As Neha Singh, founder of VR shopping platform Obsess points out:
“The biggest internet companies of the first generation are built around access to information” – just look at the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
However, she continues, “the emerging generation of big internet companies is being built around giving people experiences. Snapchat is meant for in-the-moment experiences with your friends with no digital information left behind. Airbnb aims to make you experience another city like a local.”
As users, a status box to signify the sharing and organization of information no longer stimulates us. Our connected and mobile devices are changing the context of our online interactions.
Now we’re seeking high-speed interconnectivity, omnichannel experiences, and virtual reality adventures.
A new reality
2016 is considered year zero when it comes to virtual reality experiences. It saw the launch of consumer devices with around 6.3 million VR headsets sold by companies including Facebook and Google. This established a firm presence for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) technology in media, education, and marketing.
But this rapid growth has not come without its challenges, particularly when it comes to the way the virtual realm is designed and produced. It’s relatively uncharted territory for both user and creators alike.
So, we thought we’d gather a few best practices to keep in mind when designing and launching a new take on reality.
Have a clear goal in mind
Whether you’re creating a virtual realm for your own brand or for a client, there needs to be value in it.
Why choose such an immersive platform as opposed to a more traditional storytelling method? And, more importantly, do you have the time and money to invest in it?
A key thing to keep in mind is ensuring the experience – whether it’s VR, AR, or MR – is accessible for your target audience. The medium may be slowly transitioning from early adopters to mass consumers, but you can assume your audience will have limited access to viewing devices as well as a limited frame of reference when it comes to how these experiences should look or feel.
It’s difficult to optimize a virtual realm across multiple devices, formats, and platforms so make sure you plan ahead. Bobby Gill, founder of Blue Label Labs, explains, “Experts recommend kicking these projects off 12 to 16 weeks ahead of the intended launch… although it’s not uncommon to kick off 1 to 3-months out.” Plus, don’t forget to factor in time for rigorous testing.
Choose your experience carefully
As we’ve already touched on, there are three different formats associated with virtual reality.
- VR (virtual reality): A completely immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality which allows users to interact with a fully formed environment, imagined or real.
- AR (augmented reality): A physical, real-world environment with features that are enhanced by virtual or computer-generated elements. The real and the CG elements cannot interact, a good example of AR is the Google and Snapchat glasses.
- MR (mixed reality): Similar to AR, MR is the merging of a virtual and a real world to produce a new environment where physical and digital objects co-exist and, can this time, interact in real time.
Once you’ve selected the format that best fits the scope of your project, it’s then important to consider how the environment of the experience and its interface will interact. Design studio, Kickpush, created these axes to demonstrate.
Alex Deruette and Sam Applebee of Kickpush, explain, “In the top-left quadrant are things like simulators, such as the rollercoaster experience… These have a fully formed environment but no interface at all. You’re simply locked in for the ride.” They continue, “in the opposite quadrant are apps that have a developed interface but little or no environment. Samsung’s Gear VR home screen is a good example.”
With a virtual experience, the third person narrator present in traditional storytelling and content formats is removed. Instead, the user is experiencing everything first-hand in a nonlinear manner.
David Title, Chief Engagement Officer at Bravo Media elaborates: “First-person design means designing an experience for someone else to have… Of course, this means the creator gives up a certain kind of control, but they are doing so in exchange for being able to create an experience that can do what no other platform or media format can do.”
The best VR efforts draw on behaviors we are already familiar with, only presented in a new context. Think of it like building a dream – even if the environment is unfamiliar, the interactions should be believable.
Also, keep in mind that the resolution of a VR headset isn’t yet optimal. Most offer a resolution equivalent to your phone, which sounds pretty great but when a device is 5cm from your eyes it’s not too crisp.
It’s all about the narrative
Although, at its core, virtual reality appears to be all about impressive and immersive visuals. A successful experience needs an engaging narrative at its core. Bobby Gill iterates, “producers should use narrative as their North Star when it comes to bringing content to life.”
Today’s users are seeking whole experiences, not simply flashy technologies. Our hyper-connected society means we barely stay in one activity for longer than a tap of a button or a swipe of a screen; your users are craving an experience that engages their undivided attention and a stellar narrative is a sure-fire way to achieve that.
And this doesn’t necessarily need to be fictional.
Neha Singh notes that VR within retail has the potential to create “entertaining experiences that let customers engage with brands and products in a deeper way: take me to the factory where this car is made, transport me to the front row of a runway show, let me stroll through a beautiful space and discover products from the comfort of my home.”
With the introduction of advanced, immersive technologies such as VR, AR, and MR, we seem to be moving toward the experience side of user experience and user expectation is only getting higher.
But as daunting as this may sound, we certainly can’t wait to see what the future has in store!