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A Day in Virtual Reality

uxdesign.cc – User Experience Design — Medium | Andrew Coyle

Here’s what I learned

Over the years, I have been interested in the possibilities virtual reality has for design. So much so that I have prototyped a number of ideas:

I created these concepts without ever experiencing virtual reality firsthand. I was guessing my way through design implementation. So, I decided to finally splurge on an Oculus Rift and a VR enabled laptop to understand the design paradigm of the virtual world. Here is what I learned.

A day in VR gave me a new appreciation for reality

I woke up on Saturday to the prospect of a full day in VR. After a big cup of coffee, I set up my Oculus Rift and downloaded a bunch of apps.

I finally have a full day to explore virtual reality. Wish me luck.

 — @CoyleAndrew

I explored the far reaches of the earth, “recalled” robots, toured the White House with Obama, and learned about the history of aviation all before lunchtime. It was magical.

Immediately after disconnecting from the matrix, I felt extremely hungry. It was hours past the time I usually get lunch, but while inside virtual reality I didn’t realize my earthly needs.

As I walked through my neighborhood in a quest for lunch, I couldn’t help notice how different reality felt. It was a sunny 70 degree day in San Francisco. The little things I usually didn’t notice were suddenly captivating. I could feel the gentle breeze on my face. The lighting was just right. There was no pixelation or screen door effect. I could see my hands and fingers move in realtime. I couldn’t imagine the amount of processing power required to build this environment. But all that thinking was ridiculous because it was real life, not a simulation… maybe…

After lunch, I decided to figure out how to build something for the Oculus Rift. How hard could it be? I downloaded Unity3D (which is free for personal use), and began to hack away. After some frustration, I figured out how to create a simple scene and preview it with my Oculus. Although it wasn’t much, it was really fulfilling to have finally created something real… virtual.

I created a quick guide on how to create a simple scene in this article:

A Quick Guide to Creating a VR Experience

Design Implications

After spending a day in VR, I don’t think it is another stepping stone like mobile was to desktop, I think it is categorically different and revolutionary. I don’t think VR will replace the need for screens and their accompanying applications anytime soon. I can’t imagine the user experience of most desktop and mobile apps being improved through VR the way people predicted—somewhat accurately—that desktop apps could be translated into mobile experiences. I don’t think there is the equivalent of “Mobile First” for VR (maybe “VR Third”). I could be completely wrong. What do you think?

However, I do think VR will transform industrial design, architecture, or anything else that deals with the physical world. It should be a prerequisite to experience a new building or product in VR before ever expending the resources to produce it in the physical world. And a consumer shouldn’t buy something without first previewing it virtually in 3D space.

Also, gaming will be transformed forever. After playing Robo Recall for an hour, I was sweating, my face was red, and my heart was pounding. I am not a big gamer, but it was probably the most fun solo experience I have had with a video game, and definitely the most intense. It felt so real.

I think Google Material Design’s concept of “material is the metaphor” applies well for UI in VR because it assumes the physics of the physical world. When Material Design came out I argued this idea was inherently skeuomorphic, which the industry had just attempted to rid itself of the previous year. In VR everything is skeuomorphic. That’s the whole idea.

Spending a day in virtual reality gave me a new appreciation of the real world’s fidelity, but it also made it seem antiquated. It is not hard to imagine how interesting the future will be. What do you think the future has in store for VR?

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A Day in Virtual Reality was originally published in uxdesign.cc on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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