Virtual reality (VR) is on fire right now. For good reason too.
Companies like Oculus, Google, Microsoft and Sony are investing heavily into the technology. There’s already a few platforms available and many on the horizon. It’s an exciting time for VR enthusiasts and techies.
Yes, it’s not a new idea. But the technology is just getting to the point where popular adoption is possible.
There are a lot of people bullish on VR (including me). Many that are not. But regardless of your level of optimism, VR is coming. There’s no time like now to start thinking about how to apply this technology.
If you’re a product person, you’ve started to think of how you can design for and monetize VR. Sure there’s entertainment. Gaming and storytelling are only a couple of use cases. What about education? Home improvements? Travel? The work place? There’s too many possibilities.
Virtual Reality is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life.”
This is mobile before the app store. Get ready. Will it be as big as quickly? Who knows.
But as someone that makes technology products for a living, I’m certainly interested. And you should be too.
Getting started with VR
I’ve been playing around with designing for VR for a few months now. Nothing crazy but I’m getting a feel for it.
But how do you get started? With any new technology, you have to approach it with fresh eyes. Consider VR for what it is.
- Embrace the beginners mind and don’t assume anything. That sounds really woo woo but I mean it. Don’t assume the rules of previous technologies apply (i.e., 2D interfaces).
- Do some research and see what best practices (or current theories) are out there. There’s not a ton but there’s plenty to keep you busy.
- Follow leaders in the space. Not just retail brand leaders. Get higher up the food chain and find researchers, designers, thought leaders, investors, etc.
- Get a headset or at least a cardboard. I started with this one. You don’t need an Oculus Rift to get started. Any headset will allow you to prototype and experience your work.
- Jump in and start experimenting. Everyone else is learning too. That’s the fun part.
Some tactical design tips
As I said, I’m just getting started and learning as I go. I’ve done very little 3D, game or VR/AR design in the past. But that’s not going to stop me from tinkering. Don’t let your previous experience prevent you from experimenting with new technology either.
However, I have picked up some things so far that are worth sharing.
Consider the view port
If you consider the natural abilities of your eyes, it’s both limited and expansive. Taking into account your focus area and peripherals. This is the new view port.
Yes, VR is immersive and you can design 360 degrees. But take into consideration the likelihood of the user doing so. Or at least their comfort. Designing behind the user is “below the fold” on steroids.
Not to mention, people are lazy. Google’s VR team suggests you let them be lazy.
Many researchers point to ergonomics to limit the view even further (for comfort). This puts the area for interface components between 15-50 degrees down, as show below:
Methods for establishing hierarchy
With a Z-axis, we may have to communicate priority and hierarchy of information in new ways.
We can play around with size, distance, color, etc. But don’t worry, patterns will come with time.
Don’t make people sick
I’m still navigating the physiological impact of various designs. But to get started consider the basic stuff. Small spaces won’t be good for some people. Heights as well.
Don’t flicker the screen intentionally, drop frames or make the user turn constantly. Be careful with the horizon as well. Sea sickness is a living room isn’t cool.
Audio is a critical component
I haven’t been able to play with this my self yet. But I’ve heard too many VR designers talk about audio to not share this. You have a user immersed into a new environment. Sound is a critical component of our ability to navigate new terrain. As product creators, we’ll need to consider this.
Well, that’s what I have for today.
The technology is awesome. Sure, it might be a novelty at first. An expensive novelty at that. There’s a lot of moving parts in the industry. But it’s always been the dream of science fiction.
Undeniably, it could change the world we live in.
It’s definitely an interesting and challenging medium to design for. We haven’t really seen anything like this in UX yet. Adapting to mobile was tricky but VR is going to be a much bigger challenge for us makers. But I’m having fun with it so far.