Virtual Reality (VR) is a simulated experience that gives users the possibility to see a brand-new world with their eyes. By using gadgets like the HTC Vive, to name one, a user can be transported into a new environment and be stimulated by lights and sounds that they have never seen or heard of before.
Imagine sitting on your couch and with the help of the headset be riding the back of a dragon up in the sky, feel the wind on your skin and your hair.
Maybe you prefer something more relaxing, you want to be able to grow and take care of your own little garden, do what pleases you more.
Point is: you can live whatever experience you want, no matter what.
VR can help you take a break from your own reality or just try something different for a while. It has endless possibilities; it is a door to another world, another… reality.
Other than that, we can simply use it, for example, with a business scope boosting the meetings and conferences. Imagine taking place in a meeting with people from different areas and time zones being able to see them in person like you were really next to each other.
Together with a new user interface comes also a new user experience. Of course some traditional designer’s expertises and knowledge can be applied to VR, still this brand new world of designing needs his own field of study.
There are some similarities between the traditional UX and VR’s but for the sake of the argument we are going to focus only upon the last one.
Normally speaking, users are used (sorry) to interact with the interface by the medium of a touchscreen or a keyboard-mouse, even a joy-pad sometimes.
In VR instead, they have to use a combination of their own body and senses or some purpose-designed controller device for the interaction.
Therefore, the VR’s User Experience lies upon different pillars which are:
- Freedom of choice: VR’s user experience needs to be an opt-in experience in every aspect. We must grant users safety and privacy besides the possibility of exit whenever she decides to.
- Accessibility: Given the uniqueness of the interaction which leads the users to interact with it by using their own body, the complete experience must consider a diversity of physical capabilities and thus not exclude anyone.
- Safety: Developers must ensure to users a totally safe journey. Users don’t have to go through the risk of an over-exposure to VR, the entire experience needs to be harmless in the process and in the post-experience as well.
- Guidance: To the most, this could be a brand-new event, something never happened before so the user could need a step-by-step knowledge to build up. Users need to feel immediately in a comfort zone. Keep in mind that while some people could be fascinated by a new thing happening to them, others could be kind of afraid of not knowing what awaits them.
- Interactivity: The ability to move, pick up and shape things is at the core of the experience. Users need to have full access to every single grain of sand in the environment. They need to feel free to create their own adventure by enjoying every nuance of this new world.
The User Experience of Stationary VR
The list above can be used as a guideline and placed at the center of the developing. Of course some change could be necessary, for example in a product where the user stands still we would focus upon some aspects and where he, or she, needs to be moving we would prioritize others. However, the VR nowadays is still for the most part stationary with the virtual environment moving on its own and the user just controlling the device with their hands. For the sake of completeness, there are of course VR products that simulate the movement with omnidirectional treadmills, we’ll discuss it later.
By the use of further sensory stimulation, the user can experience a more complete interaction with the surrounding environment. Usually located in the headgear, we can have an audio engineering method providing the user virtual clues about the distance and the precise position of elements around him or her.
This can help the overall user experience just by stimulating more than one sense at the time.
Full Movement VR and UX
As mentioned, a full movement VR is a much rarer version of the stationary VR. It is still pretty rare since the vast majority of designers don’t approach this immense field yet, other than having a narrow market demand for the time being.
One of the “simplest” options is the omnidirectional treadmill, which simulates a full movement experience for the users, granting them the possibility of running and walking and exploring the surrounding environment.
Another option is a full movement VR with no restriction at all, this is however a little too ambitious since there is the need of guaranteeing the full physical safety of the user either by designing a contained situation to move in or by wearing body protection.
Both of them require highly designed and well-thought-out mapping techniques to ensure the user’s field of view matches the surrounding location in which they are. Besides that, every unique system has his own requirements in matters of physical safety and comfort.
Users can quickly become disoriented when moving around facing a sensory new journey like this, an obstacle hurting them or preventing them from doing something can quickly turn a splendid journey into a bad user experience.
So the risk of having a bad UX is much higher than traditional digital products. When entering into something new, we always set our expectations pretty high on what we are about to feel. This kind of problem doesn’t exist anymore, or so, in common digital products because we’re quite used to them so our brain has fairly accepted the risk of disappointment.
The UX design and development are going to fill a paramount role in VR, whether this is going to be a gaming market product or an entertainment product. It is going to need some change and some agile adaptation to match the user’s needs just like every other design field.