On January 21, Microsoft introduced a new augmented-reality (AR) headgear concept called the “HoloLens” at the Windows 10 event. This is yet another exciting entry into the Virtual Reality (VR) trend that has grown exponentially since Facebook purchased Oculus Rift. Other companies such as Sony, Google, Samsung, Carl-Zeiss, and startups like Sulon and Magic Leap have introduced working prototypes, filed unique patents and/or released inexpensive VR gadgets that are enticing consumers to jump into the virtual world now. As VR and AR adoption rate grows, we need to develop new design strategies now to adapt to the virtual platforms and stay ahead of this impending technological revolution.
New User Experience Design Thinking
As user experience (UX) practitioners, we are constantly transforming design thinking and methods for new technological platforms. For example, in the last several years, we saw the massive increase of mobile platforms such as smart phones and tablets beyond traditional desktops/laptops. This led us to create new interaction design patterns and user interfaces to work with touch screens and move past the conventional mouse-to-computer interactions. We also deployed mobile-first and responsive design methodologies in order to adapt our user experiences seamlessly across the digital ecosystem. We continue to expand our UX design thinking with the introductions of wearables, smart watches, heads-up displays, and now VR and AR technologies.
VR and AR technologies open up new user experience frontiers for businesses and consumers to interact with content and connect with one another in brand new ways. There are several exciting UX possibilities that we are beginning to explore:
- User interface (UI) – With fully-immersive goggles such as Oculus Rift or see-through headgears like Hololens, users are immersed in 3-D virtual environments from a first-person perspective. Standard mouse and keyboard devices will no longer be very effective for controlling interactions with the virtual experience (especially with fully-covered goggles that obscure external vision, users will no longer be able to see what their hands are doing). Standard flat 2-D software UI conventions on computer monitors and mobile touch screens will not be applicable in 3-D virtual space with a Z-axis.New UI needs to be designed so it offers intuitive controls (without peripheral vision and hand-eye coordination) for virtual movements and for engaging with intended elements in the virtual environments. Software UI needs to be designed to integrate seamlessly with the virtual 3-D spaces and not intrude on the user experiences. The interesting challenge: How do we offer users natural ways to interact with virtual worlds, objects and perform tasks (pointing, touching, grabbing, changing options, selecting, and confirming)? We need to think about motion, gesture, gaze, and voice recognition which will play important roles of offering natural user engagements.
- New interaction paradigms – The new VR/AR platforms allow us to dream up new interaction paradigms for content presentation, commerce, entertainment, educational, productivity, customer service, social and collaborative applications. The exciting experiential-immersion factor introduces new ways to envision how we can present users with our user experiences without the glass barriers of the current screens (i.e. computer monitors, mobile and tablet screens). We can think about new interactions to trigger stronger emotional connections and more successful results between consumers and brands.
Looking Toward the Future
Virtual Reality is finally shaping up to be an eventual reality for consumers and businesses in the not-so-distant future. We recommend exploring and planning a sound user experience design strategy to look ahead to how the new VR/AR platforms can be leveraged to build next-generation user engagements and activate unprecedented excitement for your brand.