I attended the event Designing for VR hosted by Mobile UX at the Oracle offices in London on Tuesday. This was mostly out of curiosity about how we approach VR from a UX perspective and it seems (from the presentations given) that the design processes aren’t much different, but the main challenges lie in how we test and prototype VR solutions.
The event was attended by a mix of designers, developers, product managers and others interested in where VR could bring value to their organisation. The speakers, Ed Moffat and Hollie Lubbock, both gave interesting presentations around controller behaviour in the VR environment, the challenges of prototyping for VR, and the importance of learning how to apply this technology to business cases.
Ed Moffat, Design Manager at IBM, focused on designing the experience of controller behaviour in the virtual environment. His insight was interesting because he designs VR games in his spare time and understands the challenges of making these games engaging.
There are various tests Ed and his friends are conducting, when designing for VR, in order to determine what types of controller interactions make the most sense in different virtual contexts. For example, when using a VR head-set you may see hands in front of you as opposed to the controller you are holding in reality. There are times when showing a representation of the actual controller in VR is more helpful than say hands in order to help users learn how they should use their controller to achieve what they want. Learning about this split requires deep understanding of the user’s goals in different virtual contexts.
Hollie Lubbock, Interaction design lead at Fjord, described how they have approach designing for VR within her team. Given her team’s lack of insight into the challenges with using this technology, they went about attempting to create a virtual environment themselves to explore how they could apply this technology to potential problems. Although it goes against my design instincts (it’s a solution looking for a problem) I think it’s important to know the limitations of what a potential solution, like VR, are.
What was interesting was that once they knew the limitations of what they could create, they then set about exploring the types of business cases where VR could offer the best solution. What they created was a VR experience to help first-time wheelchair users anticipate the types of difficulties and obstacles (literally) they may encounter. You can view Hollie’s presentation here.
Both speakers approached designing for VR experiences slightly differently. Ed talked about ‘white boxing’ as a way of prototyping interactions for a VR game. This technique requires designers to consider and explore the types of interactions needed by simply picking up, moving and stacking white boxes around a VR space. In her presentation, Hollie described how her team built a kitchen environment out of cardboard and used a 3D camera to capture it. She described the limitations this test had on user movement and the challenges with actually capturing the environment using a camera. In terms of determining the types of interactions they would need to design for, her team would physically walk through different scenarios.
It was an interesting evening, with good insights. For me there’s a lot to consider with VR, particularly with how it will actually add value as a solution (outside of gaming) and what effects more intimate activities such as therapy can have on the human brain — for good and for bad. I’d be interested to attempt a prototype for VR myself to get a better understanding of the limitations before I’d consider suggesting it as a solution, and how best I could design an experience that works.