Part II: VR UX Paradigm

Three principles for VR UX design of Morpheus

Equipped with our imagination and outdated novel tech, we could approach the paradigm of UX design for virtual reality.

It comprises several major principles:

  1. Best user experience is based on perception, not on cognition.

  2. Best interface to the world is the world itself.

  3. Best assistance is personal.

Best UX Is Based on Perception, not on Cognition

Humans perceive things first, and recognise second.

In our interfaces we should not use symbols (e.g. icons and labels) that we have borrowed from other tools. First of all, from other digital tools.

We should think of our user as ‘illiterate’ not because they are not smart, but because the user interface should provide them with emotion first, before any kind of ‘reading’ and recognition takes place.

If we are faced with an icon or a label, we should as ourselves: do we really need it? What do we really want to communicate with it? Can we express this closer to reality?

Don’t use labels that require learned knowledge of concepts.

We should stop borrowing UI controls from 2D interfaces, including text — in cases when it serves as a symbolic label, not as the message itself. This document is a message, while the ‘followers’ in 25 followers next to it — is not. The notion of 'followers' is a convention, based on the learned concept of 'following'. By using ‘followers’ here we require the user bring up the meaning of this word from their previous knowledge of this interface, this product, and lots of other products.

Instead of requiring the user to learn or guess what ‘follower’ means, we should create an impression of those ‘25 followers’ in the way that will give the user a feeling what does it mean for them. Why should they care of that number at all?

Is twenty-five a lot? Why do we care how many people there are? Of course, being alone is different from being in a small group of friends different from being in a crowd. Those are different feelings. And our goal here is to express this idea, in a poetic, sensual form that will pass the cognitive filters of our users and hit them directly in their mind.

Is there anyone important? Why do we care which people we are with? Of course, being in a group of friend is different from being in a group of strangers different from being locked with you nemesis. Those are different feelings. And our goal stays the same.

Think and design in allegory.

When we want to indicate that certain people are muted, how should we design the indicator?

The straightforward answer is — put a ‘muted mic’ icon over people’s heads. That is the answer we must forbid ourselves.

Think instead, when do someone wants to know if someone other is muted? When that person is trying to talk, but there is no sound coming up. Hint: let’s indicate the ‘muteness’ only when the muted person is trying to talk.

Now, what is happening when a muted person talks? Usually, it is a muffled sound. Can we visualise that? Hint: instead of visualising the ‘mute button’ and the lack of sound, visualise the sound that can’t get through.

So, the best indication of a muted person is to show some visualisation of muted speech when that person talks. For example, put red waves over the top of their head.

Also, this is a visualisation that everyone will see the same. Which makes it a part of the world.

Best Interface to the World Is the World Itself

Humans use tools to achieve their goals.

In ‘real reality’ we operate with objects. To achieve a particular goal, we — humans — find and use a particular object as a tool. This is our interface to ‘solving tasks’ — find something that could help us, pick it up, and hit that damn nail!

In the world full of rectangular screens, we digressed from this straightforward way. It is maybe the only case when we still follow it, is when we still use our iPhones to bash nails. Though it demands a lot of drinking as a prerequisite.

In the ‘true reality’ we are no longer limited with rectangles. We can create tools of any shape.

True form follows true function.

We create tools in order to solve for some tasks. We encode, embed some function into each of the tools which we make. So, let’s make tools that fit their function!

In ‘true reality’ we need our tools to match their ‘true’ function. To do so, we need to explore our true needs. When we make a particular tool, we should ask ourselves: why do we make it? What is the function that we try to embed in this tool?

As it might sometimes happen, this function is not the best possible match for our needs. It might happen, we are going for a function that mimics some previous tool. Simply because we have a tool that we are accustomed to, it is not enough to reincarnate it in ‘true reality’.

We should build for ‘affordance’, but not for affordance for the function of the previous interface. We should build ‘doorknobs’, not ‘click to open the door’ buttons.

Real things are seen by others.

Do you see ghosts? Some people observe apparitions that are visible only to them. Usually, those people end up in a ward, or at least on a doctor’s couch.

To be sure of reality, we have a powerful tool: other people. If we doubt something to be real, we can check with other people: do they see it as real? Can they touch it? Does it work for them in the same way as it does for you?

The interface of the real world is shared with others. When we see a thing in the reality, we expect others to see it. We expect the thing to be itself, not our individual perception of it. That creates not only our belief in the reality of the world, but also empowers us to observer how others use a certain thing and then use it ourselves.

Everyone can pick up a hammer and hit a nail. Everyone can pick up a microphone and have their voice amplified. Everyone can operate a forklift (well, to a different degree of success or trauma, sometime we’ll get to that).

Best Assistance is Personal

Humans help each other to achieve their goals.

Once of the biggest powers of the human race is their capability to offer and accept help. While some people need help, others can offer it.

‘True reality’ must be helpful as well, otherwise it’ll become a hurdle itself — at best. Or totalitarian prison at worst.

Help is helpful only when it is accepted.

Rare advice is helpful when it is forced. A non-solicited notification must have a very high bar of being contextual, and even in that case it risks to betray its goal — to help the user with what they are doing.

For example, the notification of a new email shouldn’t pop into the user’s face. In the real world you won’t be treating it as a good assistance. While on the screen of your computer, it’ll be a very different thing. The computer is for business, and while your email is for business — all works in accord. Our phones, sadly, are notification devices, hence we are used to them vibrating.

Help is helpful only when provided in the context.

An advice on wine choice is helpful at a wine store or at a restaurant, but less helpful in a hospital or a kindergarden. By no means it is helpful in the middle of a business presentation. When we provide assistance, we should not only be aware of the context, but also don’t disturb one.

For example, showing the people’s names all the time is noisy and obtrusive; while hinting the name of someone you are looking at might be helpful.

Help is helpful only when it is convenient.

If an elder paraplegic struggles to walk up the stairs, tossing them some rope will hardly help. Yes, they don’t have legs and the rope might be a way for them to use hands to climb up. But at the same time, is it a convenient way for them to get there?

For example, when we want to show some information about a person, it should always be easily readable.

Different people require different assistance.

Not being able to do something doesn’t invalidate the person. It only means that the person might benefit from the assistance the ‘true reality’ can provide. Some are familiar with everything, some grasp things really quickly, some struggle with remembering things, some struggle with even moving around or seeing.

‘True reality’ should enable people to act on presented opportunities regardless of their limitations. It means this assistance isn’t part of the world that is perceived the same by everyone. At the contrary, it means that my assistance is different that yours. I might be seeing and feeling the world a bit different than you — to the degree it helps me to operate in the world effectively.

It might seem that this idea contradicts the ‘reality of the world’, but it is only at first.

Design for the world or design for assistance.

When designing user experience, one must ask themselves: this particular part I am designing, is it part of the world which is shared with others, or is it an assistance which should be personal for the users and thus not shared.

Being able to distinguish between those two during the design allows our users to make the same distinction thus clearly establishing what is the ‘real world’.

For example, the prompter screen is something that isn’t intended to be shared. It is an assistance for the speaker. The presentation screen, however, is meant to be shared. It is the main thing that is shared during the presentation. With this in mind, we might design presentation screens as they are part of the world, and prompter screens as they aren’t.

Last updated