Testing the User Experience of Virtual Reality

Notes from Guerrilla Usability Testing for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive

Belén Ceballos
Dec 6, 2016 · 7 min read
Me at the Oculus Rift demo

Oculus Rift Pain Points

Source: Oculus
  • For three of the five users, once they were within the VR experience, it was very difficult to identify which buttons to press according to what the screen was suggesting.
  • The tasks that implied pointing with a finger to choose a category were the most confusing. The majority (4/5) of the users struggled to identify which button to press first, and where to point next.
  • Even though almost all of the games had an onboarding tutorial, every user still needed outside instructions from a facilitator before starting to play.

Exploring new VR experiences

The following week, I met Ilya Druzhnikov from Exit Reality: a beautifully designed truck that offers HTC Vive VR experiences for 10 minutes per person. They offer a unique environment inside the truck, providing a safe space for users to experience virtual reality with human guidance. Users get to test the newest games using the latest VR technology.

Follow them: @ExitReality

HTC Vive Pain Points

Inside Exit VR
  • Even though the HTC Vive learning curve was less steep than that of Oculus Rift, users still needed outside instruction to learn how to use the controllers.
  • Selecting objects was also the most complicated task for first-time users.
  • In HTC Vive, when you have to press a button in VR, you have to do it with your hands and body. For example, when turning on a light switch, you have to do the gesture with your arm pointing the switch. Zero users expected to have to press something with their arms, they thought that doing it with the controller could complete the action.
  • All users needed outside guidance to learn how to select certain things in the VR experience; although once they understood it, it was very easily reused.
  • I found the same pattern with gamers and non-gamers. Users with experience in gaming needed fewer instructions — just a short tutorial and they were in.
  • Another issue some participants pointed out was regarding the sound: when users weren’t able to listen properly to something interacting with them (for example, in the game Space Pirate, the enemy ships shooting behind them), they couldn’t notice the interaction unless they were looking directly at it. In such interactive games it’s important for the creators to understand which senses are activated during each interaction and decide when hierarchies are necessary. Users needed more than simply the visual reference to understand their environment.

Lessons Learned

Many tech professionals are trying to break into the VR space. As we do, we need to build design best practices and advice specific to this type of user experience, e.g. designing to minimize motion sickness. Some VR experiences are more intuitive, while others are messier. The difference lies in how each experience is designed.


Next Steps

Based on my observations, research and experience using VR, I’ve laid out the following suggestions for optimizing the user’s experiences for VR:

  • Unify actions done with a controller: Make the thumb’s action to scroll and the index finger action to press. This way it’s much easier to differentiate which action the interface is asking the user to do at all times.
  • More storytelling: No matter how cool the controller is, VR experiences need more storytelling and context for users to be onboarded successfully.
  • The experiences are visually immersive, but if the sound doesn’t support it, it becomes boring and messy. Sound needs to be high quality to provoque a full immersion.
  • Practice exercises in onboarding: Include exercises in the tutorials to help users learn how the interactions work. These exercises should be implemented with visual and audio instructions. Oculus Rift had a good onboarding process but lacked feedback about how well you’re doing. Also, regarding the complexity of the controller, it wouldn’t harm doing a longer tutorial.


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Belén Ceballos

Written by

migrant. traveler. observer. researcher. designing the bridge between humans and technology. www.belenceballos.com


Stories about startups, technology, traction, and design from Tradecraft members