ITcon Vol. 26, pg. 286-302,

Virtual reality as a tool to investigate and predict occupant behaviour in the real world: the example of wayfinding

submitted:August 2020
revised:February 2021
published:June 2021
editor(s):Obonyo E
authors:Dr. Ian J. Ewart
School of the Built Environment, University of Reading, UK.

Harry Johnson
School of the Built Environment, University of Reading
summary:The use of virtual reality (VR) is expanding within the AEC sectors, commonly in design and pre-construction decision-making, including as a tool to test and predict the behaviours of building occupants. The implicit assumption is the experience of an immersive Virtual Reality Environment is representative of the Real Environment, and understanding this prior to construction reduces the likelihood and significance of design errors. However, there are very few studies that have validated this basic assumption, and even fewer that have made a direct comparison between Virtual and Real building use. One behaviour that influences design is wayfinding, and the acknowledged effect of familiarity with the layout of a building, which is the subject of this study. We produced an accurate immersive VR model of part of an existing University building and asked participating students to complete a wayfinding task in both the Real and VR buildings. The results show a quantitative improvement in the route and time taken to complete the task, but highlight differences in behaviours in each environment, including subtleties of head movement, a tendency to experiment and seek amusement, and a range of responses to the technology from enjoyment to suspicion. Further research is required to explore in more detail the effect of VR technologies on participants’ behaviour, and the limitations and potentials of VR as a decision-making tool beyond the example of wayfinding that we use. In conclusion, we need to adopt a cautious approach when designing by VR and recognise that the results of experiments such as ours should complement design decisions, rather than act as their sole justification.
keywords:wayfinding, virtual reality, post occupancy evaluation, behaviour analysis
full text: (PDF file, 0.844 MB)
citation:Ewart I J, Johnson H (2021). Virtual reality as a tool to investigate and predict occupant behaviour in the real world: the example of wayfinding, ITcon Vol. 26, pg. 286-302,