If you have a baby or you are in the throws of having one, there’s a reasonably good chance you have a bugaboo baby buggy. We have a baby, and we have a bugaboo. If that small survey isn’t enough to convince you, then read on.
Bugaboo products are fantastically designed, they look great, they are easy to use and have loads of accessories. For such an innovative company, it’s no surprise they are ahead of the curve when it comes to better ways to engage customers. Babies are big business. You only discover this when you have one, and say goodbye to ever being rich (of course your life becomes richer in other ways).
Enter the Bugaboo Donkey Configurator:
The Bugaboo Donkey Configurator was created in 2010 which shows how forward thinking Bugaboo is as a company, considering 4 years later there are not many companies creating anything close to this. The configurator does not exist any more due to technical limitations which impacted it’s shelf life, but rest assured, there is a new and improved version due imminently.
To get a better understanding of the configurator, I contacted the Netherlands based company 3DIMERCE.COM who developed the wonderful solution and I spoke with Thuur Crompvoets who is the Account Manager for the company. He was kindly able to give me some insight into the project and talked me through some of the innovative projects coming up, which hopefully I can share in future posts.
This ground breaking flash based project was launched in Spring 2010 and took a team of about 5 people, 4 months to build. It was a successful online configurator that was then extended to an offline version in Harrods, then more offline versions in retail stores. These retail versions start to mimic the Audi City digital showroom concept discussed in an earlier post.
With around 1500 possible configurations, it’s a no brainier that the 3D configurator is really the best, if not the only, real practical way to visualise and customise your perfect buggy.
At the time it was built, the technology had a few limitations which meant there would be a need to re-design and build a whole new version at some point in the future. What was missing at the time, was the ability to click a “buy” button and link to a back-end system behind the scenes to place an order. In addition to this limitation was the issue of supporting flash for the longer term.
As a result, 3Dimerce and Bugaboo kept the dialogue going and after a year or so of discussions, they decided that once the technology caught up, which it did, they would take the configurator to the next level. As of writing this post, Bugaboo have just released a new and improved version (which will be the topic of a near future post).
In terms of design, this configurator was one of the first I came across. What impressed me the most about it was the photo-realism of the product, the clean, stylish yet non-intrusive environment in which it is placed and the elegant user experience it offered. From a user experience perspective, it is exactly what I hoped to find doing my research. It is a well thought out, well designed, engaging configurator that appears to be, as they say, ‘playful’ to use.
The configurator uses 3D imagery and animations that are pre-rendered as opposed to real-time rendering. This would explain why the imagery looks very real, because real-time rendering still has a few limitations which make the final photo-realism still a challenge to perfectly achieve (although we are not far off these days).
On that note, how important is a fully real-time interactive 3D product visualisation? Do we need to move around and zoom in and out of every part from every angle? Well, it really depends on the product.
From what I am discovering, there are many ‘integrated’ approached being used to visualise and customise products and whether an interactive configurator uses real photos, video, 3D stills, 3D animation or real-time 3D rendering, it doesn’t matter as long as it achieves it’s purpose. That purpose is to allow customers to visualise their own personalised product in a way that is cost-effective to the company. Many sites are starting to use combinations of the above, and the options they choose all come down to budget, team capabilities and technological awareness.
I believe real-time interactive 3D is the future and the goal to strive for. The research so far, suggests that there are still a number of challenges, complexities and costs associated with achieving this, which often means companies almost have to re-invent themselves to take advantage of the future benefits, flexibility and streamlining associated with such a change. In the meantime, the next practical step in that direction is to have a mixed media solution. Metail.com is just one other example of such a mixed media solution.
As part of this bugaboo configurator, 3DImerce have used a concept they have developed called OneShot. OneShot is their solution for dealing with 3D product models that can be re-used many times for many different purposes. One of the biggest benefits of a 3D Configurator is the re-use of 3D assets. In 3D modelling terms, it’s actually very difficult to have a multi-purpose model for all digital media, especially when it comes from CAD. Models have to be built in a specific way to allow them to be high or low resolution as needed. In general, this problem is what I call “the interactive 3D bottleneck” which I will write about in a future post. Rather than modifying CAD data, 3Dimerce have a streamlined workflow to build their own models using the CAD as reference for dimensions and detail. These OneShot models can be re-used efficiently, thus saving a significant amount of time, effort and cost.
So as you can see, the Bugaboo Donkey Configurator is a lovely solution which required a reasonable amount of time and cleverness to put together. Although it had a limited lifespan, it was a technological breakthrough that paved the way for the next generation of more sophisticated configurators.
Just a final thought. Here’s a Bugaboo Donkey instructional video. Watching it makes you consider the pros and cons of videoing the use of a product versus an interactive 3D visualisation of the same product. It seems far simpler to create a video, but can it be re-done consistently for other products in the future? You can see how this opens the door to the types of considerations needed to help customers view, use and customise products.
I look forward to reviewing Bugaboo’s latest offering in a future post. If you are in the throws of baby making, I’ll let you get back to business.
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