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The future of UX: Designing for Virtual Reality

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From Meta’s bold vision of the metaverse to pop culture media like Ready Player One, these popular technological ideas have probably gotten a glimpse of what the future or rather virtual reality (VR) could be like. With today’s technology, virtual reality is no longer a far-fetched dream lost to the confines of our imagination. Various companies such as Oculus, Valve, and HTC have already developed their own VR headset devices, open for consumer use.

Contrary to popular belief, VR is not just used for entertainment. The technology expands across multiple industries and functions to improve efficiency and productivity. Take a look at the automotive industry for example, where companies like BMW have been using VR for engineering reviews of digital vehicle prototypes, allowing them to reduce the costs of having to create real prototypes. VR can mimic real-life environments, providing benefits such as training in a realistic space but without inherent risks and costs.

Source: virtualspeech

So how exactly does VR work and how does digital UX design play a part in it. VR is a fully immersive artificial experience aimed to replace the user’s reality with a virtual one. A VR headset is used to provide a stereoscopic 3D view coupled with stereo audio to create a realistic 3D world. Input tracking is also integrated into the technology to capture the user’s movements in the digital world. For example, when a user turns their head in real life, it would feel as though they are moving in the game as well.

UX designs for VR applications work very differently from those on traditional screen interfaces. VR designs have to take modern UX design approaches, factoring in spatial variables such as touch, sound, and depth. Let’s take a look at some differences and considerations required:


Unlike screens where the main point of input comes from the mouse cursor or touch, inputs in VR can come in many different forms and combinations, such as hand gesture controls, speech commands, or head gestures. It is crucial to account for these fundamental differences as it greatly changes how users interact with the product, disrupting traditional screen UX practices.

Lack of physical feedback

Interaction in VR will almost be completely virtual, unlike in Augmented Reality (AR) or traditional device usage. Actions like pressing or swiping with the user’s hand will have to take into account the 3-dimensional space, similar to actions in real life. This includes factors like which area the user is touching, the depth of which the user presses, etc.

In that sense, traditional haptic feedback controls such as keyboards or controllers on the VR platform will also work very differently from device to device, something that designers have to take note of.

Source: roadtovr

Range of participant’s view

Since VR devices usually overlap with the user’s vision to create an immersive virtual experience, display interfaces in such VR devices will have to account for the user’s field of vision. Designers have to remember that users are no longer bounded by a device’s shape or size but by the user’s ability to see the interface elements displayed. The diagram below shows a person’s visual limit within a 200° radius and their standard line of sight rests between the green zone in the 120° radius. Users might have to strain themselves to view elements that go beyond their line of sight.

Source: uploadvr


As the display interface is overlapped with the user’s vision, rather than scrolling or moving a cursor, users would often have to rotate or turn their body to interact with the “screen”. Having a user interface (UI) that requires the users to move too frequently will end up causing fatigue and uncomfortableness.

Designers have to ensure that the user interface (UI) on VR applications accounts for this aspect, to provide a comfortable experience. For example, buttons for commonly used functions should be located within the participant’s comfortable vision range so that they can view and access them easily.

Source: uxplanet

The depth or distance at which the UX design elements are located is also another important factor to consider. Elements that are placed too far away might be difficult for users to view and click.

Source: uxplanet

So how should UX designers approach VR interface designs? Although the medium may be quite different, the key fundamentals of UI UX design remain the same. Principles such as empathy, usability, and inclusivity should be applied in the design process. Standard design processes such as user testing or conducting user interviews should still be used to obtain effective insights.

That being said, VR designs and prototypes require vastly different design elements as well, such as a different canvas layout and user actions consideration. Here are some tips to consider when designing in the medium:

Comfortability of VR environment

Being in a VR environment is naturally more taxing than using a mobile phone or laptop, considering the additional inputs the user receives. Research has shown that the optimal session time for VR users in the United States was 19.7 minutes. VR UX designers should account for such factors in their products, such as allowing users to save their current progress periodically so that they can take a break.

Another aspect to consider is to design an environment similar to real-life considerations, like making sure that the space is not too big so users will not get lost or too bright which would affect their vision.

Create effective interactions

Most users may not be familiar with VR experiences yet, thus it would be optimal to focus on interaction patterns and elements that are familiar to users rather than go for creative UI designs. Since interactions in VR environments are similar to those in the real world, designers can mimic and enhance similar interaction patterns to aid users. For example, users can be provided with a visual aid to pinpoint objects accurately or highlight certain objects that users can interact with.

Source: Microsoft

Avoid sudden elements

Abrupt and sudden changes such as bright lights or fast-moving objects can distract and confuse users. Designers have to remember that the “screen” is overlaid with the user’s vision and such drastic changes can affect their experience greatly.

Provide user guidance

Engaging in new technology can be disorientating and complex for even seasoned tech users. Ensure that users are provided with proper onboarding through visual and audio cues to direct their attention.

This article serves as an introduction to UX in the VR world, showing aspects that designers normally do not consider in other mediums. The world of UX is exciting, ever-changing, and diverse especially with the introduction of new revolutionary technologies and this article only scratches the surface of it.

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