Gotcha! Creating Effective Visual Sales Tools

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2003-01-01 Email Print this article Print

3-D images need to be intimately tied to data about the products they represent.

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3-D images need to be intimately tied to data about the products they represent.

In office design, this means that changes to the visual representation of a layout must be instantly reflected in a product and price list. But it also means enforcing configuration rules so products in the virtual world behave like the real products. When Herman Miller's z-Axis is used to design a cubicle layout, the connectors needed to assemble that particular cubicle are automatically inserted.

Competing products from independent software vendors, such as Giza from 20-20 Technologies, traditionally have had a harder time with this because they support product catalogs from many manufacturers, where z-Axis only needs to cover Herman Miller's product line.

However, 20-20's new Office Design product incorporates an artificial intelligence rules engine from iLog, which should make it easier for manufacturers to add that intelligence.

Elaborate visuals won't always be better, particularly for Web-based systems.

Visual quality is not an attribute where more is better, says Anders Vinberg, executive VP of engineering at Viewpoint, which makes a variety of visualization software tools for the Web. "Either the image looks good enough for the need you have, or it does not. If it does look good enough, then further improving it doesn't help," Vinberg says. "If you just keep going, the budget will swell, the file size will swell, and what you come up with will end up being unable to run on the consumer's computer."

Images still have to be convincing.

The flip side of the visual-quality equation is that the images have to look good enough, Vinberg says. Some of Viewpoint's early software releases were capable of displaying a product in a 3-D representation, but potential customers didn't care. "They would say, 'But that doesn't look like my product!' And we'd say, 'Yes, but you can rotate it and so on,'" he says.

Only after the technology was revamped to support a more photo-realistic look was Viewpoint able to interest customers like Ford and Toyota, which used the technology on their Web sites to showcase interior options and other features of their vehicles. "The fact that this was successful in the automobile industry is significant because they are very picky," he says. "They would not tolerate if the chrome does not look sufficiently shiny. The glass has to be transparent, and yet you ought to see the sky reflected in it. If you can't do all that, it doesn't look like a car."

Building visual sales tools can be expensive.

Herman Miller has invested tens of millions of dollars in z-Axis, created by Computer Human Interaction of Seattle.

Meanwhile, 20-20 Technologies is offering Herman Miller's competitors office design tools that it hopes to make the standard across multiple manufacturers, a strategy that has been successful for the software vendor in the kitchen design industry. While not as expensive as Herman Miller's approach, employing these tools effectively still costs money.

"The specific product knowledge that the software is capable of embodying is really only contained in the people in the company," says Kevin Bidner, a 20-20 vice president currently working with office furniture maker Kimball International on its 20-20 Office Design implementation. 20-20 is doing most of the development of the visual models under contract to Kimball, but the manufacturer has assigned a team of developers to program the configuration rules.

Kimball will ask dealers to absorb some of the cost by buying software licenses, Bidner says. "But Kimball certainly subsidized a big portion."

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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