Something Spatial

June 15, 202312 Minutes

Since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by space and its aesthetic appeal. As a child, I would evaluate places I visited, pondering whether I liked them or not. I would constantly decorate my room, adding new items, creating themes, and hanging posters. Sharing a small room with my brother made efficient use of space essential. It had to look cool, but functionality was equally important, considering the numerous belongings we had in that tiny area. Everything, from furniture to wall decor, bedding to how we interacted with the space, was part of the whole.

Becoming an interior designer seemed like the natural path for me, despite initially studying Business & Economics. However, once I began my program, I realized that interior design alone was somewhat limited. Space was influenced by numerous elements beyond layout and FF&E selection. Surface design and environmental graphics played crucial roles as well.

If you’ve read my first article, “How AI is Reshaping the Design Field”, you’ll know that even before completing my Interior Design Diploma in 2000, I started delving into web and graphic design. While computer games existed earlier (which involved 2D and 3D virtual spaces), it didn’t have a true interaction with the real world. The internet emerged as a new portal by connecting people together, a digital space in need of shaping. Interestingly, that year, while taking a 3D Max course, my teacher, aware of my keen interest in new technology, introduced me to VR. He said, “You have to take a look at VR; it’s the next big thing.” That was 23 years ago, and while VR didn’t take off, I continued my journey in digital and web design, a path I haven’t strayed from. During this time, we have experimented and created what we now know as the internet space — a digital 2D version of traditional print media, but with interactivity and connectivity.

When discussing space, we typically refer to physical environments. We’ve also encountered and experienced digital space through screens and technologies like VR, AR.

If you’re not an astrophysicist, have you ever wondered what space truly is?

At its core, space refers to the extent and dimensions in which objects and events exist. While we often associate space with three dimensions — length, width, and height — there are instances where it can be represented and understood in a two-dimensional context. Thus, space can exist in both 2D and 3D forms.

In a 2D space, objects and events are defined by their position and relationships within a flat plane. Surfaces such as canvases or sheets of paper serve as platforms for representing drawings, designs, or plans. Graphic design, for instance, employs 2D space to arrange elements on posters or design webpage layouts. It’s worth noting that even in 2D representations like drawings or paintings, techniques like shading, perspective, and foreshortening create an illusion of depth, conveying a sense of three-dimensional space.

In contrast, 3D space incorporates depth, enabling a more immersive and realistic representation of the physical world. It accurately reflects how objects exist and interact, accounting for height, width, and depth. Spatial concepts are essential in 3D design and architecture, enabling the creation of realistic renderings, architectural models, and virtual environments. Interestingly, to create 3D, we rely on 2D space to define layouts, composition, and more. Interiors and graphics go hand in hand without us even realizing it.

In a broader sense, space serves as the backdrop for our experiences and perceptions, acting as a container for everything that exists. It facilitates movement, interaction, and the presence of various elements within its boundaries. Whether it’s the space within a room, the gaps between objects, a vast landscape, or a blank canvas, understanding space is crucial for comprehending the relationships, arrangements, and dynamics of the world around us.

Spatial design encompasses the practice of creating and shaping environments, focusing on the arrangement and organization of physical spaces. It involves strategic planning, layout design, and the consideration of interior and exterior spaces to optimize functionality, aesthetics, and user experience. Spatial design factors in spatial flow, ergonomics, lighting, materials, colors, and textures to craft harmonious and engaging environments. This multidisciplinary field spans areas such as architecture, interior design, and urban planning, among others. The goal of spatial design is to create spaces that are visually appealing, functional, efficient, and conducive to desired activities or experiences.

Although Spatial Design is a relatively new discipline, it surprisingly overlooks the digital realm. As we’ve seen, the definition of space extends beyond physical spaces and tangible objects. Technologies like VR and AR enable the seamless merging of physical and digital worlds.

vr headset
“The Sensorama was a machine that is one of the earliest known examples of immersive, multi-sensory technology. Introduced in 1962 by Morton Heilig, is considered one of the earliest virtual reality (VR) systems.” Wikipedia

Let’s delve into the realm of digital space.

