Buy a Meta for AR
The AR/VR Designer hunting season is now open
Vlad Drimbau

That advice is for a dev who knows their way around raw SDKs and early-stage hardware. (Also, ‘cheap’ shouldn’t be the main deciding factor for such an investment). Before you, UX/UI Designer, shell out your own cash, you need to try a variety of gear (learn to discern the best from the rest); get to know the hardware specs of each system (this goes for both AR and VR) and seek out in-person learning opportunities on this new paradigm. Don’t just blindly jump on the hype train, buy any HMD and think you’ll be pixel-pushing the next Material toolkit for AR/VR within the week.

Coming from 14 months deeply immersed in creating the UX and visual language for an AR system, I can tell you this is unlike anything that’s come before — much more complex, science-based, physicality-dependent. There’s never been a more critical occasion to intimately know this fluid tech you’re designing for — as well as knowing how to design for disparate human factors. Research and usability testing are absolutely paramount in this world. ‘Early and often’ has never been more true.

In 2D mobile/web/tablet world, you might have been able to get by reading a HIG, tapping a prefab visual toolkit or animating some UI elements. This is not that. This is next level. Poor experience design leads to headaches, eye fatigue, nausea, falling down or frustration and quitting your experience altogether. All of that = fail.

A few notes from my hiring efforts to fill the role of AR UI designer: if you do 2D creative and/or UX but don’t know 3D, you’re stuck. If you‘re a 3D artist/mographer but are not experienced in good design principles or well-versed in UX best practices for real-world software creation (including design for differently-abled users), you’re stuck. This is a dimensional, dynamic, complex environment. Lighting, motion, textures, physics, geometry, sound, haptics, these are just a few of the elements you will design with and for. Interaction design actually grows up now: gestural interaction has pros and cons (guerrilla arm). There’s also gaze-based interaction and voice control (coupled with AI, if you’re lucky). Its a world with a whole new vernacular. Inter-pupillary distance (IPD) is a factor. Light fields — get to know them. Optimal frame rate for VR? It’s important. Sensors — huge now, feeding the IoT, key to AR/VR. RGB cameras. Depth cameras. Positional tracking. Proprioception. Perception. There’s much more, of course, but what’s your takeaway here? Visual design & UX principles still apply, but they’re heavily impacted by the tech’s limitations and requirements — more so than you’ve experienced in the past. That’s why it is important to do some due diligence to grok a general idea of what you’re getting into. You’ll also learn a lot on the job — that’s the name of the game at this point — for all roles.

My last 2cents… We’re in the very earliest stages preparing for a very rich future with much potential. Add to the mix dynamic content creators and storytellers, new paths to productivity and social, IoT, AI — aimed not just at entertainment but at business, industry, medical, education, military defense. The UX and UI pros of today who will succeed in AR/VR are the openminded ones who are insatiable learners, constantly acquiring new skills but who are also able and willing to share their knowledge.