mass tailoring the housing block apartments in internet
Our goal is to deliver the best way to buy (and sell) new (non-built) mass customizable housing apartments by providing online mass tailoring tools for new home buyers.
We have taken the customer´s point of view in to consideration, and our approach is opposite to the technology-oriented thinking. And thus, to be successful, we have been so far forced to abandon all web-based 3D technologies in favor of a Flash-based client 1).
The first customer case in 2003 was also the construction company NCC´s first dedicated Internet page for a housing project. That turned out to be NCC´s best sold project of that year. For the first time they were able to answer 24/7 to the question: “How would my final choices look in reality?”
1 At the moment of writing this we already know that Flash will get a big improvement in 3D soon.
3D Render Ltd
Serving the architectural and construction businesses since 1997 by providing 3D images, animations and virtual models into core moments of design, decision making and marketing, 3D Render Ltd is one of the oldest digital content creators of the industry.
Good knowledge and skills in digital content production for construction industry was the starting point for this development. The initial spark came from customers and it finally became a real internal project in 2007.
2003, NCC – sudden success
The configurator operation was started at Render´s Christmas party in 2002 from a conversation at the courtyard of the office. The atmosphere at the location was not very formal. Nobody seemed to be interested in nothing but getting to the party mood on a dark Friday night in the centre of Helsinki. One of the guests, a young project manager was impressed by the visualization images which were used as the screensavers of the office displays. The monitors had images of all kinds of projects, also of apartment construction. He had already thought how a construction company could boost up its apartment sales with the help of the Internet. He had thought that important apartment projects should have their own webpages. Now he also knew what would be presented on the webpages.
The discussion on the courtyard went on, and an idea came up of a dedicated site where you could rotate the views of your future home and its material choices easily and visually. He knew that this could be done with Flash. There was a brainstorm about the idea. They promised they would get back to it as soon as possible. It was time to get back to the party.
Soon they started with the project. Render modelled and visualized series of images of which simple room specific configurators were compiled to the webpage, where you could change a limited number of choices i.e. floor materials. The implementation was narrow compared to the present versions, but at least it was carefully made, clear and well-functioning. Probably it was one of the first ones of its kind. At least it was the first apartment specific site of NCC and it lead to a huge demand. Terrace apartments at the top floor of the house were soon wanted by so many people that NCC decided – exceptionally -to auction the apartments. The target was the best of the year for NCC regarding sales.
2005, NCC – manual configurator
In the further developed vision, NCC wanted to increase the selection of configured details and their options. The style and quality definitions of an apartment were productized to be sold more easily, from an individual apartment to an individual feature.
NCC introduced familiar things from the car sales world to the buyers: various ready-made interior decoration style collections. It was easy to choose the interior materials for your own home from ready-made entities with matching titles. Render produced (still manually) series of images, where different rooms were visualized with different entities. The apartment sales used card series printed of the images in its sales work.
Printed visualization play cards
2006, SKANSKA – planning the future
Around this time there was a wider interest by the construction companies to represent the series of image in a more interactive manner. The study made for Skanska concerned itself with the available optional implementation methods regarding two critical views: the apartment buyer vs. life cycle cost. The evaluations ended up in focusing the quality of the customer experience. The first problem with the web applications – the installation of plugins and other possible programs – and the possible inoperability dropped the 3D-engine based online-solutions off the list. At the end, there were only the native HTML-implementation or Flash-based site left. Flash was experienced to be common enough back then when even large companies had adapted it to their webpage technology.
The second research outlined the main phases of a more robust platform implementation. The development of the actual system has progressed since only according to this idea.
2007, YIT – prototype
Demand for an advertisement with a better quality and with more visual material had made a break through. Realtors advertising in newspapers and magazines were full of fancy renderings. Something that we had started ten years earlier as a luxury option for a major architectural competition had become a commodity – a striking visual impact.
YIT, as the biggest domestic constructor, felt the pressure and decided to find out how they could take the next step in quality and technology.
