Virtual Tools for Innovative Product Design

Design influences a product’s lifecycle performance and cost, starting from its development. Product development costs rise significantly if a defect is identified at a later stage. Using virtual tools for new product introduction simulates possible scenarios upfront for comprehensive testing. It gets products to the market quickly and saves money for a successful launch.


  • Design influences a product’s lifecycle performance and cost, starting from its development.
  • Conceptualization and design stages determine more than 70% of a product’s lifecycle decisions and cost.
  • Virtual tools are an effective way to design new products that serve specific customer needs.
  • Virtual models of new products accelerate their evaluations to shrink the development cycle time.
  • Organizations should create virtual replicas of workplaces for human-machine interactions studies from multiple perspectives.

Lifecycle cost is the total cost (direct and indirect) a product incurs in its life span. Conceptualization and design stages determine more than 70% of a product’s lifecycle decisions and cost.1 The earlier an issue is identified, specifically in the design stage, the easier it is to fix and avoid costly rework. Virtual replicas (or digital twins) of products, processes, and environments streamline design and new product development to reduce costs and time to market.

A common assertion is between 80% and 90% of new products fail. However, realistic failure rates vary by industry, from 36% in healthcare to 45% in consumer goods.2 Professor Clayton Christensen, best known for his theory of disruptive innovation, believes the success mantra is to design products that serve its intended customers. Manufacturers should focus on the function that a customer who buys a product would want it to do.3

To enable that, virtual representations of the product under development, in orchestration with humans and other entities in the ecosystem, is an effective approach. The approach encourages innovation. Designers visualize the product’s operating condition, create digital prototypes for trial runs, and carry out tests on a global scale. Virtual tools like 3D computer models and digital twins support informed decisions in early product design stages. This mitigates the risk of a wrong product release or a poor customer experience.

→ Virtual products are an effective way to design new products that serve specific customer needs

When end users receive virtual training of a complicated product’s operation (like an aircraft engine), memory retention happens in the background. Any number of such instances can be created at a negligible marginal cost for repetitive usage. A central digital setup saves the cost of setting up multiple physical arrangements at different locations.


Product failures are more from a commercial perspective than technical. More than 25% of revenue and profits across industries come from new products, according to a study by McKinsey. Successful products relate to a set of core capabilities, with the top-most as follows:4

  • Collaboration to execute tasks as a team.
  • Investment to mine market insights and their inclusion in the product.
  • Plans for new product launches, comprising target customer segments, key messages to communicate, and objectives to achieve.
  • Talent development for new product launches with defined career paths and incentives.

At the same time, the primary reasons for product failures and mitigants are the following:5

  • Gap in meeting product expectations; delay launch until product completion.
  • Inability to support rapid growth if a product is successful; set ramp-up plans to avoid this.
  • Low demand for a new product; perform due diligence for customer requirement before planning a product. Launch products in suitable markets.
  • Difficulty in new product usage; provide proper customer orientation and training.

Virtual tools for product design address the above reasons for failure and increase the chances of successful product launches.


Design thinking is a popular, technology-agnostic approach for new systems design and problem solving. It balances the technical feasibility of products, financial viability, and desirability from a customer’s perspective (see Figure 1). It is even more impactful when implemented along with virtual product design tools.

Figure 1. Design thinking at the sweet spot of desirability, viability, and feasibility

Design thinking at the sweet spot of desirability, viability, and feasibilitySource: Infosys

The design thinking cycle starts from empathy to understand a customer’s needs from their perspective, followed by defining, ideating, prototyping, and validating, in iterative loops. New product development and customer participation encourage collaboration in a virtual environment to practice design thinking. Immersive environments using mixed reality (combinations of augmented reality or AR and virtual reality or VR) create a working environment close to the real world, to identify and correct issues much ahead (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Virtual tools used across design thinking stages

Virtual tools used across design thinking stagesSource: Infosys

→ Virtual models of new products accelerate their evaluations to shrink the development cycle time

Design firm IDEO, for example, wanted to perform ethnographic research to capture customer requirements for new products. However, it was difficult to identify key observations from many data points and recreate them later, even with expensive videos or photos. It addressed the challenge through a VR camera.6

Kaleidoscope Innovation, a design and development unit within Infosys, designed a large freezer project using virtual tools. Such projects usually undergo several time-consuming team reviews. The team created a 3D model in a VR environment that helped designers walk around the product early in the design phase, evaluate its usability from multiple perspectives, and tackle proposed changes to design.

