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07 Jun 2021

VR Spatial UX Design: 10 Insights to Learn VR Interaction Design

Table of Contents

Everyday is bringing us more news from the realm of Virtual Reality (VR). Software development engines like Unity and Unreal are becoming more elaborate, there are myriads of SDK libraries, Virtual Reality software UX design guides, countless knowledge exchange communities and free-for-use collaboration tools. Every new VR headset brings amplified visual fidelity, with Oculus Quest 2, Pico Neo 3, Varjo VR-3 and other remarkable VR devices enabling life-like quality of visuals. More experiences incorporate haptic feedback gloves like Noitom, Manus or full body motion capture systems like Noitom that help enhance the extent of immersion.

Virtual Reality has gone a long way from simply trying to mimic the world around us, to becoming more life-like and engaging users on all levels of sensory. High fidelity devices are making a tremendous impact on the VR industry. With every update the give developers more opportunity to build experiences that are as close to the real world as possible. With devices and tools taking a significant leap forward, the challenge of making VR feel realistic, falls on the shoulders of software developers. Out of all, UX designers can probably be considered the front runners that can significantly impact the level of immersion, thus the success of any VR experience. And here is why. 

To help understand why these particular developers, out of all software experts, carry such an important role let's look at what UX design actually is. Generally speaking, it is a fairly popular, yet wide term, that describes the process of User Experience (UX) creation. UX literally includes every element around us, how we experience services, systems, the world and even life. Spatial design is no exclusion. This newly evolving design concept, the design of human environments, revolves around designing spaces.

When building a VR environment one goes beyond just designing a space. While working on the VR environment design, the Virtual Reality experience designer works on logic and interactions, accounting for the human experience. The UX design for VR is the part of experience the user will interact with. It will be the deciding factor defining how smooth and pleasant this interaction will end up being.

It is no revelation that in spatial design VR the key is to achieve the maximum level of realism. The big question here is what can help virtual reality submerge its users. What can make it become the mirror of the real world. Today, we would like to share the 10 insights into the UX design. These insights can help achieve  VR experiences with life-like levels of immersive user experience and realism, grasp the UX design principles for AR & VR and perhaps inspire some to learn VR interaction design.

1. Affordance in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

Affordance refers to the implicit understanding of an interaction and the purpose an item has. It is the common way, in which people perceive, how an interaction with any given object should happen. In VR it is the effortlessness of the experience that counts. The degree to which users instinctively understand how the interaction with an object or environment should happen. The UX design for Virtual Reality should prompt and suggest which action is required, taking the real-world mechanics into account. Affordance is part of every VR experience creation. From small buttons reacting to index finger push, larger buttons designed to be pushed with the palm of the hand, doors to be pushed or pulled, levers to be operated with full palm motion, and so on. Designing experiences in accordance with the affordance principles lets blur the boundaries of realism in an artificially created environment.

2. Accounting for Motion Sickness in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

Motion sickness is one of the common challenges in VR experiences that the UX designers need to account for. Motion sickness can appear when a person is relocating or visually experiencing motion in VR, while their body remains static in real life. When interpreted by the brain, the combination of such mixed and conflicting signals can cause a dissonance resulting in dizziness and discomfort. It is therefore essential for developers to take the need for smooth transitions, while inside the VR experience, into account. It is equally important to consider the level of previous experience with VR. For first time users an experience should be designed in stages, each not exceeding 10-15 minutes. This is especially important when creating UX for training and educational experiences that require maximum concentration and full engagement from users.

3. Spatial Sound in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

Adding sound to a VR experience is a simple yet crucial step which is sometimes overlooked in creating immersive experiences. It is important to remember that simple flat sound that just co-exists with the VR simulation can impact the general perception of the experience, distorting the sense of realism. Spatial (dimensional) sound should account for the source of the sound. It can be achieved through adding direction, volume, echo and sense where the sound is coming from. Accounting for the dimension and realistic location of the sound allows to create truly immersive experiences.  

4. Ergonomics in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

Like in everyday life, ergonomics is equally important in VR as it ensures both a user-friendly interaction as well as a deeper level of immersion. When in real life a user can adjust their environment to be more comfortable, the VR experience should already come accounting for the necessary ergonomics. This includes but is not limited to the range of motion, light direction, reach and rotation mechanics, for all of the elements the users can interact with. When speaking of adding realism to experiences, ergonomics is the baseline that is expected from any VR experience be it for a simulation in healthcare, manufacturing or gaming.    

5. Readability in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

Even though readability seems like a point of common sense, it is sometimes overlooked in UX design. Lacking readability, as small of a fraction as it may seem, can make the whole experience unbearable and straining. Especially for the users staying inside the VR environment for a prolonged period of time. Like with any user interface the textual communication inside the simulation should be adequate in size, length, speed of transition, color and positioning. It is important to make any readable part easy on the eye, followable and intuitive in perception, for all visuals.

6. System Feedback in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

It is a good practice to a build system that informs its user as well as provides feedback, allowing to understand the current state of the experience. It is especially essential for training and educational VR experiences, where interactions should be measurable, retractable as well as evaluable. The timely feedback allows to adjust experiences, increasing their level of immersion. It can help users grow skills and increase their knowledge in a variety of fields from healthcare to manufacturing or even design and trade marketing.    

7. Control & Safety in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

With any immersive experience, the user has to have a sense of safety and freedom. It is recommended to build an exit scenario, where the user knows how to stop or leave the experience at any desired time. This allows users to remain in control and feel secure within the immersive environment.

8. Error prevention in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

It is recommended to build the system in a manner that helps with error prevention. It should allow users to easily understand where they have made a mistake and how it could be corrected and avoided in the future. Integrating a function to retrace the steps is one of the ways to help users learn and advance within the virtual environment.

9. Accounting for Intuitiveness in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

As simple as it may be, the intuitiveness defines a major part of positive UX perception. It is best to help users build an intuitive understanding of how to interact with the immersive experience. This can be done by providing necessary tips and hints in small fractions along the way, rather than trying to make users memorize all necessary steps. The user at some point should be transited to the part of experience where they start performing actions automatically, no longer requiring instructions or support.

10. Onboarding in Virtual Reality User Experience Design

Any immersive experience should account for the onboarding stage, which introduces users to the VR world mechanics and walks them through each of the elements of control and navigation. Even if the UX is designed to be intuitive it is still necessary to ensure the onboarding process is included. This allows for a smoother transition and subsequent use of the created experience.

In Conclusion

Building great VR experiences without doubt relies heavily on the UX designer's skill and experience. However, accounting for small details and basic principles of reality, instead of just mimicking the real world, can breathe life into any immersive experience. Adding obvious elements of everyday life interactions allows to submerge users into a virtual world of unparalleled realism. 

Authors: Anton Suprunenko, Lucid Reality Labs Head of Design | Anna Rohi, Lucid Reality Labs Senior Marketing & Communications Manager  

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