Design

Here’s what to know before you start a VR design project

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I have a friend from [insert company], and their recent VR project was a huge success! We have to do something in VR—it’s the thing!

How many times have you heard something like that?

The rapid growth of the VR space has led more and more companies to kick off their own VR projects. Contrary to what people might believe, VR is not all about gaming and 360 videos. Actually, VR has business use cases with positive ROI, and we’re discovering more of them as time goes by.

VR project

The thing is that due to the infancy of the space, most companies (like all of us) aren’t familiar enough with VR. Too often they dive into VR projects without considering key aspects of it.

Thinking about hopping on the VR bandwagon? Let’s go over what to consider before you do that.

Is VR the right medium?

With all the excitement around VR, it’s easy to forget that every business project should be tied to business goals. Ask yourself why you want to pursue this medium, what the desired outcome is—and see if the 2 meet.

“VR can be amazing—if it’s justified.”

For reaching a large number of people with a new marketing campaign, VR probably won’t be a good solution. For rebuilding the corporate employee training program, VR could be a great solution (like the program Volkswagen rolled out recently).

This is a simple approach but a good rule of thumb: If the same experience or product can be made in 2D, it might not be a good fit for VR.

Should we develop in-house or outsource?

Outsourcing might feel unnatural, especially for tech companies. I mean, why are we paying all those brilliant developers and designers sitting out there?

Well, working on a VR project requires a different skill set than what companies usually have in-house. VR needs spatial design, audio, 3D modeling, specific development languages and platforms, and, in general, a new approach.

VR UI design

Photo by Nan Palmero. CC BY 2.0.

Secondly, unlike web or mobile, people have very limited reference to VR projects. Most people didn’t get the chance to experience enough experiences, headsets, narratives and concepts in VR. This poses a true challenge in understanding and defining how we want our VR project to be.

Don’t get me wrong here—it’s possible to bring in the relevant people and it’s possible to learn all this by yourself. It just takes time, effort, and resources. It varies by the project, but often outsourcing the project to companies that have made VR in the past, like Isobar or Innoactive, might simply deliver better and faster results.

VR design

So VR it is.  What experience should we do?

This goes directly back to question #1: What’s the business goal here?

VR is a pretty broad field that spans across games, videos, apps, simulations, and more. It’s crucial to choose the experience that is most likely to achieve your goal.

Related: LCD Soundsystem and Google VR team up for ‘Dance Tonite’

Assume we’re Volkswagen and we’re rebuilding our employee training program for manufacturing lines. Should we build a simulation of the assembly line? Should we build an app that teaches how to operate one of the machines? Or should we build a game in which employees gain points for identifying dangers in the work environment?

I don’t know. Depends which type of experience serves the business goal best.

VR is not about being “fun” or “cool.” VR is about achieving business goals.

VR design

What are our constraints?

This is an important question for every project and might sound trivial. Specifically, in VR there are many constraints to keep in mind and each will highly affect our project going forward. Mapping and understanding the constraints is key for a successful project.

Let’s see some examples:

Space.  Where will people use it? An indoor experience allows for room-scale when outdoor doesn’t. Homes have more furniture compared to offices and usually offer less room for movement.

User. Who will use this experience? Gamers and tech-savvy people will adjust to controllers faster. Older people need less physically demanding activity compared to younger people.

Interaction. How will the user interact with the environment? Controllers offer more functionality than gaze, and different types of controllers add to that.

In VR, understanding constraints is key.

What’s the right hardware?

Consider what elements are crucial to making the experience work. What is crucial for the design, look, and feel of the experience?

Do we need controllers?

Do we need room scale?

Do we need high level of immersiveness, or will a lower level do?

Eventually, the hardware is derived from this and the previous sections. If we did a good job answering these questions and mapping the constraints, we should be left with a limited number of options to choose from.

Work lean

VR is new and exciting, but it’s still a business project and should be held to deadlines, timeline, and efficiency. This requires us to work lean.

OMG, did he just say “lean” in reference to VR?

I did.

It might seem impossible to work lean in VR because everything is complicated and time consuming — modelling, implementing interactions, and so on. If anything, VR should drive us to work leaner than ever.

VR is uncharted water, and that requires more iterating, more testing, and more experimenting.

Especially in VR, if we want to launch a successful project on time and within our budget—working lean is the answer.

Obviously, there are more things to consider before starting a VR project, but hopefully these will get you off to a good a start.

Working on a VR project or thinking of starting one? We’re not a design studio and we won’t do it for you, but we’d love to help. Hit us up at team@halolabs.io or visit halolabs.io

Keep reading about VR design

Author

Eran Helft
Eran is an entrepreneur, passionate about creating products and good food. Currently the co-founder and CEO of Halo Labs, a VR prototyping and design platform.

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