How to Effectively Design Virtual Reality Content

I have mentioned in past posts that it’s an enormous challenge to design content for Virtual Reality (VR), so let’s jump right into it and figure this out. One of the primary reasons why VR has been difficult to design for is down to its sudden appearance on the scene.

When I say sudden, I mean that no one from designers to developers actually thought we would be able to do what we’re now able to do with this technology. At the moment, the only limitations seem to be cost and skill sets.

VR is still trying to find its place in the market to emerge as one of the leading industries. Further, this needs to happen for VR to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with. This will help the industry build platforms and experiences that will transcend the current fad.

What are the practical problems In VR app design?

When it comes to design, the first hurdle to get over is the fact that designers now have to design beyond the rectangle. There are no shapes, borders, or any restrictions – just limitless space. This is a huge departure as, throughout history, humans have worked with a rectangle shape whether it’s a canvas, TV screen, movie screen, computer screen, mobile device, or even a photograph.

Even the tablet that you’re probably using to read this on is rectangular. The first step that companies have taken to break from shape restrictions is to embrace 360-degree views. Then developers were faced with the problem of how the footage would be consumed by the end user. There are more questions at this juncture than anything else.

How does the end user navigate through the VR content?

How does one go in or out of the virtual architectural layers that make up the virtual space?

How do you navigate between them?

As a result, it comes down to the VR user experience (UX) and the user interface (UI) which can be tough to figure out. So developers have to find a way to enable seamless transition between a mobile app experience and a VR one.

It’s the same when it comes to designing 2D experiences as it has to work the same way in VR as it does on a mobile phone. But to be really effective, the focus must go beyond 2D to find 3D solutions for a VR space (instead of taking the easier option).

Right now with Google Cardboard, the mobile phone screen is split into two, so the resolution will also be divided. As a result, there won’t be much resolution to really work with. A solution to our limited range of focus can be a slightly curved 360-degree canvas wrapping instead of a flat screen.

But here’s the tricky part, although VR offers a shapeless and limitless space, humans are constrained by a limited field of view that they can be comfortable with. This is basically looking from left to right or from top to bottom.

This makes it a whole lot easier for designers as the size of the canvas and the shape of it in a virtual space can (now) be mapped out. This will also mean that every business, big and small, will be able to get a VR app.

If predictions are correct, it will probably follow the path of native apps that were a must have after building a website. You had to have both and now it will mean that we will have to have all three. What this really means is that we are going to have a lot of devices for distribution and it’s going to be tough to build a unified experience.

Although companies are working on bridging the gap between mobile and VR experience, we’re not anywhere near to creating a fluid experience (yet).

VR Technology is Maturing Slowly

Some parts of VR development are more mature than others (for example VR is used by manufacturers and architects to preview how a product or structure would look before it’s built. This type of VR development has been going on for a long time, so it makes sense that they are ahead of the pack.

The primary reason for this type of VR development was to save stakeholders money by enabling an enhanced preview. Further, it also allowed architects to fix mistakes that would cost a lot of money down the road.

So in this niche, VR developers are thriving! They have come so far now that it has become as simple as dragging a CAD file into the VR software for a VR building replica to be built within seconds (yeah, it’s rather unprecedented). So that’s all it takes for the architects to inspect their designs by walking through a virtual space.

Now with Augmented Reality (AR) entering the mix, you can expect some of the same ethos to also work in that sector. With the VR and AR industry predicted to be worth around $162 billion by 2020, you can expect development to accelerate in the coming months.

The Next Great Paradigm Shift

Mixed Reality (MR) is supposed to emerge as a hybrid of both by combining sensors and advanced optics. So this will bring a whole new set of variables and development challenges. The idea here is to enable users to use a single device to overlay holographic digital content into real-time space.

It’s expected to work by scanning your physical environment and building a 3D map of the space. This will enable the device to place digital content into real spaces enabling the user to interact with gestures.

You can also expect spatial sound and transparent lenses that will enable holograms to look, sound and act like they are real objects. This is a departure from traditional VR which is based on immersion in virtual space. But let’s save the challenges that surround MR for another blog post.

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Andrew is our IT storyteller and copywriter. His current undertaking is big data analytics and CSS as well as digital design and branding. He is a contributor to various publications with a focus on new technology and marketing.

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