I finally managed to get a chance to try out the Oculus Rift and I have to say it surpassed my expectations. This was not the first time that I had the opportunity to experience virtual reality (VR), but it was definitely the most memorable and immersive experience that I have had so far.
My experience was on a flight simulator equipped with a yoke and rudder pedals which on its own is a pretty good experience. As soon as I put on the Oculus, that experience was elevated massively. I quickly became lost in the world around me. I was able to look inside and outside of the plane, rotating my head meant I could see the rear of the plane and looking down allowed me to spot the scenery below. It was incredible.
In the past I have played around with Google Cardboard and what I admire most about that low-cost device is that it brings VR to the masses. As long as you have a smartphone you can experience VR for yourself. Google have even made it possible for you to print out templates allowing you to make your own.
Why is VR exciting?
The thing that makes VR ever more exciting is the fact that it is no longer just a buzzword in the tech industry. Additionally, many large players are involved in the rush to create their own devices ready for consumers and businesses to get hands on with.
The possibilities are endless. There are many opportunities and challenges presented with this platform and it will be interesting to see where it goes. I can primarily see it being used for gaming, film and tv mainly because of its immersive nature. The recent acquisition of Oculus by Facebook, make it evident that they are keen to push social media and capitalise on current trends in video. Other use cases could be in teaching and I think the flight simulator (albeit with a little more refinement), was a good example of what you can do in VR such as, find your way around a cockpit, look out of the windows and see the world around you.
What challenges does VR present to designers?
I believe one of the real challenges for designers will be how to create user experiences that do not distract from the immersive world that users become a part of. Identifying what environments VR headsets will be used in, will be important especially if the experience requires movement. Perhaps considerations could also be made for other users who may be watching.
There are a range of VR headsets – with some of the higher end devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive requiring a wired connection. This also plays a part in the type of experience a user can have. Comparing those devices to untethered options from Google and Samsung which allow freer movement, this sparks the question: If we give users the option of moving in VR, how does that translate into actual reality? Will users have some awareness of where they are at all times?
#2 Motion Sickness
Early reports of motion sickness were primarily down to hardware and software related issues. Now that the technology has gotten better, if we ensure that poorly timed animations are eliminated and users have full control of movement in VR, we should be able to reduce these contributory factors of motion sickness.
The user interface needs to be easy to use and intuitive so as to not frustrate users. This is essential where there are no VR controllers included. This ensures that users have control over their actions in VR but most importantly keeps them connected with their virtual experience.
#4 360º Content
Content needs to be designed in full 360º because when users put on a headset, they have the ability to rotate and look around in VR.
VR is not only about the internal, on-screen content, it also includes the overall design of the headset as well. What does the headset look like? How does it feel? We should take into consideration how long these devices are going to be worn for. Creating comfortable and lightweight devices allow users to wear them for a much longer period of time – keeping them immersed. This leads me onto my next point nicely:
The beauty about VR is that it enables people to enter a world that represents realism so well that users forget that they are in VR. Just with other products, we need to keep accessibility needs at the forefront to ensure that these devices are accessible and prevents users from being excluded.
#7 Testing & Refinement
The most important thing that designers need to keep in mind is that, like any other platform, they will need devices that they can test and constantly refine ideas on, otherwise there will be a massive disconnect between what works and looks good in 2D versus what actually works in VR.