Design and Development Case Study

CosmosVR: A spatial blockchain explorer

Cordula Hansen
Oct 31 · 5 min read

Part 1: Design

CosmosVR is a data visualization dashboard exploring pertinent data from the Cosmos network. This is being developed for Simply VC, a validator on the Cosmos network. It is designed and developed as an open source project in partnership with SimplyVC by Jerad Bitner, Cordula Hansen, and James Wilkens.

An early teaser trailer.

The Purpose

This project’s purpose is to help users actively engage with information about the Cosmos blockchain network in an intuitive way. We do this through a series of immersive data visualizations of network statistics. One project goal is to provide the ability to dig deeper into the how and why of the flow of data. Another goal is to allow users to access complex financial data in an immersive spatial environment. The users’ aim is to identify risks and opportunities about the network in real time.

The Client

SimplyVC is a subsidiary of Simply Holding Co. Ltd. and is a validator and delegator on the Cosmos network. Hadrien Majoie is the CEO of Simply Holding. Hadrien came to us after seeing Jerad’s work in Neos VR with the idea of creating a means of visualizing the Cosmos network. Seeing and embracing all the data at once may give him an increased ability to intuit investment decisions.

Cosmos

From https://cosmos.network/intro:

  • Strictly speaking, Cosmos is a decentralized network of independent parallel blockchains, each powered by BFT consensus algorithms like Tendermint consensus.
  • In other words, Cosmos is an ecosystem of blockchains that can scale and interoperate with each other. Before Cosmos, blockchains were siloed and unable to communicate with each other. They were hard to build and could only handle a small amount of transactions per second. Cosmos solves these problems with a new technical vision…

The Design Team

After an initial proof of concept was devised and developed by Jerad (shown in the trailer video above), Jerad reached out to Cordula to meet in AltspaceVR. He had heard of Cordula’s work in Altspace where she had collaboratively designed and developed a space for Earth Day.

Their initial interview in VR revealed a lot of Cordula’s user research and design skills to be just what Jerad was looking for, and they decided to work together on the SVC project. Cordula brought many of the first principles of design to bear, which became an integral guide for the rest of the project.

To facilitate remote collaboration across continents and time zones, Jerad’s previous experience with remote teams and collaborative tools was augmented with VR applications, code repositories, and workspaces for this project.

Interviews and User Research

Cordula started with user interviews to reveal and codify just what Hadrien’s goals, vision, and needs were with regard to operating a validator on the Cosmos network. Through structured interviews she learned that there would be two main types of users — Developers and Investors — , and uncovered their unique needs and goals.

The Developer persona was interested in concurrent data visualisation so that they would have an immediate overview of trends and activity patterns. Detailed data points were important, but immersion in the data was a more immediate priority to this user than the minutiae of day-to-day transactions. Their main focus was on larger patterns and the overall health of the blockchain system.

The Investor persona’s main interest was the status of their own investments and projected returns. However, as an active community member, they also wanted to be able to switch to a “developer mode” so that they could learn more about blockchains and their performance.

As regular VR users, they were also cognizant of potential hardware limitations and valued clear, well-structured data displays to overcome low screen resolution issues.

In order to facilitate both types of users, we decided on a bi-modal information architecture, which would allow users to switch roles as required.

Design

Following our learning from the user research phase of the project, we began to integrate spatial prototyping tools, such as Tilt Brush and the Poly 3D library, with a standard UX design process of wire-framing, testing, and iteration through ascending levels of fidelity.

In addition to the user requirements, we needed to resolve spatial design and the problem of visualizing complex blockchain data in 3D in such a way that it would remain clear and relevant to the user. Creating rough wireframes directly in VR allowed us to explore spatial information hierarchies in real-time, while pen and paper were still used to make sense of the design context and information hierarchy. As the video below shows, initial sketches explore visualisation strategies and are used to record our own understanding of blockchain data types and their value to users.

Collaborations on wireframes in Tiltbrush

We uploaded each iteration to Google Poly, so that each team member could review the wireframes and add comments, or re-sketch them, while also keeping previous versions accessible. Users and client also had access to the Tilt Brush files, so that initial user feedback could be gathered throughout the wireframing process.

They can be viewed on Poly as 3D model or VR environment:

https://poly.google.com/view/0g_MrZKa37i
https://poly.google.com/view/abNUZFHpakU

https://poly.google.com/view/fC0NteyY-F9
https://poly.google.com/view/3Ev93zCJkRv

Tiltbrush sketch after import into NEOS VR — with annotations created in NEOS.

The final Tilt Brush sketches were equivalent to low-medium fidelity wireframes, representing information hierarchy, separate information spaces, and all graphs and data sets required by users. These were then imported to Neos VR to serve as templates for further 3D design, which would include modelling of individual assets and spatial organisation.

Medium fidelity layouts for info panels and experimenting with 3D visualisations in NEOS VR.

Before finalizing this phase, functional development began, so that we could iterate on the spatial and visual designs depending on arising performance limitations.

In Part 2 of this series, we will go more in-depth of the development of the functional prototypes and discrete pieces of data visualizations with which we are currently developing.

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