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Becoming a Virtual Reality Designer

Lessons from a VR intern at Facebook

Maheen Sohail
Dec 15, 2016 · 6 min read
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The many lessons you‘re taught while designing at Facebook. My favourite: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Lesson #1 : Create your own curriculum

As an intern, I had to work on several projects within 12 weeks all while learning how to design for VR. Thanks to the work environment at Facebook—which encourages time spent learning and tinkering as well as collaborating with a supportive group of peers — I was able to keep up.

Lesson #2 : Put it on your face

A phrase we often say on the Facebook VR team is “put it on your face.” This emphasizes the fact that you shouldn’t design for VR without building a prototype that can be tried on a headset itself. Similar to how an app might look beautiful when designing it in Photoshop or Sketch but feels very different when you view it on your phone, watching a video of a VR experience is very different than how it actually feels once you see it in the headset.

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My workflow as I adapted to designing for VR

Lesson #3: Choose your platform

The input differences in the headsets can cause confusion, so it’s important to choose a single platform to design for and then expand from there. Although most VR headsets have a button, there are some that don’t, like Homido. Some work with console controllers out of the box like Oculus Rift; others require some custom configuration such as Gear VR.

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Homido, GearVR and Oculus Rift
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Google Cardboard

Lesson #4: Learn the terminology

Part of the problem with adapting to VR design is that terminology is still being defined. Field of view and reticle are two common loaned words from video games that we use in VR today. Other words like pitch, yaw and roll are borrowed from engineering disciplines. As time progresses, most designers have settled on the meaning of these words in the context of VR. For me, having conversations with designers and engineers who are familiar with VR proved to be the most useful when learning the terminology. My background in film and game design also proved to be useful as I was able to adapt terms I already knew to this new field.

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Field of view is the number of degrees in the VR visual area. It effects how much you can see in VR.

Lesson #5: Lean into your strengths

A product designer new to VR should already know that ideating does not require fancy tools, that iteration is key to good design and that it’s important to test your prototypes with users early in the process. Many folks working in VR today don’t have a background in product design, but other disciplines like software and game development instead. Understanding your strengths as a designer will bring great value as there is a lot that product designers can offer teams developing for VR.

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