has, but with better tech packs.

Thanks Shenlei!

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