Designing Live 360 Videos: Right Time, Right Place

On going where few designers have gone before

Some of our most meaningful connections in life come down to a single circumstance: You had to be there.

Shared time and place deeply affect our experiences. Friends who get the inside joke and nations that remember when they heard about culture-defining events share a common thread: everyone knows where they were. Places so tightly bind us, that we fear missing out because we know we can’t fully understand parts of our world when we aren’t present.

In other words, the FOMO is real.

Often times, we just can’t be there for all the moments we care about because of, well, life. In 2015, Facebook launched Live videos to let people catch moments big and small as they happened, from breaking news to the moment that watermelon finally exploded.

An early version of Facebook Live videos, 2015

People still weren’t getting the full experience, though: while Live videos gets us to the right time, many events depend on a sense of place that a 2D video can’t capture. This sense of place is important, because you can’t feel truly present watching someone else’s view of the world. Being there means looking around and interpreting stories through any view you choose.

A place to improve Live

As Live videos brought people to moments in time, Facebook also launched 360 videos to take people to new places. Rather than define your view, 360 videos make your screen a window into a world you can freely explore in 360 degree space. Without leaving Facebook, you can visit Yosemite with President Obama or even other galaxies just by interacting with a 360 video.

The first version of 360 videos, 2015

After interning on Facebook Profile in summer 2015, I returned to join the VR & Immersive Design team following my graduation. As a result, I happened to be in the right time and place to design a solution for missing out: combining Live and 360 videos to make Live 360 videos.

A Facebook Live video with 360 space

Designing new territory

This week marks the launch of Live 360 videos and my first six months learning how we approach immersive design at Facebook. We design to connect people to the right places to make the world feel more open. We use media that embraces space to capture that sense of place, from virtual reality to 360 videos. Naturally, the first Live 360 video takes us to a place where astronauts are preparing to travel into space.

Similarly, designing for space forced me beyond my own comfort zone. When I became the designer for Facebook’s Live 360 videos, I — like many designers — had only ever worked in 2D. Now, I’m uniquely challenged to solve problems across not only space, but also time — often without data or precedent, because 360 media is so new. While designing, I learned a set of lessons for designing territory where few designers have gone before:

  1. Meet people where they’re at.
  2. Lean on patterns people know.
  3. Take a stand on what isn’t flexible.
  4. Step back and consider the full view.

Meet people where they’re at.

As a team tasked to design futuristic media like VR, people are often surprised at how much of our work begins on desktops and phone screens. My team aims to bring people into VR because it provides the best sense of place, but most people cannot access VR. Designing Live 360 videos, I’ve learned taking people new places often means starting where they are at. We can help more people experience the right time and place by building Live 360 videos for devices they already have first.

Many devices and browsers that support Live videos don’t support the ability to move around 360 space. To make Live 360 accessible, I had to figure out how to help people enjoy content made for 360 in a 2D context. This meant introducing 360 media to people who can’t interact with it and likely have never seen it. Immersive content shouldn’t dictate where people look, so I decided we should unravel the full 360 video content rather than choose a 2D view. I then added call-to-actions to help people on non-supported devices understand their experience wasn’t intended and help troubleshoot.

On a supporting device, a window that allows exploration through interaction
On non-supporting devices or browsers, the full view and troubleshooting

Lean on patterns people know.

Just because people can access an experience doesn’t mean they understand it. Novel experiences like 360 videos can be confusing and overwhelming. Designing to ease that introduction taught me that meeting people where they’re at means leaning on patterns they know. People know to tune in live to watch unfolding moments; 360 space could immerse them in moments more richly. We could help people comprehend Live 360 videos more easily by building on the Live moment.

While 360 videos encourage people to engage with content, Live videos encourage people to engage with each other.

The design that immerses people in 360 content—distraction-free viewing, spatial movement — competes with conversations that make Live videos social. Making 360 videos feel familiar meant they had make space for the social moment. Alex Cornell, the lead designer on Live, helped me figure out how to change 360 videos to put Live first by design. We ended up doing just that: instead of immersing people right away, we start people in the social view and let them discover the space through casual interaction.

Starting in social mode and touching the video to reveals the full 360 space

Take a stand on what isn’t flexible.

Even if people recognize an experience, they’ll only see the value if they can use it. People watch 360 videos to go places and more fully experience them, but they can’t without the viewing control that makes them feel present. Defining that value taught me that leaning on existing patterns means taking a stand on what isn’t flexible. While embracing the social moment, Live 360 videos had to let people pan around the full 360 space at any time.

To my challenge, Live videos use the touch controls that let people explore 360 space. This helps people control context to inform what’s happening. I had to distinguish these controls so people could both follow the story and experience the setting. I learned what people wanted based on where they touched. Swiping context reflects the information people want, while swiping on the video lets them explore the full space. Even when context is present, people can still choose their view by moving their phone around.

Touching and swiping to control the context and move around the view

Step back to consider the full view.

Above all else, people should enjoy the experience they’re using. Qualities that let people enjoy Live and 360 videos individually can be hard to watch when combined, especially on small screens. Anticipating an unfolding event is exciting; following that narrative in 360 space can be overwhelming. As I rigorously preserved what I believed were defining qualities, I realized taking a stand on what isn’t flexible requires knowing when to step back and consider the full view. With content so unpredictable, Live 360 videos had to be comfortable to watch as whole.

By design, Live and 360 videos both adapt to tell stories but differ in which story to tell. 360 videos shift to take elements off of content to help people follow narratives in space, while Live videos shift to layer videos with different conversations in time. Helping people follow so much information meant changing both video types to give people focus. I decided dynamic time and position indicators should remain fixed and reliable even as the scene changes. At the risk of discouraging interaction, I reduced additive guidance to offer help only when relevant.

Time and position indicators stay constant in every viewing mode; education only presents when it makes sense

Live in the future

“The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” — William Gibson

So, what’s next? By designing VR, we work on the future; through Live 360 videos, we work to distribute the future to everyone so no one misses out. We invest in experiences that bring people forward because we know everything—even the future—has a time and place.
Someday I hope we’ll live to see time travel and teleportation; for now, the right time and place live on the phone in your pocket.

Check out more stories and resources from the Facebook VR design team at