This virtual model did not change the overall project plan, but accelerated evaluation and decisions around it, shrinking the product development cycle time. The team selected the best design without spending time and money on physical prototypes.


Mathematical models of an individual product’s performance are important and popular. However, the product should also be ergonomic for safe and productive human-machine interaction. The operations and other associated systems (such as material handling) should be easy to perform. Its ease of making is important for the manufacturer to ensure quality and cost control. The carbon footprint across the lifecycle and its end-of-life disposal should be sustainable.

For example, a hospital has large equipment such as scanners, working in orchestration with other smaller tools, and humans. Room layout is an important aspect of such an infrastructure. Any change post implementation is expensive.

Infosys has created a three-dimensional room planning VR tool. Non-technical sales team members create, change, import layouts, view them from multiple perspectives along with the human and machine elements, and finalize the layout. That final layout is exported as two-dimensional drawings for implementation. This streamlined the sales process and significantly reduced iterations and sales cycle time.


Humans work with machines in warehouses. Material handlers carry out order fulfillment along with pick-and-place robots. Workers’ safety in all situations is important.

A leading e-commerce player wanted to validate design decisions for robots working in its order fulfillment warehouses to gain insights into their safe working alongside humans. Kaleidoscope Innovation created a virtual environment where employees interacted with robots in different situations. The team created a digital twin to simulate several configurations of robots and their working environment. The company recorded the results and interviewed employees about pros and cons of each situation.

The VR-based solution provided a cost-effective and safe way for the e-commerce firm to test new concepts in human-robot interaction and capture data and feedback before implementation. It helped the managers zoom out and look at the big picture, in contrast to one robot or equipment at a time.


Operators need training to work on machines with complex functionality and procedures, to stay safe and productive. VR-based training prepares humans before hands-on operation on a machine. For instance, Rolls-Royce has rolled out a VR-based training kit for its airline customers to manage aircraft engine maintenance and repair.

Infosys’s VR-based program provides step-by-step instructions to train employees in a hospital environment. The program uses physical gestures to simulate actual tasks involved in a job. Gamification with scores and points keeps employees engaged and motivated. Scores reflect an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Training data is integrated with the central learning management system for records.

A multinational industrial and consumer goods manufacturer wanted to create an e-training platform for its new operators. It had a few integrated assembly lines for its finished items. The Kaleidoscope Innovation team created a virtual training module along the assembly line, one workstation at a time. The team used front-end user interface elements to guide users for equipment operations. It tracked performance metrics in the backend to provide feedback for correction. Best practices of creating a virtual replica of one workstation are used at later stations.


While collaborative, remote and hybrid working has surged since the pandemic, the future is in three-dimensional virtual and mixed reality workspaces. Organizations benefit from a virtual 3D replica of its workspaces, equipment, products, avatars, or personas. Employee collaborations lead to faster new product development with effective interactions. Teams share ideas, explore, and invent new concepts. Early collaboration of team members in multiple locations enables them to make more informed decisions in the product development process.

→ Organizations should create virtual replicas of workplaces for human-machine interactions studies from multiple perspectives

The future of work in healthcare, retail, engineering, and manufacturing is where humans and human-like machines work together. Organizations should proactively create such workspaces virtually and study human-machine interaction from safety, productivity, and employee morale perspectives before any physical implementation.

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  1. Product life cycle cost analysis: State of the art review, Y. Asiedu &P. Gu, 2010, International Journal of Production Research.
  2. Myths About New Product Failure Rates, George Castellion, Stephen K. Markham, 2013, published in the Journal of Product Innovation & Management 30 pp. 976-979.
  3. What Customers Want from Your Products, Clayton M. Christensen, Scott Cook and Taddy Hall, January 16, 2006, Harvard Business School.
  4. How to make sure your next product or service launch drives growth, Alessandro Buffoni, Alice de Angelis, Volker Grüntges, and Alex Krieg, October 13, 2017, McKinsey.
  5. Why Most Product Launches Fail, Joan Schneider and Julie Hall, April 2011, Harvard Business Review.
  6. IDEO: Getting closer to the customer through virtual reality, Lauren, April 27, 2017, Harvard Business School.


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  • Karl Vanderbeek

    Karl Vanderbeek

    VP of Design & Human Factors

    Karl is passionate about creating worthwhile and valuable product design with an amazing team, focused on building beautiful and intuitive experiences prioritizing the user’s needs and expectations. His team brings these visions to reality by collaborating closely with Kaleidoscope’s Insights, Human Factors and Engineering teams. Karl’s Industrial Design background includes working with brands across a wide variety of industries, ranging from healthcare and medical, to consumer and housewares, to industrial products and toys. He has earned more than 40 design and utility patents over the past 20+ years.

