VR – The New Frontier

2007 was a big year, especially for interaction design. The introduction of the iPhone was the first time we combined a touch screen with the phone. It was also the first time the phone was hooked up to a world of content. We didn’t know what sorts of content would be built for it and we didn’t know how people would interact with the device, let alone the content. People started learning how to use this new tool and in return, learning what it could do for us. Sure we could still do the normal tasks like make calls or look up our contacts, but we could all of a sudden do so much more. We could look up the weather, check email, listen to music, or get directions. It gave people instant access to a new world of content.

As this new product emerged, there were hardly any guidelines around what made a good or bad design, what was useful or unusable. We simply didn’t know what the best practices were. That was where UX folks stepped in and started to help define every last detail. How big icons and text should be, what interaction or gesture makes the most sense, whether a hamburger or tab bar menu is better (can we finally come to an agreement?). I love solving these problems, the problems that seem so obvious once you dig in and find them. Over the years, apps have gotten better, the content has gotten more valuable, and users have gotten smarter. We are more in tune with technology than ever before, we know what we like, and what we hate. It’s funny to me when Facebook changes something minor in their navigation or adds a new button. People actually notice these small changes now, and they freak out and start these viral conversations about the updates. I think that’s great, it tells me people are paying closer attention than ever to how digital products are evolving.

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We are about to embark on the same journey and watch the same evolution process with VR.  The commandments of interaction design for this emerging platform are about to be solidified. VR is hardly even a thing yet; people are still competing for that “holy shit” moment from users, and that’s great. We need all of that cool content and those crazy experiences so that people like me (UX designers) can start studying what people like, what they hate and what is most useful. VR also introduces a major factor to design for; Z-depth. The more users we can get using VR, the more data we can collect and analyze, allowing us to extend our thoughts beyond typical UX practices in this new 3 dimensional world.

Over the last year, we’ve been spending a lot of time in VR at Ratio. We’ve been watching the market come to life and paying close attention to the advances in hardware and content creation. Ratio has been a leader in the OTT space for several years now, with a wide range of cliental. Video is one of the core species of content in the VR landscape, and with our knowledge and expertise in Video at Ratio, our goal is to become a strategic partner in this new medium.

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It’s our first time we’re getting to watch the mass market interact with 3-dimensional space. Users can actually reach out and touch UI, they can turn around and look behind walls. This extra dimension adds a multitude of challenges — this is what gets me the most excited about VR. How close can text be to you before it starts to strain your eye? Maintaining velocity and head tracking are key components to preventing motion sickness. “Gazing” is the new hover state. Keeping your design within 30° to the left and right of the user is important to make for the most comfortable experience. These are just a few of the many challenges I’m thinking through. It is important that as we start to discover best practices we document guidelines in an effort to standardize UX for VR.

It’s the new frontier, it’s the Wild Wild West. There ain’t no rules and there sure as hell ain’t no sheriff to keep everyone in check.