Usability and the Reality of Virtual Reality

We’ve all seen it on TV and in the movies. A vision of the future where a lone figure spreads her arms and is instantly immersed in a floating web of information. It’s been recreated multiple times, been re-imagined, expanded upon, and by now has been baked into our collective imagination. An augmented world that is layered with information, beautiful in its structure, and inherently unrealistic in most real world applications.

In the real world, we struggle between the need for both beauty and simplicity. While immersive and imaginative environments may intrigue us, what we really want is information that is presented in the most simplistic way possible. We don’t want to think about how we consume information. What we want instead is information that is simple, beautifully presented, and easy to use.

From the bubbly interfaces on our desktops, to the sleek curves and subtle lines of the smartphones we use every day, we are all searching for beauty in the devices we interact with. But, while we inherently want to use beautiful things, we also crave simplicity and expect the function of the items we use to be immediately intuitive. We don’t want to think about how we use our interfaces, they just need to work, and work well.

As we move forward into the world of VR and AR designers are already discovering a need to rethink what usability and simplicity actually mean. While we’ve already known that the 2D conventions we’ve leaned on in the past are ill equipped to solve the interaction problems we’re beginning to face, we are also coming to realize that the “futuristic” UI we’ve imagined may lack a solution to the issues as well. Physical limitations; such as tiring arms, a lack of touch, and a disconnection from the objects we’re meant to interact with are real concerns that we must take into account. The problems faced by a UX designer are expanding and the tools needed to fully address them in the space are limited and not fully explored.

The next few years are going to be an exciting time to be a designer, technologist, or creative working in the field. Just as in the early days of graphical computing and the birth of interactive Windows on our flickery CRT screens, the pioneers leading the charge into new AR and VR technologies are going to be facing multiple new challenges as they push forward. Like many who have come before they will stumble, fail, and start over again multiple times before discovering the solutions that will carry forward into our day to day lives and help define interactions for years to come.

So, within the next few years are, are going to step onto a magical platform and have our work displayed for us in a 360 degree explosion of graphics and information? Probably not. But whatever world we do step into will be an interesting one, and probably nothing like what we’ve imagined so far.