What Do VR Interfaces and Teapots Have in Common?

Hey. I’m a teapot.

As a human, you’re not born with an intuitive knowledge of what a teapot does, or how to use it. Luckily, it’s a classic example of affordance. This means that its physical appearance guides how you use it. Its handle looks grabbable and my spout doesn’t, so you always grab the right end. This is a really simple example, but a powerful one — because affordances are everywhere, and they control your life.

Intuition is a dangerous word in the world of design. No two people have the same intuitions, but we all build expectations based on the physical world. In the real world, we never think twice about using our hands to control objects. We instinctively know how. By thinking about how you experience this in everyday life, you can bring this power into VR.

Affordances help bridge the gap between the real and the digital. Leap Motion and VR open up the potential to combine traditional UX principles with more physical affordances. But while it’s important to take inspiration from the world around you, don’t be limited by it. Bridge the gap!

  • User interface elements should be fully interactive, with obvious potential and active states. For example, buttons should appear “pushable,” and respond physically when interacted with.
  • Classic 2D design principles can be adapted for hand tracking in VR in unexpected ways. The important thing is to provide dynamic visual feedback that guides users to make the right actions, and avoid errors.
  • Sci-fi interfaces often set cultural expectations about how futuristic UIs should make us feel. Take them as inspiration, but don’t fall into the “movie magic” trap — start with basic interactions and build your way up.
  • In the absence of touch feedback, sound is a powerful way to make virtual interactive objects “feel” more physical. This is especially important when you user isn’t looking directly at the object.

Further Reading


Originally published at blog.leapmotion.com on April 29, 2015.