WHAT SENIORS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE OCULUS RIFT

Oculus Rift, as many of you know, has been a hot topic in the tech world, especially after Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR back in March 2014. Although many of us have heard about this new Virtual Reality product, only a small percentage of the population has used it.

We, the EXD (Experience Design) team at Edelman, are extremely excited to try out VR and hope to apply it toward enriching our designs in the future. Given the mounting curiosity of this relatively new product experience, I, as a UX designer, aimed to better understand how a very small user group of users with limited technological expertise might react to the experience of “being transported” out of reality through the rift. The goal of this experiment was to try to identify potential pain points/barriers with a different than expected user group. After some thought we decided to focused on seniors (65+). This user group fit our needs given their general lack of exposure to technology.

After the Holidays my brother, Winslow Porter, a creative technologist at MKG, and I set up an appointment at the Williamsburg Senior Center. We walked in with an Oculus and a software copy of the Clouds documentary, an interactive documentary which transforms computer code (usually invisibly) into a prime visual attraction.

While setting up the Oculus for our informal guerilla testing, it was clear to us that there were a lot of emotions swirling around the small library, some of it curiosity but most of it nervousness. Of the 12 people in the room sitting, reading and/or watching TV only a small handful asked questions and wanted to know more. We asked the group if they were interested in trying out a new virtual reality experience, but sadly the majority of the folks were uncomfortable about attempting something unknown. We frequently heard “That stuff is not for me” or “I’ll just watch”. Our small user group was not having it so we were forced to roam the senior center looking for willing testers.

Thankfully we found 10 open-minded folks who were willing to sample the Oculus, and they were extremely curious and excited to see what awaited them on the other side of the goggles. Once the seniors put the headset on we had to remind them that their time was up; otherwise, I’m almost certain every one of them could have continued the experience for hours on end. It is always challenging to survey users’ reactions without seeing firsthand the content they are responding to (something we sadly do not have), but regardless, the feedback is priceless. Check out a few of the gems here:

Some of the results:

MORE USER FINDINGS

For more on these user finding check out the Pew Research Center article

Our testers’ reactions were not that surprising given that most 65+ year olds still regard TV as their only form of hi-tech entertainment. Most of our user pool had not yet experienced an IMAX movie and did not know what it was, nor did they regard the mobile phone as a form of entertainment, but rather, as a means by which to contact family members or get assistance in emergency situations. Because of the vast tech divide between our generation and theirs, we were certain that the experience in the rift would be mind-blowing for our testers.

Based on our Oculus testing we’ve deduced that apprehensiveness toward new technology likely stems from a lack of exposure to and understanding of tech as a whole. Form factor may also drive the reluctance to dive in and try the device. While the person enjoys and moves around in that virtual space these individuals are still very much in the real world. This performative quality can make users feel slightly vulnerable and uncomfortable while setting up us spectators for great Instagram opportunities and a few laughs here and there. Because of this sometimes it is best to isolate the user in a more private space so they don’t feel those external pressures.

So let’s get into the positive findings. Not all users were uncomfortable by the rift clear, evidence of this seen above. The people who did try it were amazed with the experience, some even thought the technology was so advanced that the Oculus and software would recognize the human voice and that they could ask questions. (something which we will most likely see in the future.)

THE TAKE AWAY

Virtual Reality offer all users, technologically savvy or not, a memorable and often times valuable experience. It is a new vehicle for creative and powerful storytelling but as creators we must be mindful of the total end to end experience. How can we make users feel more comfortable when it come to new technology? Perhaps this means thinking a bit more about the on-boarding experience for all user groups even the ones we may not be targeting.