Your body is real and so are your expectations

Research notes on UX challenges for VR

Happy users wearing VR headset (source)

I’m currently working on my talk on space and computing for EuroIA #euroia17 later this year, and I came across this selection of resource notes on design challenges for VR. It won’t be in my talk, but perhaps you find it useful.

In summary: although what you see is virtual, the limits of your body are not. You have to take the physical limits of the body into account when you design. Furthermore: even though you are designing a virtual world, the user will bring with them all the expectations of living in the real world. Gravity is expected to work the same, and recognisable objects are assumed to have the same affordances as in the wild.

Your muscles are not virtual

In his blog post From product design to virtual reality Jean-Marc Denis writes:

A study, published in Neuro and Spine Surgery measured varying pressures in our neck as our head moves to different positions. Moving from a neutral head position looking straight ahead to looking down increase the pressure by 440%. The muscles and ligaments get tired and sore; the nerves are stretched, and discs get compressed. All of this misbehavior can lead to serious long-term issues such as permanent nerves damages.

Micro-interactions are hard inVR

In his blogpost UX pointers for VR design timoni west writes:

Most of the time, our proprioception is just fine: maybe not exact, but good enough for everyday life. For smaller, precise movements like writing or drawing, humans are used creating on 2D planes, physically supported by a table, desk, or something similar. We can’t draw gravity-defying sculptures in real life, and when we can see our motions over time — like, say, the trail a sparkler leaves — we generally can’t move around it quickly enough to see just how off our actions are in z-space.

Users expect your world to behave like their world

In her blogpost Get started with VR: user experience design Adrienne Hunter writes:

Users view the virtual world the same way they view the physical world. If an object looks like it can be picked up, knocked over, or pushed, users will try to do so. Every effort should be made to allow for those interactions. Users being able to modify the environment by physically interacting with it helps create a sense of immersion.
Using physics as a foundation for your interaction design can provide realistic physical qualities to virtual objects. For example, we can use mass to make sure that heavier objects won’t budge when lighter objects are used to try to knock them over.
[However] the more objects you put in the environment that can’t be interacted with, the less the user will feel like they physically exist in the space, and may begin to think their actions are futile or will have no impact.

Users assume that familiar objects have the same affordances

In his blogpost Making Great VR: Six Lessons Learned From I Expect You To Die Jesse Schell writes:

In a traditional adventure game, objects are often uni-taskers: screwdrivers are for unscrewing and nothing else. Knives are for cutting and nothing else. It is a sort of “key and lock” mentality. But when the phenomenon of immersion takes over, and your body thinks the virtual world is real, a great deal more detail is expected.
If I pick up a virtual coin and hold it in my hand, turning it over to look at front and back, I might be really immersed in what I’m doing if it looks realistic. But if I then drop it, and it makes no sound, I’ll be reminded that the world is fake, and my immersion is destroyed.

If you want to read more about VR, Max Glenister has created a long list of articles on the UX of VR.