Design Matters

Several companies are looking to position themselves to take over an emerging market in the real estate VR/WebVR virtual tour space. Virtual tours have been ubiquitous in real estate for a while. 3D, 360 tours have not been. Today, they are on the brink of going mainstream.

Good and bad user experience will make and break companies charging out of the gate. Some will be around the bend, while others will be rubbing sand from their eyes.

Do you know a business person who thinks colors don’t matter? Who believes concept and utility always supersede design? There’s a Russian expression I would like to use for this type of person, Awh-YaYoi. . . Roughly translated: ‘Oh, no no no…’ This expression carries the same kind of endearing sympathy as it does in English, but adds more punch.

I’m speaking as a UX designer. I have no interest in the companies compared here. One week ago there were only two companies who showed up in a 3D Virtual Tour search on Google for real estate. Today, there are a few more. We are literally at the beginning of a race to market.

Matterport vs Legend3D

Here are two players in the space from a UX POV. Take a look at company A, and consider how the UI makes you feel.

Now take a look at company B, again, pay attention to the UI and, just try, not paying attention to the user interaction design.

***Warning*** Motion sickness probably may — and almost certainly will — be experienced. You have been warned.

Company B is an example from a company called Legend3d. I can assure you, I was not doing anything special with the movement of the mouse — that is how high their mouse sensitivity is set.

Here are the links:



There isn’t much if any discernible difference in the quality of the photography. The immediate and glaring difference is the user interface. Keeping all things equal, like customer service and price, consider the influence design alone has here.

What I can say definitively: I would choose Matterport over Legend3d in a heartbeat. That is due to more than the unbelievably bad mouse sensitivity, which, even if it were fixed, would not salvage the UI problem. Their UI significantly affects the user experience.

I feel nauseous in Legend3D’s design, aside from the awful kinesthetic experience, there’s this awful and annoying tiny red square in the center of the screen that has me on edge. I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t some abysmal throwback to DOOM ’94. This alone is enough to repel a user.

Consider also the color red and what is associated with it, then think about the purpose of a virtual tour in real estate. Are virtual tours displayed to draw attention to the cursor in the middle of the screen, or are they about the space and photography? You know as well as I, it is not about the cursor. What does red designate in our culture?

Stop. Stop is not the right psychological trigger to evoke in a user going through a Virtual Tour. Awh-YaYoi… How many potential future customers will this company lose? I will wager a lot.

This is a qualitative assessment — heuristics — based on an understanding of certain UX principles and psychology — a visceral response to design. As a UX person I would test the assumption that I’m not an outlier; I would test that this company’s user interface truly is a bad design choice and that it will cost them revenue in any competitive arena.

Here is another assumption to consider. Did the designers and stakeholders who created this product user test their design? My assumption is that to them the design looks good — looks cool — or whatever other justification they gave — and that rationalization is likely enough for them. Even more instructive is that Legend3d is a company which does 3D work for major Hollywood studios with an astonishing 3D portfolio — they’re fantastic visual artists — and, yet—this! this is on display.

This is where user testing pays dividends. If someone can validate that one design will send people running to competitors, very much like those running from Godzilla in the original version, wouldn’t that be something which can potentially make or a break a business? Talk about ROI!

I hope this gives those of you who have difficulty justifying user research and user testing pause. I hope it serves as an illustrative example for those that know the value of design and UX work. And I hope that you will be able to draw on it the next time someone questions the value of user testing, questions the influence of UI on business margins, or thinks their or their designer’s aesthetic judgment is a good way to make business decisions.

A long and well-established successful business owner once told me after a consumer had called to complain about an inability to read something on a real estate sign, “I’ve been using these signs for years...” and, she added, she was doing very well with them. And this is in spite of their poor design, which she readily acknowledged but simply could not find justification to spend money to fix.

Sadly, this attitude is not at all uncommon. But it isn’t business savvy or optimal thinking when considering profit and leverage from a detached and sobering perspective.

What is easy to calculate is what revenue a business generates and what the costs are to generate such revenue. Pete Trainor brings the point up in his book, HIPPO The Human Focused Digital Book (which is also a wonderful examination of UX from a seasoned designer who is not afraid to get philosophical); he adds that what is hidden in plain sight, and far more difficult to measure, is the number of potential customers, clients, a business may have converted but never did. And because of what? Because of the understandable pain of spending in the present for only prospective and opaque projections of future dividends.

If you’re a betting type, bet on the fact that a business already has or will have competition. And to stay ahead of the pack and sometimes just to stay in the race, remember, design matters.