UI/UX designers are the heroes of our reality. They are the ones who are responsible for shaping the new sci-fi future for virtual and augmented reality. With a sustainable ability to think out-of-the-box, UI and UX designers see beyond conventional concepts of human-computer interaction, promising us a better future yet to come.
It is not easy, of course, to design a graphically-rich, virtual world providing an unforgettable experience or mix UX and interaction to produce a truly impressive, interactive environment. But how to design interfaces and interactions in virtual reality involving contemporary UI/UX paradigms? How to deliver hyper-immersive games or simulations that can bring new sensations to users by making their brain believe they are actually in the real world? The article is shedding light on important facets of the user experience and user interface design in virtual reality.
Defining the Experience
The first question to be asked is what kind of experience you want to provide to the audience. Will it be an emotional, educational, or sensational? Based on the objectives you are pursuing, you will make the most important decision in your project. If you are not really familiar with the features of interface design for VR, you should keep in mind that many conventional UI elements simply do not work properly in the virtual reality or, even worse, ruin the experience. We cannot let this happen because as soon as the immersion is broken, the user loses the impression of VR and, as a result, there is no sustainable attention.
The problem of many virtual reality experiences is that they are mostly designed to be passive – users do not do much. It is a bad practice to follow because it creates a “vicious circle:” the experience is not interactive – people cannot become engaged with the environment and do not feel like they can control it – they lose interest in the VR game or app. New technology and user experience practices should be going hand-in-hand to produce interactive, proactive virtual environments.
Where to Find Inspiration for UI
The virtual reality industry cannot be called “relatively new”; however, there is an absence of best practices and methods for creating an unforgettable user experience. For the most part, designers draw inspiration from real life that is a great starting point for any traditional UX design. However, we can find experiences to adopt in other industries; for example, in video gaming. It is a common conception that the first-person shooter is the best gaming reference to look at while you are designing for VR.
Since designers need to fit the virtual content and navigation inside the frames of head-mounted displays, converting real-world experiences into UI elements, they have to be very careful with the practices that come from video game industry. Humans’ perception of the environment differs from one reality-altering technology to another, and to create compelling UX, designers should always seek for best UI practices and conduct a proper testing for them in order to find a perfect solution.
Development Tricks from UI Maniacs
Of course, every good designer should from time to time come up with new superb practices in UI to improve the experience created. However, nobody asks you to reinvent the wheel when it comes to well-known methods of UI design. Today, I have collected the most prominent design patterns that can give a right direction to those who craves to create a realistic and deeply immersive virtual reality experience.
In order to ensure a safe visual experience that will not cause dizziness (which happens quite often), UI designers increasingly resort to the practice of using ‘visual anchors’. Under these visual anchors, designers understand objects that permanently holds their position in space while the world is moving around. In games and simulations, it can be avatar’s hands or the pilot’s cabin. Furthermore, UI of virtual reality should be displayed directly in the 3D environment instead of a 2D layer on top of it, as we are used to seeing in video gaming.
Always be aware of what people’s eyes have to converge on since people are quite good at assessing distance. Moreover, they can determine the distance between two objects that are close to their eyes much more accurately than if they were far away. For that reason, VR-drawn indicator objects should be placed at the same depth as the object they are targeting, and environmental objects should copy the real world and be placed at a reasonable depth to increase immersion and realism.
Being able to move one’s head around is part of the total immersion. Users can look back and forth at any time they want, so the virtual world needs to move immediately and exactly at the same time as the user’s head movements; otherwise, it may cause simulation sickness. Do not forget the simplest rule of UI design: “a user only has one pair of eyes that can look in one direction at the time.” Avoid putting important UI elements on the user’s side or behind their back.
In addition, objects and pieces of the virtual environment should also scale and move depending on the user’s head position.
The feeling of immersion can be quickly broken if animation and transitions are not done in a progressive way. Designers can find fading to black a very handy option to use when the tracking is lost or the user is on the way to the next location/time of the day/etc.
If you use an avatar to increase immersion, design it in the way that it will follow the user’s body movement and make the avatars as realistic as possible within the overall style and concept.
Movement tracking is the greatest focus of UI/UX designers. They should find a way to catch the user’s attention and make him/her focus on what is important. Play with light, colors, obstacles, and/or sounds to lead the beholder in the right direction. Acceleration, zooming, shaking, and jerking in the virtual world should be controlled by the user. To find inspiration, designers can use the real world as a reference.
Testing is a mandatory practice since we cannot rely on assumptions. Moreover, designers, developers, and other tech people are used to interfaces, controllers, and new technology, making them the worst test subjects ever. That is why it is important to find somebody who is not familiar with VR capabilities.
The Future is Already Here
We are a generation that has witnessed the tremendous momentum of virtual reality reshaping our lives. But it still has a long way to go before it can give us an experience so real it will eclipse the physical world. Modern VR devices are far from being called “comfortable” – they are heavy and often contain wires and additional hardware. Like a hat knitted by your grandmother – weird, but useful. Anyway, today is the best time to place bets on the most believable predictions for the virtual reality industry. Let’s try to make some.
Considering the latest innovations, it is quite hard to say what kind of VR or VR-based headsets will capture society’s attention and money. Will they be pure VR head-mounted displays that cover our field-of-view fully or such devices such as the Hololens that introduces mixed reality features? With HoloLens, the visor is transparent and the virtual world lays on top of the real world in some kind of capacity. The user’s brain chooses between the virtuality and reality to focus on. Judging by the popularity of HoloLens, VR headsets may concede a significant market share to other devices.
The quality of graphics today is really impressive and allows for pushing the limits of what is possible further and further forward. And, it is the main focus of everyone involved in VR.
Moreover, designers should pay special attention to the extension of the potential-use cases for VR technology. Virtual reality research and UX design should go hand-in-hand as this could be the key to a bright future. VR has already changed the way we interact with our devices and outward things and therefore will continue to amend it. Not only the headsets and tools that help designers bring the experience of tomorrow a little closer will be adjusted, but also people’s minds will change in order to embrace the future that awaits us around the corner. In any case, it is worth betting on.
By Anastasiia Bobeshko,
Anastasiia Bobeshko is a chief editor at Program-Ace. With a great passion for new technologies, she writes about virtual, augmented, and mixed reality and new innovative solutions. Anastasiia also does thorough research on how top-notch technologies affect the business world and can be caught tweeting at @Program_Ace_Ltd.