Why UX designers should care about VR and AR

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are beginning to broadening the concept of what a UX designer is and what exactly is it that we do. This is a change that can only take place if we as designers are ready to accept that challenge and to accept a change in our current roles. The term user experience has become so broad that it is often difficult to describe with much specificity and is easily misinterpreted as something that it isn’t. In regards to AR or VR the concept of user experience becomes even more vague. Does this refer to two dimensional menus within a 3 dimensional space or does this refer to a broader range of possible interactions with that space. Virtual Reality does not necessarily need user experience designers, but it is in need of HCI ( human computer interaction ) designers. HCI far more accurately describes the type of design that is necessary to create and improve AR/VR interactions. How people interact with this new technology is one of the greatest challenges that AR/VR faces today.

To me, a designer is a person who uses the principles of design to aid, enhance, and manipulate human action. This is a concept fully independent of a particular medium such as architecture, branding, or user experience. Typically, we use a process to segment a target audience, analyze human behavior, and create solutions designed around our findings. This is a process built around creating viable solutions and not necessarily ones where is the end result is a flat screen.

If you consider yourself a designer in the core sense of the word and less of an organizer of boxes and arrows then VR might be the right place for you. There are human interaction challenges in spaces far beyond the screen in VR. The design thinking does not stop at the end of the pixel. To be true to our goals here we must thinking holistically about the entire chain of interactions. That means considering hardware solutions, artificial intelligence, voice, audio design, no-UI interactions, 3D hand gestures, and technology that has yet to be fully realized. These things are beyond the scope of a typical user experience designer, but the path to creating solutions using these things is rooted in the design process.


As designers we seek the opportunity to create meaningful and impactful work. When it comes to flat screen-based design, most of the innovative design has already been done. Standardized patterns have been informally accepted and baked into the library of common knowledge. These days, rarely is a new interaction or design pattern meaningful enough to take root as a global solution. If we do create unique solutions, they are often bespoke one-offs, never to be repeated again.

What AR/VR offers us as designers is the opportunity to create new solutions for an emerging medium where so much is still undefined. Where there are known problems that plague the entirety of the industry that no one has solved well enough to become common knowledge. AR/VR is the new frontier of design, just as mobile was before it, and the web was before it. To ignore AR/VR now is to miss a critical phase and opportunity in our evolution as designers and as guardians of empathetic human computer interaction.

by Jean-Pierre Chery
HCI Designer