Virtual reality development and design can be a sizable undertaking, especially for a marketing project. It differs widely from developing 2D content such as animations, live videos, websites, apps, and assets for other user interfaces. Virtual reality has many unique challenges, and we have six tips for making the development and design of VR projects successful. We will also outline some of the challenges that come with creating a VR experience.
The first step in virtual reality development is assembling a capable team with the right range of experience, skills, and knowledge. Marketing strategists ensure the project aligns with the specific marketing goals. UI/UX designers create the look and feel, as well as design the user interactions. Graphic designers and 3D animators create the graphics and 3D aspects, and developers code and program the experience.
The team should have some experience with game development, as aspects of virtual reality development, such as user interactions, relate to gaming. Ideally, team members have tried and are familiar with VR experiences themselves. This gives them a concrete sense of how to navigate and interact with VR.
Using your creative concept as a starting point, create an interactive script or storyboard outlining what users will see, hear, and feel at each moment in the experience. Descriptions of where users should physically move to and what they should interact with are crucial. Think about which objects and surfaces you can place throughout the 360-degree environment, including behind and beside users, to give them a rich and full experience.
In addition to storyboarding, design the path that users will follow during the experience. Depending on the experience you want users to have and what your goals are, you may decide to give your user more choices or fewer choices along this path. However, allowing users more options means more development time and a bigger budget.
Limiting the movements and actions of users in VR means you can shape every detail of the user’s experience, so that they receive your messaging exactly how you intend it. Any choices you give users are fixed choices, so they will still receive your messaging. Whether you give users choices will also depend on the purpose of your VR experience. For example, demonstrating proper use of a product will involve fewer choices than brand storytelling.
The next step is to design the user interface and user experience. This includes the look and feel of the overall experience, as well as user interactions. To create a successful user experience of VR, the experience must be believable, interactive, explorable, and immersive.1 The UI/UX design of a VR experience should adhere to these four principles.
A realistic and believable 3D environment allows users to feel immersed in the experience, so it’s important to get the environment right.
Here are a few ways to create a realistic environment.
• Ensure that the environment and the objects within it align with your creative concept. For example, a VR experience intended to demonstrate a medical device should take place in a clinic, rather than at a restaurant. Out of place objects or environments will break the illusion of immersion.
The environment should be fully fleshed out, with elements and objects above, below, and behind users. This will also give users an incentive to explore the environment and look around.
• Use light and shadow. The more realistic a light source and the shadows it casts, the more realistic the environment will look. Make sure your light sources, natural and artificial, reflect off surfaces and cast shadows naturally.
• Also, use lighting to highlight the textures of objects and surfaces in the environment. Adding texture to objects adds realism as well.
Design as many interactions as possible for users. VR affords users a chance to participate in the story rather than just view it. This also makes the experience more immersive. When designing an interaction, give users a clear indication of what they are supposed to do, using graphic elements or audio. Make sure that actions and interactions align with users’ expectations. When users move their head or press a button, the experience that you’ve created should respond accordingly.
Depending on how experienced users are with VR, they may require an introduction and guidance with the experience, as the controls are not always intuitive. While this may sound like a disadvantage, it gives you more control over users’ actions, as you can directly tell them what to do.
Also, if needed, you can brief users on your completed VR experience before they experience it, so that they know what to expect. Ideally, a VR experience is as intuitive as possible, although users’ abilities must be taken into account.
Users who participate in a VR experience have both human limitations and capabilities, which you need to think about when designing. Consider the human field of vision, as well as comfortable angles for tilting or moving one’s head. Generally, humans can comfortably tilt their head up 20 degrees and down 10 degrees. For looking left and right, turning one’s head 30 degrees is the most comfortable. For tilting one’s head left and right, the range is about 15 degrees.2
Put the most important parts of the experience within these angles. Avoid adding important content to the user’s peripheral vision. While there should be content in all angles of the experience, the content that is most relevant to helping you meet your marketing goals should appear in front of users. Also, be careful not to place objects too close or too far from the user, so that they don’t strain their eyes.3
Motion sickness and nausea are common side effects of VR. There are ways to reduce this, including reducing automatic camera movements, avoiding repetitive visual patterns such as checkered floors, and constantly tracking user’s head position so the experience moves with them.
Graphics and animations should be designed after the UI and UX. This way, the graphics are more intuitive and match user interactions. If graphics are created first, they may have to be altered later to align with the UI/UX.
For example, if the UI/UX designer creates an interaction that involves moving through an automatic doorway, but the graphic designer created a doorway that opens upon the press of a button, then either the user interface will have to be changed, or the doorway will have to be redesigned. The best option is for the UI/UX designer, the expert in creating intuitive interactions, to design how users will interact with the door first.
Once the UI/UX has been created and the graphics and animations designed, the developer can code the experience. This is a process that requires iteration during programming, testing, debugging, and programming again.
A clear VR design process will facilitate changes that are needed, but changes in one part of the design will require changes in the other parts of the design. For example, a change in a user interaction might require a change in the design of the object that the user is interacting with.
VR requires lots of testing, so the process of creating an experience can be very time-consuming and labour-intensive. A VR experience filled with bugs and glitches is not one that meets the expectations of users. In fact, bugs can disrupt the user’s experience and take them out of the immersive experience.
Also make sure to test for the human capabilities mentioned above in section 4. Ensure that the important graphics and elements are within the comfortable viewing range for users, and that users are not suffering from nausea or sickness during the experience.
Complete as much as testing as possible before launch. Test your VR experience using the devices that users will complete your experience on, as well as with other devices to ensure the experience is compatible. Also, try to find test users who are unfamiliar with VR, to see where they are unsure what to do, so you can add direction.
The process of virtual reality development comes with many considerations and challenges. Proper design and development, as well as lots of iteration and testing, will help you execute your creative concept and VR experience successfully and meet your content marketing goals.
This is the second part of our three-part series on VR. Part one discussed why you should use virtual reality as a marketing tool, and how it can be used in content marketing. Stay tuned for the final blogpost in our VR series! In the meantime, if you have a VR project we can help with and you would like to chat, get in touch!