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Virtual Reality Interface Design - A few things I have learnt

Virtual Reality is a massively hot topic these days. With large companies taking a step into this new technology, designing the way users interact with their environments is a new challenge.

I’d like to share with you a few things I have learnt while designing in the space.

Design and Print.

Designing the visuals, the UI and the UX within the VR world holds similar challenges to print design, getting the balance right between the graphics and the information you present is a challenge.

Ok, so it is screen design, but the virtual world which you are in has the same challenges as the real world. For example, billboards. The virtual world mimics the real world and visuals are 100% relevant to your spatial relationship to it. Just as a designer has challenges on whether a driver or pedestrian can read the information on their billboard 4 stories up, the same applies in the VR world.

I ask myself, how big does the text have to be to be readable? The more text in the world, the more cluttered and difficult it may become to get useful meaning from it. Is there an alternative visual way to present what the text says, or cut down the text?

White text with black outlines works well, but similar to designing in normal print, the use of different fonts for the typography can create issues. Distance plays a part in reading it, as do your lighting effects.

Interacting with your environment.

I recently designed an interactive data environment using the HTC Vive, setting up a demo area for people to try out the new possibility of 3D Data Visualisation. Designing the way users interact with your environment is a challenge.

It may sound easy to start with, you just point and click, but as you delve down into more ways to interact with your environment, you need more gestures to control it. Everyday examples we all know now are swipe, pinch, expand etc, were all new at the time but are now ingrained in our movements.

It is a bit tricky at first designing objects when the “Play areas” for the HTC Vive can vary so much. In earlier versions of the UI I found some interaction points were outside the blue cage as I varied the play area for demonstrations, meaning some users were nervous to reach out for them, especially if it was their first time. Interaction points within the “Play area” were created as a touch and “click” or pull the trigger on the controller action, a basic control using the Vive.

Interestingly a number of users would often not get close enough to actually “select” the interaction point. A mixture of new user fear of walking around the area coupled with a diminished sense of depth perception was interesting to watch. Once a user tried it a few times they got the hang of it.

Interaction points in the distance came with new challenges. If you want to see something outside your play area, how do you get at it? You could look at it to invoke the content, using highlighting techniques for active selection, along with activation through the trigger. This in itself can become tricky. Users will naturally gaze at the centre of an object. By having your select points centralised, you risk users accidently activating the point whilst they browse their environment. Placing your activation points just outside the natural gaze position prevents these accidents.

Creating mockups.

We all draw out our mockups in some form, computer, pen and paper. However, we are often limited by the white space we have in front of us. Using the design to get stakeholder buy-in is useful, but as a client once said to me “You can only truly understand what is possible when you are in it”.

As a designer you need to see your designs in VR. Use Google cardboard to play your 2D images around you. This helps you understand scale, placement, colour and size. I would often draw something out on paper and find that I had to scale it up massively to ensure it was readable, or even simply change its placement as I follow through all of my gestures.

Feedback

For many of you familiar with gaming, you will know that feedback gives a vibration through the gamepad when interacting with certain elements of the game. VR is a fully immersive environment, so providing that feedback through as many means as possible helps to truly immerse users in your worlds and helps your user understand the differences in what they can and can’t select as environments can get pretty full on.

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