The Emergence of a New Medium – VR and its UX considerations

A very Happy New Year from everyone here at Objective Experience! Hope you guys had a wonderful 2015, and continue to stay awesome. Let’s share the joy and love to everyone by making the world a better place every day and aim towards an even better 2016!

In 2015 we have seen some interesting new trends happening in the technology and UX scene. Notably, we see the emergence of a familiar medium that we are so used to see in science fiction movies – Virtual Reality (VR). Although VR has been around for quite some time now, it was a niche technology that were mostly used as a research tool, as it has been far too expensive and bulky to enter the mainstream market.

In the consumer market arena, Samsung has already announced their new Samsung Gear VR and its corresponding lineup of games and apps, however many are still unaware that VR indeed exists because they have not been educated on it. VR is predicted to be pushed into widespread adoption via the gaming industry, with Sony spearheading the charge. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus last year could also probably mark the start of an era where VR could replace many of our real-world interactions.  VR could very well be the next computing platform, akin to how smartphones is starting to replace our desktop/laptop computers, as well as change how we live our lives over the last decade.

With the possibility that VR will become the next computing platform that will become increasingly prevalent and integrated into our lives, it seems that the UX community needs to get acquainted with this new medium, because it is our job and passion to make interactive experiences pleasurable. 2016 is poised to be an exciting year for VR, and UX designers can expect to have projects working on the VR medium.

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Source: Back To The Future Part 2 (1989)

As the medium is still relatively new, it could be still quite difficult to find good resources on the internet, but fret not, Github user omgmog (Max Glenister) has compiled a really comprehensive list of resources (to date) on UI/UX design considerations for VR. Below is the 3 fundamental UX considerations that is important for a pleasurable VR experience:

1. Immersion / Presence – Perhaps the most important concept that is associated with the UX of VR is “immersion” (or “presence”), so much so that design on the VR platform has been coined “immersive design”. Basically, “immersion” is the extent on how the virtual environment faithfully reproduces experiences in which users believe that the virtual environment is physically real. There are many factors that can “break” immersion, for example, if interaction with a virtual object does not result in any effects, it violates our mental model for object interaction and hence breaking immersion. Unrealistic positional sound effects and model details would also make the object interaction seem less realistic.

 

2. Spatial Disorientation / Virtual Reality Sickness – Research has shown that virtual reality sickness is a major barrier to using VR. The cause behind Virtual Reality Sickness is still not fully known yet, but sensory conflict during movement seems to be the primary cause. In natural navigation, we use a few of our senses in tandem to makes sense of the environment, especially the eyes and the ears. However in VR, this job become primarily subserved by your eyes. The mismatch from the information going into your eyes and the other of your senses creates discomfort and symptoms that are similar to motion sickness. However, the solution to this apparently inherent problem to the VR platform can be as simple as adding virtual noise or twerking virtual reality motion parameters.

 

3. Comfort – Although comfort mainly depends on the hardware design, the design of the software applications contribute to comfort as well. For example, physical movements should be consistent with human ergonomics. If a particular action forces an unnatural twist to the body (e.g., overturning your head while sitting still), it is uncomfortable and can be potentially dangerous. Illegible text (which is pretty common in VR) and overly bright scenes will also impose additional stress on the eyes, causing eye fatigue.

Other than putting the focus on assessing the UX for VR applications, VR can also be a useful tool for general UX research. As mentioned above, VR technology started out mainly as a research tool, thanks to fact that it can handle research that requires ecological validity in a controlled environment. Before VR existed, many research are conducted in a lab-based setting which cannot really be generalized to the “real-world”. With VR, you can attain both criteria by constructing an artificial environment resembling the real-world within a controlled environment. With this in mind, undoubtedly VR can also be useful for UX and market research, specifically in assessing user experience in an unbiased, controlled setting.

VR can also be combined with eye tracking technology to provide more ecological-valid insights to UX research. For example, Tobii Pro offers VR integration with the Tobii Pro Glasses 2, providing an easy way to combine both VR and eye tracking technology into a powerful research tool.

Click here for more details!

 

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