Virtual reality — or at least the dream of it — has been around since at least the original Star Trek. But, until a couple years ago when Facebook bought Oculus Rift, it seemed more a thing of sci-fi fantasy than reality. But if last year’s Mobile World Congress foresaw anything, it’s that virtual reality is becoming reality.
The major point for this geeky trend going mainstream is that it’s simply cheaper. Last year’s Mobile World Congress — from $800 roller coaster rides to $10 headsets improvised — focused on virtual reality because it’s all about the 365-degree cameras and the smartphones which are driving down the prices and driving up adoption.
But virtual reality will go the way of the pet rock or Nintendo’s Wii if companies don’t start investing in the interactive experiences that’ll entice consumers to buy these VR devices.
Which begs the question: What do firms get out of investing in virtual reality? Well, being one of the first, like Björk’s newest album, certainly can turn VR into PR. And, at least for my husband, the addition of a rudimentary cardboard VR headset and the promise of a tour around a destroyed museum in Mosul was enough of an incentive to sign up for a subscription to The Economist.
Now that you’re intrigued by the business proposition of VR, how can you get in on it? What if you don’t have any experience in 3D design or even in design at all? How can you make sure you’re able to jump on this trend early before you’re left behind? Today we offer the advice of the forbearers who are already experimenting successfully in the field and who shared their experiences at the Interact conference in London.
Five virtual reality lessons from the early innovators
First, let’s start with the story behind that Economist app. The magazine had already shot the 360-degree footage of the virtual reconstruction of the museum, as well as one of the hidden city of Osaka. They reached out to Visualise production studio who decided to partner with KickPush user experience design company. The Economist team wanted to produce their own virtual reality platform with a downloadable app.
Virtual Reality Lesson #1: Since VR is still very new, tools must be easy
This is part of why KickPush, who had never worked with VR before, decided to work with what they already know. The UX team took their flat app design process and translated it into a VR process, realizing that a virtual reality interface is really just a flat 2-D interface placed into a 3D environment.
They also soon realized that while you move around in your 360-degree environment, you still tend to look forward as you turn your head around in the experience. That allowed them to isolate a specific area of any given screen for the interface, where the video quality had to be stronger.
This led them to creating a dual canvas with the 360-degree views in 3600 x 1800 pixels, while a smaller canvas of 1200 by 600 pixels was inside. This smaller canvas has the finer interface with a duplicate view of the 360-degree view. Then within this view you can add logos, videos and buttons, making sure the controls and important elements are in that forward-looking viewpoint.
They built it all within Sketch, a very common tool designers use to build websites. And with one day’s work and designing in essentially the same way they would a mobile app, they had a rough product to show The Economist that was enticing enough to close the deal.
Virtual Reality Lesson #2: Spend time in your own VR headset
It’s really important if you are going to be designing for VR you spend time in a VR headset — see what you like and you don’t like,” said Will McMaster, head of production at Visualise.
You need to understand user comfort — and discomfort — making sure that the right objects around too close or too far. And start your VR journey by testing out a lot of apps that both have good and bad reviews, so you can get a grasp for what works and what doesn’t.
Virtual Reality Lesson #3: An hourglass will ruin the experience
“In VR we see a lot of technical issues in design issues. In VR you can’t wait to download, we need to stay immersed and engaged,” McMaster said.
Virtual reality is still reliant on mobile connectivity and WiFi speed, things that all of us still find frustrating in our day to day. But in VR, it’s not just about frustrating, you lose the whole immersive experience if you see an hourglass or the video starts stuttering.
He offers the solutions of “dynamic binaural sound for soundscapes to see you engaged.”
You can also have much-faster-to-load images so you can take a look around your work environment, and your user doesn’t get bored and just take the headset off.
Virtual Reality Lesson #4: Appropriate user testing is vital
With new technologies, it’s especially important to perform user testing. But in VR it’s extra critical because you soon become adapted to the tech and thus lose the perspective of the newbie.
In another talk Saros Research Founder Maya Middlemiss talked about the opportunities both for testing VR with real users, as well as how VR is a cheap way to test store displays and other things before enacting them. Virtual reality is so important as a way to uncover the 85 percent of decision making that is totally non-conscious.
Plus a huge benefit of virtual reality is fast and cheap prototypes to get opinions before investing in a something no one will buy. Middlemiss says you don’t even have to worry about creating a good background.
“Focus on the need, not designing.”
Plus make sure that you are explicit in what you want them to consider and what they should expect.
Virtual Reality Lesson #5: Safety first!
VR will never be for everyone. Make sure anyone who is using your new version of reality knows about the risks for motion sickness, head and neck injuries, and other potential problems.
And for that matter, sit them down — don’t let them walk into each other. Then give them some time to get used to the cool new tech or else they won’t listen to what you’ve got to say.
“Give them five minutes to say ‘wow’ before you talk about that super market display,” Middlemiss says.
She goes on to say that if you aren’t testing a game or something in the VR early adopters of tech space, don’t even mention the words virtual reality, as it’ll distract from the focus.
But in the end, remember to “assume nothing in terms of expectations and experience in how they will react.”
And always remember, this is just the beginning. As the virtual reality technology changes and improves, so will our jobs in working with it. But certainly now is the time to dive right in!