Which VR design tool should you use?

UX ,Visual Design and work enters a brave new world.

Are you scratching your head about which tool to use for AR/VR design?

We’ve all read the hip ‘designing VR in VR’ posts and are jazzed to get going on projects! They inspire and give us theoretical insight, but which tool should you use to actually get the job done?

It depends whether you are a business analyst, low fidelity interaction designer, high fidelity UI specialist or 3D modeler.

Let’s review each tool by job function across a gradation of boutique design firms to fortune 100 company.

Business Analysts and Founders might like Sketchbox

A screenshot from Sketchbox

If you find yourself gathering requirements and unearthing implicit business strategies, models, needs, pain points then you might use a tool such as balsamiq, Lucid Charts, powerpoint, keynote or google slides because they let you move quick to sketch ideas. You drive fast and take chances as you begin to consider the big picture. Do you worry about coloring inside the line? No way. In Sketchbox, I could use a pen, staight line, shape tool, and pick from what seemed like 9 colors. You can undo and redo. There is a bit more than what you see but you are essentially drawing a business idea on a cocktail napkin — which is an important tool! You are limited and that seems to be the point and the power.

UX and Visual Designers might like Tiltbrush

This tool reminds me of the early days of Photoshop. There are lots of brushes and effects. You can take screen shots and video from inside the app which is very helpful because these need to get sent to product managers, clients and vice presidents for review. In Sketchbox and MakeVR I couldn’t figure out how to take a picture from inside. Might be user error but I found myself missing that. I stop short of saying that Tiltbrush is good for a 3D modeler because there were not a lot of options for lights as in point, hemi, spot etc. Plus a 3D modeler might have issues with normals when they export. But this is not a drawback. Tiltbursh seems to VR what supermario was to video game consoles. It bursts at the seems with functions and great user experience. You know what they do have? 3D guides to help you make perfect shapes. This tool seems great for someone who really wants to create wireframes in 3D that will get passed on for final production and development of business applications. The tool is alluring and will be great for anyone trying to impress a CEO or CTO. Business analysts could squeak by in this tool but they wil probably like Sketchbox more.

Interaction and Visual Designers + 3D Modelers may like Tvori

I say interaction and not UX since some UX designers like to work in sequences of static layouts. They still do some interaction design but someone more focused on perfecting a micro interaction will get more mileage out of Tvori since it has animation. That was big for me when I had to pick between Illustrator and Axure. They are both incredible tools but Axure gave me animations which helped when designing conditional database logic for geo-spatial systems. Of course there was another guy using Illustrator and Photoshop. They are all indispensable. I digress. I included 3D modelers for this tool since there are some lighting options and although I didn’t check the export options it seems like a robust tool.

3D Modelers may like MakeVR

If you do 3D modeling, this things is great. I noticed you can export to STL and OBJ. Lots of addition and subtraction features. It is powerful. There is a lot you can do here. Not sure if the lighting options are as good as Tvori but you can always export and handle that in your standard modeling software. This software has totally different interactions than any of the others but once you get used to them you appreciate them just as much. You can really get carried away in this tool because of all the options. I don’t suggest it for a business analyst because I wouldn’t suggest Maya, 3DS Max, Blender or any 3D modeling tool for a business analyst. You can still design spatially in google slides. Just mess around with the 3D shapes and read up a bit on visual perception and you will be the go-to gal or guy at your company.

The future of design…

Lots of people have asked why you would even want to design or work in Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality? That is like people working from a type writer asking why people are starting to use computers.

The reason is you aren’t limited to hunching over a square screen anymore. The whole idea of what a personal computer should be is dissolving now because we can embed computation implicitly around us. Why would I design a 3D rocket on a 2D surface? You lose all the intuition. Below is an awesome image of Elon Musk breaking out of traditional Human Computer Interaction paradigms.

Elon breaking out of a rectangle to design in 3D.

This is the Wild West, Design like it.

There are two camps in the AR/VR design community right now.

  1. Traditional UI advocates

Some people tell us transfer design patterns that we know over to AR/MR/VR. They point back to heuristics from Neilson Norman and claim familiarity is important and emphatically defend consistency and standards. Without them the design world would be lost. These are the people who catalog interactions and know everything about UI. They get it and if we just go create all these new widgets in AR/VR that people have never seen… that would be tragic. For example look at the design patterns for the menus in all these applications I shared. They all retain flat rectangular panels to hold items and tools you can select.

2. Blue Sky Inventors

Vision and curiosity have a place too. Check out how Tvori stacks 3D models as UI elements on their menu panel. Or look at how Tiltbrush lets you rotated the menu around your hand! I mean, wow. In MakeVR you actually can swim to move and have giant sticks that come out of your hands to place things. Those sticks are actually really helpful for precision. It is hard to explain.

Conclusion

The beauty about these approaches is that as designers as we can all tend to be one way or the other depending on the day and how much coffee we have had.

I hope this article helps you select your tool quickly to adapt in a world with a CHANGING rate of change.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.