Fundamental Design Questions for Virtual Reality Experiences

Lucas Bazemore
Dec 6, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Hammer & Tusk on Unsplash

If you’ve experienced Virtual Reality, then you know that VR is a very different domain than any other medium that we’ve created before. Because of that, the design principles for designing websites, console games, mobile applications, or anything else we’ve created before just doesn’t cut it.

If you’re going to be designing a Virtual Reality experience, you can’t default to your previous ideas of application design. You need to create new ways in which users can interact with your world.

You’re NOT designing another piece of software or application. You’re creating a new experience. You are redefining (and hopefully enhancing) the preconceptions that a user has about a specific experience.

Whether that’s flying a plane in a game, performing surgery, or building a house, they all have preconceptions, and your job is to break down those preconceptions, and rebuild the experience into something real and tangible.

The Most Important VR Design Goal

So when it comes to VR design, you have one ultimate goal: Immersion.

A simple litmus test for Immersion is: “To what extent does the user forget they are not in the real world?”

As an example, the game Crisis VRigade (which I will do a video review of soon), nails immersion almost perfectly. I watched not 1, or 2, but 3 people attempt to lean on a virtual table and then fall down in the real world.

Safety aside, every single person was happy they fell down. They were happy because the game was real for them. Like showing a 3 year old a magic trick.

They were sweating, hearts accelerated, out of breath, and stressed while playing. Immersion at its highest.

So how do you get there?

I’ve put together a list of 47 questions that you can ask yourself regarding your VR experience to determine if you’re on the right track to the desired goal of Immersion.

Questions

Locomotion / Movement

  1. How intuitive is it to move around? (Teleporting should NOT be the default option).
  2. How easy is it to navigate around the environment?
  3. Does the locomotion make sense to the user?
  4. How instantaneous is the travel? Faster is not always better.
  5. Is the user limited in their motion in the game? How does that translate to the environment? (i.e. a balcony or a chair)
  6. Uniqueness?

Proportions / Sizing

  1. Are objects correctly sized relative to the user? Both sitting and standing?
  2. Are text, images, and papers sized relative to their distance from the user?
  3. Do objects feel like it’s spatially where it would be in real life when I’m interacting with it?
  4. Uniqueness?

Proximity / Relativity

  1. How close are objects to the user?
  2. How close are objects that need to be immediately used?
  3. How far does the user have to travel to accomplish their task?
  4. How far or close is the user allowed to get to certain objects?
  5. If this is primarily a sitting experience, will their physical chair or bed get in the way?
  6. Uniqueness?

Interactivity (NPCs & Players)

  1. How does the user interact with NPC’s or other users? Is it gesture driven? or simply “click A to interact”?
  2. How does the player communicate with other players?
  3. How does the player learn from others?
  4. Uniqueness?

Interactivity (Environment)

  1. Can the user interact with everything? or just a few things?
  2. If it’s a few things, how does the user intuitively know?
  3. How far can the user roam in the environment?
  4. Are barriers clearly defined?
  5. How do you tell the user they can’t go somewhere?
  6. Uniqueness?

Onboarding

  1. Do you show or tell the user how to interact with the environment?
  2. How long do you wait for the user to try stuff before you show them what to do?
  3. Can you use haptics to guide the user?
  4. Do you provide stark contrast to guide the user where to do?
  5. Uniqueness?

Exploration

  1. How do you enable users to explore the environment?
  2. What can they do in their environment that is different from the main objective?
  3. How does the user know they’ve “discovered” something new?
  4. Are paths easily navigable or within the field of view? or are things obstructing the field of view?
  5. If it’s primarily a sitting experience, is the user surrounded by a new world or is everything in front of them?
  6. Uniqueness?

Audio / Sounds

  1. How are you using the audio vector (intensity and direction) to guide the user?
  2. Do you use audio to indicate new things or new events or simple accomplishments?
  3. When does audio start?
  4. Does the audio match the environment or situation the user is in?
  5. Uniqueness?

Physics

  1. How the physics of your environment work?
  2. Can time, gravity, speed, momentum, angular momentum, acceleration, charge, be manipulated?
  3. Do the physics feel real? or at least real enough to trick the brain?
  4. Uniqueness?

Controls

  1. What does the user do to interact with the environment?
  2. Where are the users “tools” for the game or space?
  3. How does the user switch between their tools? How quick is that transition?
  4. How precise do the movements need to be in order to be “successful” with their action?

5. Uniqueness?

Visuals

  1. How large is the field of vision within the environment?
  2. How much light is in a particular space?
  3. Does the environment create a more immersive experience or a more distracting environment?
  4. Do the visuals tell a story or just occupy space?
  5. Uniqueness?

Cues / Signals

  1. How is light, haptics, shadows, moving objects, color contrast, sound, etc… used to cue the user as to what to do?
  2. Uniqueness?

Menus

  1. How does the user access menus?
  2. How does the user interact with the menus that are available?
  3. Can the user “touch” the menu and interact with it?
  4. How does the user input information into a system?
  5. Uniqueness?

Immersion

So if you take all of those fancy words and cherry pick the letters that you want, you get the silly mnemonic: VR IS SOMEPLACE.

(I spent way too long trying to make that up, but if you’ve got a better one, throw it at me.)

Regardless, these are just a few considerations when you’re designing your VR experience.

If you’re able to answer these questions and provide a unique, intuitive experience, then your VR IS SOMEPLACE = Immersion.


If you think I’ve missed something or think of more questions to ask, please comment below! I am also happy to review your VR experience and provide any feedback / insights I can provide.

You can also checkout my website: https://bazemore.me

Lucas Bazemore

Written by

Software Engineer. VR enthusiast / designer 😄 https://bazmore.me

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