VR or Not? Investigating Interface Type and User Strategies for Interactive Design Space Exploration

Nandy A, Smith J, Jennings N, Kuniavsky M, Hartmann B, and Goucher-Lambert K. 2023. Proceedings of the Design Society: 24th International Conference on Engineering Design.


Computational design tools allow the generation of vast numbers of possible designs, entrusting the human designer with describing constraints or specifications to guide exploration of the design space. Designers can have many different decision considerations when conducting this type of exploration, including form, function, users, or context. In this work, we investigate strategies that emerge when people are tasked with exploring a large design space within either a non-immersive (2D) or immersive (VR) interface and equipped with action-based interactions to set or envision specifications related to their considerations. Results from a 28 participant user study uncovers that people have varying strategies to enact their decision considerations that are not unique to the type of interface. However, the interfaces differ in perceptions of enabling breadth or depth of exploration holistically, with preference towards 2D interfaces to compare options, and VR to understand single designs. These results have implications for the user experience of systems that allow designers to explore the outputs of large design spaces, both at the interaction and interface levels.