Already the first prototype was larger than any previous implementation. We felt that it was the time to start to push for this business. Render had recently decided to start transforming into software business, so it was natural to seek larger customers to give the ignition for a strategic change. A TEKES2 project was applied to cover a part of the development costs.
3D Render Ltd delivered the Internet configurator for YIT´s As Oy Juontaja in summer 2007.
The rapidly created initial technology showed its power already in the very first trials. It was both fun and easy to move on and accomplish the relatively tight scheduled project. YIT had chosen to pilot the solution at a single site in Helsinki region.
2008 – Developing ideas
The planning of the new system went on. Several ideas for near and long term solutions were studied before the implementation.
The product development demo in 2008. Details to be configured: e.g. colour, hoops, doors open/closed, view angles, scenery, interior, and model.
It was still necessary trying to understand where the solution stands, who are the users, why they use it, what is its meaning and what is its role? As one of the major turn downs, we dropped off early stage design ideas per configurations in construction business for three reasons:
- Short time window
New home buyers move fast. They make their decisions and move in typically within 6 months. There is not enough time to participate in 1-2 years of planning process. Too many participants would face critical changes in their lives and they would discard the case. Example cases are job relocating or changes in the family sizes.
- Pragmatic core business
Construction logistics and profitability currently favor the existing less dynamic model. Quick, massive changes are not expected.
- Durable goods
New home buyers are seldom professional designers. Pre-designed setups by professionals are more attractive and cheaper to implement than fully-tailored apartments. Good architecture and professional design leads to higher quality production in general, which means higher total values for the apartment markets compared to the irrational “over-tailored goods” that make the resell more challenging.
The core idea of the system was to deliver an excellent spatial experience including tailoring options. It is naturally our challenge to convince someone to invest on a non-existing product!
We narrowed the technology down to Flash for the client side, because of the high penetration in browsers. Therefore, we had to develop a system that covered up the technical compromise. If we had chosen a true 3D engine for the client side, it would have been easier to use the back end side. But the end users in this market are very heterogenic and not specifically IT-orientated, so it would have been a pre-decided failure.
Also, considering the fluent browsing of the space, we think that pre-chosen quality views are better than free navigation where you can end up staring at a corner.
Instead of bringing a full 3D model to the browser, we provided a set of pre-defined views to the browser. The benefits are: fast start-up as the images are loaded on-demand along the experience. Higher quality, as we can render each view by advanced off-line renderers that produce the highest visual quality as they can spend freely defined time per image, compared to online engines which have to be able to calculate a suitable number of frames per second (10-30 per second) to maintain a pleasantly smooth moving along the scenes.
Statement: spatial set of high quality images “touches deeper” the users´ minds than poorer quality but free moving around in space. This has probably a lot to do with the perfect illumination and material simulation of images.
Out of the three core functions – navigation, configuration and communication – we chose the first two to our current implementation.
Moving between the static views of the apartment
In addition to the core functions, several other optional features were considered, but they were left for future development at this point. The most interesting ones of them are the ones that enable bi-directional communication between the potential buyer and seller through the interface inside the virtual apartments.
2009 YIT – Stylemachine
The YIT Stylemachine that was launched in autumn 2009 has reached that technical-artistic level which was set as an objective a long time ago before starting the project: we do not want to produce weaker quality than what the off-line renders produce, and yet we want to be able to produce even millions of view combinations — almost in real time!
YIT introduced a new dimension to its online apartment sales: the self-service enthusiasm of apartment buyers! Although we concentrated primarily on electrifying a limited part of the apartment sales engineers material- and change option process online, it was clear along the visualization that the application will create also some other added value. Out of the two critical parameters, the other received also a good grade: the buyers had found the application and they could use it independently in the configuration of their apartments.
Important end users´ views in single words:
- Easy – simple controls, the user is not supposed to lose one´s way here
- Fast – the server takes the burden, traffic to the client is minimised
- Reliable – Flash is well spread, no other plugins or installations are needed
- Multiplatform – Windows, also Mac and Linux are supported via Flash
- Stunning – High quality images, bad quality is not allowed