  • Ramachandran S

    Ramachandran S

    Principal Consultant at Infosys

Designer Centered Design: Using VR for User Research and Testing

What do you do when you are in the early concept development of the design process and want to get user feedback to inform future development? Maybe you would 3d print or hand prototype your design. Putting an early mockup of your design in the hands of the user for them to assess is an important part of any user centered design process. But what if your design concept involves autonomy, a UI or a complex series of physical interactions with the user? Without additional functionality, a physical low fidelity mockup in this context loses its effectiveness in garnering insight.

“Product design” as a whole has shifted. Increasingly, the objects that we design and use in our daily lives have a component of digital interaction and/or are part of a larger virtual ecosystem. These challenges of gaining early insights from low fidelity mockups is epitomized when designing something like an autonomous robot. This design process sometimes involves years of hardware and software development for even basic functionality. So how can designers run ahead of this development to put a concept in front of users early enough to inform how such a complex product should be designed to work in these interactions to instill trust, engagement, and even enjoyment?

Let’s say that we are designing a new autonomous robot to deliver room service orders to guests at a hotel. The first issue to address is how people react to an autonomous device sharing their space. How close is too close? Is there a violation of a social contract by placing this robot in what was otherwise a dedicated space for people? How do they expect the robot to behave? Most importantly, how do you begin to probe those expectations of the customer when hardware and software development are not mature enough to represent the final design concept? You cannot put an engineering prototype in close proximity with the user without creating a potential safety risk. If you were to make a remote-controlled mockup of the robot, how can you truly test user comfort with autonomy when the test subject knows that there is a human in control? And how do those reactions to autonomy change with multiple robots? This is where VR stands out as a remarkably effective tool for gaining insight.

Utilizing VR in complex product interactions allows designers to not only save on the resource cost of hardware prototyping and manufacturing, but also allows them to iterate much more rapidly and push boundaries of comfort with users without ever putting the user at risk. By conducting user testing in VR, not only can you present a complex and interactive product experience in front of the user, but you can also transport them to specific environments and scenarios with the push of a button. This enables the development of not only a guiding model for the design, but also a guiding model for software development as VR interactions can inform what does and does not work in interactions between humans and autonomous systems. However, VR still has its shortcomings and is not the definitive means of user testing in product development.

Virtual reality for user testing and concept evaluation is simply another tool in our toolbox as designers and design researchers. While it offers new capabilities for testing and evaluation, there is a major tradeoff between a VR mockup and a physical one… namely the nature of “virtual” reality itself. There is no physical feedback, and while there is a strong sense of depth perception, it is not the same as an actual physical interaction. While augmented reality may better incorporate both the physical and virtual, the virtual assets can stand out as even more artificial than a full virtual immersive experience because of the difference in fidelity of virtual vs real world objects. Does this eliminate the need for physical prototyping and low fidelity physical mockups? No. But VR enables designers and developers to test more complex products earlier in the design process with users where alternative approaches are less feasible due to complexity and cost.

While the role of a designer can be reductively described as “stylist” I think the true value we bring to a team are as story tellers both outwardly to the customer/target user and internally. VR enables us to share virtual models without “CAD scale blindness” and to collaborate more seamlessly even while remote. Having a VR headset brings even remote collaborators together and immerses them in a 3d virtual experience. Meaning there is less misunderstanding and room for interpretation than just a concept sketch, 2d render, or even a 3d CAD model on a screen.

As this technology continues to mature and becomes more accessible, I see the use of VR as an increasingly valuable tool for designers. Where paper and markers gave way to Cintiqs and iPads, I could see CAD modeling and user testing making room for VR modeling, collaboration, and design evaluation. We are entering a new frontier for design and media with VR that will undoubtedly influence how we live and work. Pick up a headset and explore the possibilities for yourself. There is plenty of undiscovered opportunity and impact to be harnessed with this new technology!

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  • Nikko Van Stolk

    Nikko Van Stolk

    Lead Industrial Designer

    Interested in evolving processes with new capabilities and new technology. A proven track record of experience working with surgical and industrial robotics. A strong storyteller and team leader that takes the initiative constantly seeking to exceed client expectations. A good people person and collaborator able to wade into the thickest CAD assemblies with large engineering teams, deep experience working with human factors in developing and executing human factors research, and facilitating and engaging in creative problem solving and brainstorms with fellow designers. A full designers toolkit of sketching, rendering, CAD modeling/surfacing, and DFM.