VR and AR have been around for some time now, and most of us have a basic understanding and have experienced them in various ways. Virtual Reality design focuses on creating fully immersive digital environments that users can explore and interact with. VR designers utilize spatial design principles, 3D modelling, texturing, lighting, and others to construct realistic virtual worlds.

Augmented Reality (AR) design involves overlaying digital information or virtual objects onto the real world through a screen, usually a smartphone. AR designers seamlessly integrate virtual content into the user’s physical environment, enhancing their perception and interaction with reality. AR design finds applications in fields such as education, marketing, industrial training, interior design, and navigation systems.

But what happens when we combine VR and AR? This is where Mixed Reality (MR) design comes into play. Mixed Reality combines elements of both virtual and augmented reality, enabling users to interact with digital objects while maintaining a sense of presence in the real world. This blend of realities is currently where the battleground lies — not in the Metaverse. Meta’s new headsets, Quest Pro and Apple’s Vision Pro, take the game to a whole new level. These headsets enable users to interact with virtual objects in their physical surroundings. MR design finds applications in interactive storytelling, immersive art installations, collaborative design, industrial simulations, and many others.

Extended Reality (XR) encompasses the creation of immersive experiences in Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR). XR design combines elements of traditional design disciplines with interactive technologies to craft engaging and transformative experiences for users. XR design involves careful consideration of spatial layout, interaction design, visual aesthetics, and audio elements to create compelling and realistic virtual experiences. It also intersects with other design disciplines such as user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design. XR designers focus on creating intuitive and user-friendly interfaces, smooth navigation, and meaningful interactions within virtual or augmented environments. They consider factors such as user comfort, ergonomics, accessibility, and feedback mechanisms to ensure a seamless and engaging XR experience.

Considering this new paradigm, how do we define Spatial Design?

Spatial design can be defined as a multidisciplinary field that focuses on the organization and arrangement of spaces to create meaningful and functional experiences for individuals across physical, digital, and mixed reality environments. Spatial designers consider the interactions between people, objects, and the surrounding environment to optimize the functionality, aesthetics, and user experience of a given space.

With the advent of XR technology, AI, real-time projections, motion trackers, and more, physical spaces must adapt to integrate virtual objects, UI displays, and other digital elements. Likewise, current UI designs must adapt to physical spaces. Regardless of the environment, whether physical or digital, designers must aim to create environments that are functional, visually appealing, and optimized for human experience. By considering factors such as layout, aesthetics, usability, and the integration of technology, they play a critical role in shaping the way we interact with and experience our surrounding environments, both in the physical world and the digital realm.

Spatial design now requires a focus on spatial mapping, interaction design, and seamless integration of virtual and physical elements to create cohesive and immersive mixed reality experiences. This can be seen in applications such as architectural visualizations, interactive art installations, virtual training simulations, as well as educational, retail, and gaming experiences.

This is all Something Spatial.

With the advancements in XR technology and AI, designers can now visualize and test design concepts more effectively, simulate user experiences, and create immersive and interactive environments that were previously unimaginable. This new realm of physical and digital blend, experienced through immersive presence rather than a mere phone screen, opens new doors for interior and graphic designers. A new type of designer is needed — one that understands space, volume, composition, UI, UX — Spatial graphic designer. It’s a path that aligns perfectly with my profile, and it seems my career has been leading me toward it.

For a while now, I’ve had the idea of creating a platform where we can discuss and learn about innovation in spatial environments, spanning from physical to digital or mixed reality. Ranging different fields from interior design, environmental graphics to interaction design or user experience, showcasing top-notch projects. Welcome then to Something Spatial.


Gerard Puxhe

London based Spanish British multi-disciplinary designer.