Virtual Reality January 31, 2017

Getting UX right in VR

Kenny Deriemaeker

VR Competence Lead

Laure De Mey

Unity Developer

Our developers have been itching to build a great-looking, fully interactive high-end VR experience for a long time, so a few months ago we decided not to wait for the market and to just dive in. 

WineVR started as an internal proof-of-concept, with the goal of exploring high-end VR in a retail context. It took about six weeks to go from idea to prototype to finished application, including product design and content production. We already talked about how we tackled the development process. In this post you’ll learn how we got the User Experience right.

Make it intuitive and self-explanatory

In terms of user interaction and mechanics, we felt very inspired by Owlchemy Labs’ game ‘Job Simulator’, which tasks a user with performing jobs such as car mechanic, chef or office worker by interacting with all kinds of objects in a fun, stylized environment.

Our primary goal in WineVR was to make every possible interaction in the app intuitive and self-explanatory: let the user act on their natural impulses to look at things, grab objects and move them around. If you present a wine glass and a bottle in VR, the user doesn’t need to be told what to do; their natural inclination is to try and pour wine from the bottle into the glass. If your user needs a tutorial to get things done in your VR app, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

3 UX aspects to consider in VR

User testing of our initial prototype revealed some more interesting VR-specific UX aspects to consider:

  • Users will try crazy things.
    They will stick their heads through walls, stack eleven wine bottles on top of each other, juggle with cheese and lobsters and try to grab everything that looks like it can be grabbed. Try to deal with this behaviour in the most user-friendly way you can; users will be delighted when they try something silly and are rewarded with a response. And if many users have a natural impulse to do something sensible that your app doesn’t support, consider adding it as a feature.
  • Users will sabotage themselves.
    The food items in WineVR are necessary to explore the wine catalogue, but nothing stops a user from grabbing everything on the table and throwing it out of reach. Instead of letting the user get stuck, we teleport these items back to their original positions after a few seconds with a satisfying “pop” sound and a puff of smoke. Be easy on users, and always give them a chance to recover if they did something unusual.
  • VR is more than 360 degree visuals.
    There is a tendency to focus on the visual aspect of VR, but spatial audio and haptic feedback can be very effective in communicating information to the user. For example, when a user lets go of an object we give a slight, subtle pulse of haptic feedback in the hand they dropped the object with and we play a spatially positioned sound effect when the object hits the floor. This has the added benefit of alerting players when they accidentally dropped something out their current field of view. Subtle combinations of simple effects can make interactions a lot more satisfying.

Things we've learned form this project

  • User experience is everything.
    As stated above, it’s critically important to get the very basic interactions right and to get a prototype together quickly so you can do user testing. Get some people together to let them play around and inform your design. You can’t be sure something looks and works as expected until you’ve seen it in the headset.
  • Performance is everything, too.
    The most creative, original VR experience in the world will fall down if the framerate is low or uneven. It’s absolutely critical to hit the ideal refresh rate for the platform – which for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift is 2160 by 1920 pixels at 90 frames per second. That’s a hard target to hit, so developers need to know a good bit about 3D rendering to identify and eliminate performance bottlenecks when they occur.
  • Pick the right tools for the job.
    Unity is a powerful platform for game and VR development, but it doesn’t come with everything out of the box. We had a timeframe of about six weeks to develop WineVR, and we couldn’t have polished it as much as we did without the right development tools and plugins. There are many great ones out there; don’t try to reinvent the wheel and be willing to invest in quality tools that will help you get things done faster.

Above all we learned that VR is an exciting and unique medium to build for, and we are fired up about the new opportunities it offers us as designers and developers. We’re just getting started!

Read the full story: What we’ve learnt from developing in VR

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