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Immersive Interview with Anastasia Ku

Volodymyr Kurbatov
May 1, 2019 · 7 min read

For those of you who didn’t know Anastasia Ku is an editor of Inborn Experience. So if you have any questions related publication or want to submit your article feel free to drop her a line on Twitter.

You have a lot of experience in UX, and especially user research. Did you have a chance to apply it to VR?

Yeah! I have always been curious about VR experiences, and how VR research methodologies differ from the more traditional 2D ones. This curiosity helped me to get involved in a number of VR projects as a UX designer and researcher. My most recent projects included running usability testing for a mobile game VR FPS and a VR animation tool Tvori.

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What do you think is the main difference between usability testing for VR and classic flat UI?

There is quite a few that I came across!

First of all, it’s motion sickness. Knowing that VR can (and does) cause physical discomfort, I also run Simulation Sickness Questionnaire before and after each session. This allows to understand if the experience anyhow caused any physical discomfort for the participants.

The same issue made me consider taking breaks every 20 minutes, or anticipate that the session won’t be finished at all.

Setting up the room is a big difference too. You have to consider safe space, non-spinning chairs, space for yourself too. Even some simple things, like drinks! Participants should always be able to get some water, especially if they might feel unwell. However, in order to avoid the glass being accidentally knocked down, it can’t be standing anywhere near the participant.

Another challenge was talking to participants while they were in the headset with headphones on. It didn’t really matter for the experiences like Tvori, but in gaming, sound is a big part of immersion, so I had to be careful when and how to approach participants with my questions or instructions.

Hygiene is another point. Using the same HMD for different people is not really hygienic. I tried one-time-use face masks, but they slip off the face. So I had to come up with the solutions like taping the masks to the HMD for each new participant.

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What tools are you using for designing for VR?

To document concepts and ideas, something as simple as pen and paper do well :) For a little bit more interactive stuff that would be Adobe XD. To have proper spatial prototypes, I have been learning Unity, and exploring tools like Hologram.

Recently though, I have discovered that UI or animation tools in VR can be really useful too. Tools like Microsoft Maquette, Tvori or Oculus Quill deliver ideas in a spatial format very easily.

What are your favourite VR experiences?

This would definitely be creative tools like Google Blocks, Tvori, Oculus Quill. To me, these are what VR is all about!

I also really enjoy immersive stories like Crow or Henry, and more interactive games like Racket Fury :)

What hardware are you using for VR?

It mainly is Oculus Rift, which I am ever so grateful to be given to play with by a friend! I also have an Oculus Go, and am playing around with Leap Motion a bit.

You have Master Degree in Linguistics. Did it help somehow with your design career?

Yeah, absolutely! Part of my degree, cognitive linguistics, definitely contributes in my UX and research career. Briefly, cognitive linguistics (as an intersection between linguistics and psychology) describes how language patterns are formed, perceived and understood by people.

As a UX researcher now, I have been using some linguistic research methodologies to assess if people understand and remember the product from its description; as well as understand their attitude towards the product through their language.

What do you think, what skills from classic UX design job will be transferable to VR and what not?

Good question! If we are talking about UX, then all skills are directly transferable. To me, UX design is about understanding and solving a problem, and medium here should be part of the solution, not a problem.

Saying that, I believe that VR does require a slightly different approach than designing 2D experiences. VR is more immersive, it is experiential, and thus requires assessing touch points with the variety of sensory stimuli. You’d need to understand space, distance and movement better, as well as spatial sound, touch, senses of balance and physical comfort.

What’s also important, when designing for VR, is that you must test and see it on the real device rather than a desktop screen.

But generally, I do believe that if you know how to design things (regardless which medium it is), you can apply your skills directly to design experiences in VR too.

On your website, there are a few experiments like the “AR calligraphy for kids” and “Know your process” card game. I noticed a tendency that a lot of successful designers have own side projects. Do you think such explorations really help with career and skills?

Absolutely! They allow me to explore areas I am passionate about, and ultimately determine more clearly where I want to go and what I want to do. They do, in a way, shape my career path. I actually believe that such explorations are as valuable in growing my knowledge, experience and skill set as my day-to-day job.

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What is your experience of creating a haptic glove? Do you think such accessories have chances to hit the market soon?

Haptic glove was another experiment that I wanted to play around with for a while. After seeing a few of my friends doing projects with Arduino and Unity, I was just curious to learn more about it and see if it was something I could do myself too! I did use a lot of guidance from friends, tutorials and more tech savvy people, like my boyfriend, and but it was definitely satisfying to see the results we managed to achieve.

I am not sure if it is something that will be available and popular in the market soon though. It definitely has potential and can enhance VR experiences making them more immersive and realistic, I just feel VR is still at its early stages, and haptics have a long way to go to break into the mass market.

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What are the most required skills for UX designers who want to switch to VR?

Definitely understanding space, distance, movement in space. As a linguist, I believe that understanding psychology, communication patterns and different interaction methods is really important too. Immersive virtual environments will draw people to try VR, but what will make them want to come back is interaction. And knowing the psychology behind what triggers that interaction and how to facilitate that interaction within the virtual space will be an important skill set for the UX designer in VR.

What are your plans for the future?

Get involved in R&D in VR for the service that would truly enhance someone’s experience, that would be helpful and beneficial for users. Living in London, where the pace of life is so fast, and seeing people getting anxious and having little time for themselves, I would love to create an experience to help people calm down, relax and deal with mental health issues.

It sounds like a good plan. If you could, what career advice would you offer to younger yourself?

Explore, learn and have fun :)

What other activities or initiatives do you enjoy besides VR?

I am an avid board gamer. I also love crafts, and do lots of doodles and play with watercolours. When the weather allows (and in London, it’s not always the case :)), I enjoy roller blading.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Thank you for inviting for the interview, Volodymyr :)

This story is part of series Immersive Interviews. If you are also VR/AR designer, and you have what to say (I’m sure that you have) drop me or Anastasiia Ku a line on Twitter. Check out the previous interview from this series:

Inborn Experience (UX in AR/VR)

Learn about user experience in augmented and virtual…

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