Why VR Design?
As the end of 2016, I look at Virtual Reality software and see a huge opportunity.
A few months ago I wrote a few sentences about why and how I think VR and AR could change everything about the software we use. People kept asking me about those paragraphs, so I’m writing a new article. Hopefully this will clear some doubts on why I’m so excited about the future of Virtual Reality software.
A 3D World
In order to think about VR Design, you have to rethink Software Design. “Flat” design such as the one we have today in our software is different from Volumetric or 3D Design. Flat Design is inspired by Graphic and Industrial Design. VR/AR design is more of a fusion between Architecture, Sculpture and Animation. Volumetric software comes with different principles and constraints than flat software, and it should be thought of and implemented differently.
There are multiple limitations in 2D interfaces that we’ll surpass by using Volumetric interfaces:
- 2D Graphical User Interfaces render everything at one distance from the user in a flat screen.
Designers and engineers have worked around this for ages by using depth cues, like shadows and transparency. In applications where you have to work in 3D, like 3DsMax or Blender, we get multiple perspectives, oftentimes 4 camera views all rendering at once, just so we can understand 3D! That’s not necessary in VR/AR, because you already have stereoscopic vision, so you see in 3D. This why I think Oculus Medium has the potential to become the first true killer app for VR. It’s a breakthrough that makes for the first natural user interface for 3D professionals. If Oculus continues to develop Medium the right way, I can see it taking market share from ZBrush and Max/Maya.
- The viewport for our computers still looks and feels a lot like “Digital Paper”.
2D GUIs are still centered around the metaphor of papers and folders stacked on a “desktop”. 2D GUI Design today is still so indebted to the work done at PARC in the 70s that Ted Nelson calls it PUI for PARC User Interface. This is a chance to start anew and wonder: what do we want computing to be? Can we imagine it differently?
Add to this the second revolution going on today- Natural Input. We are finally getting computers to understand hand gestures, voice, eye movement and even gaze as forms of input. Take a look at Eyefluence, a startup that managed to use eyes as a form of input for AR headsets. Here’s a demo of their interface. People who have used it say it feels as if the computer is reading your mind.
What could a VR/AR look like?
Let’s start our speculative outlook by reading this paper - “The Role of Social Presence in Interactive Agent-Based Persuasion”.
A bit of background — one year ago I was working at a VR company and they wanted to sell VR to large corporations for training. They felt like if we could find scientific evidence for benefits of training in VR, we could make a stronger case. I read quite a few papers on the subject, but the evidence was contradictory. We couldn’t really prove that VR made for better memory recall or persuasion. With exception of one particular paper, which did find a positive connection.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Results of causal model tests suggest that interactive agents facilitate social presence leading to increased message processing, which in turn affects both attitude and behavioral intentions (…).”
By interactive agents they mean characters. They were testing whether using characters in a VR scene meant you would be more open to persuasion by the message of the experience. The key to the effect, and the authors discuss this in more detail in the paper, is what they call the Heuristic Systematic Model. The model predicts that the more systems you engage in your subject, the likelier you are of your message being received. The paper discusses that vividness and interactivity are the origin for “social presence”, and social presence is the key for better message processing in users.
Now this paper blew me away. What can we imagine from this if we open our mind’s eye?
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
I’m fascinated by this film. If characters, or social agents, are the best way to make users interact with VR/AR software, and users have portable VR/AR headsets, could the World look like that?
I love the idea that one day software would be characters. Software programs could walk among us and have a personality. Your credit card could be a character. Amazon could be a character. Thinking about this is most fun I’ve had imagining a VR/AR world. Brands could finally have full expressions of their personalities as characters and you would interact with them everyday.
It’s 2022 and you own a pair of AR glasses. They can project “photons into your eyes”, so 3D objects look real. For their new version of Hololens, Microsoft builds “Microsoft Accountant”.
When you wear your AR Glasses the Accountant character:
- Tells you how much you’ve spent on different goods this month
- Tells you much you have left to pay on your mortgage
- Keeps doing quick searches for better deals on your investments
- Gives you quick nod for “Yes” or “No” whenever you’re at a shop holding an item or getting close to checkout, telling you whether you’re spending more than your budget for this month
I think on some version of a Volumetric future is both cool and inevitable, so we might as well be on the driver’s seat. It’s a myth that it doesn’t matter who or how we build our futures, that it’s inevitable, or that everyone will reach the exact same conclusion. I am a big believer in the influence of individuals to shape their future. With my background in Animation, Film and Storytelling, I look at VR UX and see the biggest opportunity of my lifetime. Mobile Design has taught us that Animation matters, that users care, and that they want to be soothed and awed by their technology.
Amazing futures like this one are imaginative and fanciful, yes, but they’re a wonderful way to spend the time (it’s even better to build them!). I can see incredible possibilites in VR Design, the possibility of changing computing for the better, to make it more poetic and humane. When I look at our VR/AR/Holographic future, I think what a wonderful world that could be, if only it had more beauty (and less datamining) in it, and I’ve decided to take my career in a direction where I can shape it.
Rafael Kino 2017