Wednesday, 24 August 2016

UX & Virtual Reality - Designing for interfaces without Screens

Virtual Reality

It’s an experience that’s been around since the mid­ 80s, but technology always seemed to hold it back. The advances in smartphones and related technologies have finally brought the incredible potential of VR within reach. Now, we’re in the midst of a virtual reality revolution. The concept was coined around 1955 and so many years later VR is back in a big way with Oculus, Samsung Gear VR, Project Morpheus, Google Cardboard, HTC Vive, OSVR, and other smaller or yet to be announced players. The well-known tech giants Facebook, Google and Microsoft are keenly investing in VR which indirectly proves that it is going to be the game changer of this century.


What are they trying to do with VR?

It’s really just immersive software. You know how your phone is a tiny screen that you sometimes ignore? Virtual reality is pretty much the opposite. It uses a headset (a big pair of glasses) that fills your entire field of view with an image. You turn your head left, you see left. Turn your head right, you see right. You will be framed inside a virtual world with virtual things with which you can interact, play, design and experience.


The VR Process

Designing for a flat 2D screen versus designing for 3D Virtual Space has its own challenging factors. Achieving the best user experience in VR Devices is the key success of the entire concept. As it is a combination of various factors such as Head Movement Tracker, Eye Tracker, Gesture Capture, Mind Map etc., making all these sync together and binding them perfectly with the design and visuals of your application takes a lot of effort and thought process.  

Who can utilize VRs?

Everyone. Yes, VR Headsets are of 3 categories affordable for all set of people around the world. Every single application that you are using in your mobile phones and computers can be designed for Virtual Reality. There is a big misconception among the people saying that VR is favored only for Game Development, which is totally wrong. Interior Designers, Doctors, Industrial Designers, E-Commerce, Banking and every other random line of business can use Virtual Reality for their work.

1. The low-end entry level headset. It’s actually just a fancy smartphone case. You slip your phone into pair of lenses that strap onto your head like a scuba mask, and there you go, you’re into the VR world! You can build these things out of plastic, or even, as Google demoed some years back, Google Cardboard. Samsung has one such model on the market today for $200.

2. The mid-range headset. It’s totally self-contained, like an Oculus Rift or Sony's Project Morpheus, with its own display and probably some headphones. Think of it as a really nice TV or computer monitor for your face. Maybe you plug it into a phone or a PC to play games or watch movies. Oculus which is acquired by Facebook is selling its latest dev kit.

3. The Augmented Reality. It is one step ahead of the Virtual Reality where we are binding the real world visuals with virtual stuffs. Imagine, you walk on the road and you can see the visuals, pins, navigations of the Google Map on your path. Two Big companies, Microsoft with its HoloLens and a headset by Magic Leap are trying to accomplish this concept.



UX Principles for designing Virtual Reality

1. Everything Should Be Reactive 
Every interactive object should respond to any casual movement. For example, if something is a button, any casual touch should provoke movement, even if that movement does not result in the button being fully pushed. When this happens, the haptic response of the object coincides with a mental model, allowing people to move their muscles to interact with objects. When designing a button: use a shadow from the hand to indicate where the user’s hand is in relation to button, create a glow from the button that can be reflected on the hand to help understand the relationship, use sound to indicate when the button has been pressed (“click”) 



2. Restrict Motions to Interaction
The display should respond to the user’s movements at all times, without exception. Even in menus, when the game is paused, or during cut scenes, users should be able to look around. Avoiding Simulator Sickness and slowness is the key part of improving the UX in Virtual Reality Applications. Do not instigate any movement without user input. Reduce neck strain with experiences that reward a significant degree of looking around. Try to restrict movement in the periphery.



3. Text and Image Legibility
Bigger, brighter and bold texts should be used to indicate widgets. Images should be realistic and appealing to the user. The mind of the user is going to be entirely mapped into the virtual reality for a prolonged amount of time. Texts should be readable and legible for unstrained viewing of the user. Brighter and vivid the colors are, more involved the users will be.



4. Ergonomics
Designing based on how the human body works is an essential to bringing any new interface to life. Our bodies tend to move in arcs, rather than straight lines, so it’s important to compensate by allowing for arcs in 3D space



5. Sound Effects
Sound is an essential aspect of truly immersive VR. Combined with hand tracking and visual feedback, it can be used to create the “illusion” of tactile sensation. It can also be very effective in communicating the success or failure of interactions.



Google’s Design Guidelines for Virtual Reality

Google has listed some key principles involving physiological and ergonomics  consideration to be noted while designing for Apps that can run on Google Cardboard. They are pretty much straight-forward for the designers to understand. 

1. Using a Reticle
2. UI Depth & Eye Strain
3. Using Constant Velocity
4. Keeping the User Grounded
5. Maintaining Head Tracking
6. Guiding with Light
7. Leveraging Scale
8. Spatial Audio
9. Gaze Cues
10. Make it Beautiful

References
Google’s Cardboard Guidelines, Best Practices for Designing Oculus Rift




About Author 
With 3 Years of Professional Experience in Design and technology, I have a great passion for UX Design, Usability Testing and User Research. With a formal knowledge of Design Process, I prototype Interactive and Intuitive Designs for Desktops, Mobiles and Wearable Technologies. 



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