Guidance isn’t just about the new user experience (NUX), it’s an overall framework on how we can guide users through the experience. Its goal is to explain the value proposition of the whole product, teach users about the features and interactions they’ll need to use, and introduce newly released features.
Guidance shouldn’t be an additive or an afterthought of a product — it has a potential to be an integral part of the whole product and user experience. With the help of well-executed guidance, we can create products that people love for its simplicity and intuitive nature. Guidance becomes even more important in VR than in 2D apps, since many things in VR can have their own unique rules and even physics. We need to educate users about their new context and environment, explain what they can do in this world, and how to interact with objects in this new reality
We also need to be empathetic to our users and put ourselves in their shoes. When it’s your first time in VR, what emotional state are you in? Are you excited, a bit anxious, uncomfortable? What are you thinking in that moment? The answers to these questions will help determine what type of guidance you need to provide at each step of the experience.
Even before you put your headset on, guidance should help answer questions such as “why should I care?”, “is this product for me?”, and “what can I do here?”
Before we approached the design for guidance on Facebook Spaces, we took a broader look at how other VR apps onboard and teach their users and what makes a successful guidance experience in VR. Together with Richard Emms, my colleague on the Facebook Social VR team, we tested 12 apps on the Oculus Store and recorded our learnings. These were instrumental in our design process and we wanted to share them with other designers. Here is a short list of the lessons we learned:
- Show value first
- Make the user part of the story
- Make the guidance part of the story
- Celebrate the first-time user experience
- Persistent characters & guides help the continuity and improve learning
- Give an option to opt in or out
- Audio is essential to bring the experience to life
- Have friendly and human conversational language
- All the guidance components should feel like an integral part of VR experience, not additive
We’ve tested 12 apps from Oculus Store:
- Google Blocks
- Job Simulator
- Kingspray Graffiti
- Star Chart
- The Climb
- Lone Echo
- Rick & Morty
- Nvidia, VR Fun House
- Robinson: the journey
- Tilt Brush
Show value first
The most successful apps get people straight into the experience, which makes the product feel magical. They don’t tell you about the value proposition but show it by engaging users in onboarding activities that start building value immediately.
In Rick & Morty Virtual Rick-ality’s onboarding, you get to explore Rick’s garage, play with all the props and do fun experiments. You get to connect to the characters and the game by being immediately immersed into their environment. The onboarding feels like a game itself, it’s not structured around learning specific gestures or interactions, but playing and discovering things on your own. You get to perform fun tasks like “Do Rick’s laundry” or “Repair Rick’s porn infected computer” which sound much more fun than “Learn how to grab” or “Learn how to move”.
One other example is sculpting the ice cream cone during Google Blocks onboarding. You start by creating value and making your first sculpture in Google Blocks. However, as you leave the onboarding, you can’t save the 3D model you just created. In the case of Spaces, we should encourage the user not only to create the 3D drawing but share it with their friends or take a snapshot with it to celebrate their first creation in VR.
Make the guidance part of the story
Making onboarding part of the story is a big missed opportunity for lots of VR apps to get the user connected and hooked into the narrative early on. There should be a continuous flow from onboarding to the main experience that builds up the story and engages the user with every step. In case of Spaces, the story is about the user, their identity (avatar creation & customization) and connecting with their friends in VR.
Even though Robinson the Journey is a game experience, we can learn a lot from how they greet the user for the first time. It all starts with a story:
“Above the skies of a distant planet. A ship’s journey ends in tragedy One boy reaches the surface But he is not alone…”
As you follow the story, you learn the main gestures & interactions that all feel like a part of a plot and move the story forward as you perform them, like learning how to feed a dinosaur. By the time you are done with onboarding, you already met your companion and some main characters so as you enter the game, it feels like a continuation of the story that already began.
In contrast, when there is a break or disconnect (story-wise and scene wise) between the main game play and onboarding, the experience feels interrupted and disjointed.
Make the user part of the story
When a user takes part in the story, they are more engaged and hooked into the experience. It becomes about them and how their actions effect the direction of the narrative. And as they start building value through artifact creation (ice cream cone in Google Blocks or Medium models), sharing them with friends, badges they feel more invested and are more likely to continue to play.
In Lone Echo you are the main character of the story. The captain greets you as you enter the spacecraft and launches the calibration process. You learn how to move in zero gravity, grab objects and communicate, and those are all part of the narrative that flows seamlessly from onboarding to the main experience. As a hero of the experience, you feel empowered and engaged in the game.
The heart of the Spaces story is the user. It’s about their unique identity and personality in VR (avatar’s appearance, emotes, gestures, etc.) and connections with the people they care about. That story starts the first moment they enter Spaces and create their avatar. That’s where the onboarding becomes crucial in placing the user at the center of the story and making them feel like themselves and comfortable with their new appearance.
Celebrate the first-time user experience
One of the most fun features of the Virtual Rick-ality onboarding is spectator cam (Broadcast your dumb clone antics to the galactic federated internet). You can turn it on before you start onboarding tasks and it will broadcast the whole game play to your audience. I think it’s an amazing opportunity to celebrate the first time user experience and help make the onboarding more social. Your friends can be with you the first time you are in Spaces and create your avatar, encourage you along the way, make suggestions and comments, and make the avatar customization a fun collaborative experience.
Persistent characters & guides help the continuity and improve learning
Similar to connecting the onboarding and main game into one story, having a persistent character or companion that guides you through the full experience helps continuity. When you enter Robinson the Journey for the first time, you right away meet your companion that is with you at all times, it helps you with learning new gestures and commands, and is always there any time you need help during the game.
Having a companion also helps learning. You do what you see. As the learning unit in Lone Echo guides you though the spaceship, you get to learn how to move around in zero gravity and anchor to the environment around you.
Audio is essential to bring the experience to life
Whenever there are dead spaces in the experience, it immediately breaks the presence. The ambience sound not only creates a mood and helps define the tone and character of the app, but it also helps creating continuity between transitions. (transition from NUX to main scene, or from main scene to pause mode)
Tilt Brush does a great job with it. Everything around you, the “magic” brush to draw, ambience environment, and sound contribute to a feeling that you have superpowers and can create magic.
Have friendly conversational language
As VR is so new, the first-time user experience can be quite nerve-racking. Being greeted by friendly and human language helps us feel welcome and creates the feeling of presence in the experience. You feel treated as you, the person, and it makes you feel like the system is paying attention to you. It can give you clear steps on how to proceed and also make the experience welcoming and more human.
For example the onboarding of Google Blocks starts with a friendly statement “Who doesn’t like ice cream” that everyone can relate to. It makes the onboarding less mechanical and connects it to an experience familiar to everyone.
All guidance components should feel like an integral part of VR experience, not additive
The tooltips shouldn’t be an additive to the experience or something that’s added at the last minute. It should feel like a native part of the product. One example of it are the tooltips on the hand UI in Tilt Brush. Those are 3D elements that appear as you hover over a button. As you hover, the icon itself becomes 3D so the tooltips work together with the UI to help guide the user. This pattern is similar to how we’ve designed guidance on desktop for decades: hovering over an button for a second usually gives you contextual information on that button and sometimes how to use it.
There are lots of lessons we can take from the learnings above in a design of our products, whether that’s a mobile app or an immersive experience. But at it’s core, we realized one main thing — we need to get people straight into the experience that makes the product magical — and for Facebook Spaces it’s being together with your friends in VR. Understand what is that magical moment for your product or flow, and structure your guidance path so that you can get your users to it as quickly as possible, and they will be more likely to come back to your app over and over again.