6 takeaways from designing a VR story

As immersive techniques evolve from novelties to vital tools for better customer experience we, as creatives, must learn to tell stories through these technologies.

Launched in 2016, the IKEA VR Kitchen explored the potential of virtual reality and led to the development of two further VR applications. The first is to inform and inspire customers before they take any important decisions about a new kitchen. The second sees how VR can best help people to visualise their own kitchen designs.

The challenge — and opportunity — for us came from the lack of established best practices for this new platform. Last spring saw my first work-related encounter with VR and what follows are some of the learnings from that experience.

Our assignment was to create a narrative for a VR experience that would inspire potential customers. Had this been a movie rather than VR, we’d have been the scriptwriters.

So, there we were, faced with a really exciting challenge — and yet none of us in the team had any experience with this medium.

Creative challenge: How might we use Virtual Reality in the IKEA stores, to help inform, entertain and inspire customers at the start of their journey towards a new IKEA kitchen?

Our solution: IKEA VR Pancake Kitchen — An experience where customers prepare and cook pancakes in an IKEA kitchen while they learn the key principles of how to plan their own kitchen.

First of all, we set up a scrum board for the project, so that we could all see where we needed to focus our efforts. To learn more about how scrum can be used in creative projects see my previous post: How points can strengthen your team’s creative process.

Once you find the tools and ingredients inside the kitchen, you can start to make pancakes.

The six main learnings

  1. Find out what the VR experience should do. We needed to answer our creative challenge — How might we use VR to inform, entertain and inspire customers at the start of their journey towards a new IKEA kitchen? — and also to contribute to the customer experience as a whole. So we considered the other steps in the kitchen-buying process and then chose the content that could be the most helpful to present within the VR context.
  2. Users look for purpose — if you haven’t designed for it, they will create their own. As soon as users don’t know what they are supposed to do they start to make something up by themselves. We experienced this ourselves when testing various VR demos. When we didn’t know how to move forward, we started to throw objects and trash things just for fun. And that’s also the reason why we replaced the iconic IKEA meatballs with pancakes, which are naturally of a more “throwable” nature.
  3. Think scenes — not screens. We’re used to linear storytelling (like the flow of a web-page or a film), taking for granted that people will follow our narrative. In VR, they can just turn their heads and miss the whole point. So we had to think of what users should be able to do in different scenes and how we activate them, rather than coming up with a fixed order of events that only make sense on paper.
  4. VR is still a novelty for most people. While it headlined the 2015/2016 trend reports, most people have never tried a VR headset. Just the experience of being in a VR world for the first time can be so overwhelming that the user might miss some of your key content. To make sure that people can fully engage with the experience, there must be enough time for them first to get used to the navigation and the environment.
  5. How do we know we’re doing the right things when we know so little about VR? Without the ability to immediately test our ideas in a VR setting, we prototyped the experience both in our office kitchen and in the IKEA store. We used a Go-Pro to record the user’s point of view and also built fake VR goggles out of a ski-mask, iPhone, rubber bands and Post-it notes. This lo-fi prototype helped us to discuss the roles of the IKEA co-worker, customer and the VR experience itself. We could also assess and modify the physical demands on the user.
  6. Who else can we learn from? For virtual reality, there’s plenty to learn from video games. Malmö, home of IKEA Creative Hub, is blessed with several leading games studios. Bouncing our early ideas off a game designer gave us some valuable feedback that helped us to straighten out some kinks.
Flip it!

Footnote

During spring 2017, IKEA VR Pancake Kitchen and another VR initiative, VR Kitchen Visualiser, are trialling in-store at IKEA Hasselt, Belgium; IKEA Etobicoke, Canada, IKEA Västerås and IKEA service and pick-up point in Enebyängen, Sweden.

If you’re interested to know more about VR and other technical advancements at IKEA visit http://martin.enthed.se

Thanks to Jonathan Mackness for his insights and help on writing this post