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Make it Clear UX Event: Designing Immersive Experiences for Users

Esmee Lewis
Junior Researcher

On Wednesday, 14th June 2023, we hosted our second UX meetup event, XR Unleashed: ‘Designing Immersive Experiences for Users’ with Askable. We collaborated with two industry leaders from Meta and Existent to learn about the latest advancements in XR and how they can be used to create immersive experiences for users. 

 

Photo from Make it Clear UX Event: Designing Immersive Experiences for Users

The first speaker of the evening, Dan Moller, Creative Strategist/AR Specialist at Meta, shared some of his best practice guidelines for developing AR experiences that will delight, entertain and educate users.

Firstly, Dan explored some of the most important questions when designing AR (augmented reality). Why will someone want to use your experience? What are they going to get out of it? How is it going to help them to solve a problem? Just because an experience is ‘cool’ isn’t sufficient – delivering real value to users’ lives is crucial. Dan shared with us some examples of AR that have brought real value, such as delighting users with an AR concert they could attend from their living room, entertaining users with an interactive trailer, and educating users with a digital content portal. 

 

Make it Clear UX Event; XR Unleashed: Designing Immersive Experiences for Users

Top tips for building AR content

Next, Dan expanded upon two points to consider when building AR content: context and interaction. 

 

 1. Context

When we build AR, we are laying digital content over the real world. If you are to design a website or an app, you’re starting with a blank rectangle. Contrastingly, when you’re designing for AR, there’s already a pre-existing world that we have to take into account, which necessitates context for when we start to design experiences. To address this, Dan outlined a few important questions that should be asked and answered when designing AR:

  • How will someone encounter your experience? For example, will it be pushed right in front of them, or will the user need to seek it out and try to find it? Will users encounter the experience through target tracking on billboards and posters through QR codes with an entry point to the platform? Contextual information provides ideas about what someone might be doing when they first encounter an AR experience, which will shape the type of experience designed. 
  • Where will people be located when they encounter an experience? Identifying spatial contexts is paramount. Will the user be indoors or outdoors? Might the user be in a museum where WiFi connectivity is poor, and if so, how will they load their experience? If a user is in their living room, how will they adapt to limited space? In brief, is the experience feasible, realistic, safe and accessible? 
  • What can your chosen platform do, and what are its capabilities and limitations? 

These questions place constraints on what you can design with AR and, therefore, must be carefully considered before looking into UX/UI for AR. 

 

2. Interaction 

Next, Dan discussed the importance of enabling users to express their agency during AR experiences. On websites and apps, the content is presented on a screen. However, in AR experiences, users can pan away and move into different spaces. Therefore, this poses the question: when presenting content, how can you be assured that the user has acknowledged the content they are intended to interact with? Dan raised a few strategies to ensure this:

  • In the instance that a user is being shown an animation, wait until the user is pointing their phone at an animation, detect the view angle, and then trigger it when the user is seen to be looking in the direction of the animation.
  • All other angles could be made ‘boring’ so that the user eventually revisits the animation.
  • Users can also be guided with spatial audio – if a user is wearing glasses, a sound can be played behind them to lead them towards content. Similarly, light can be shone around the corners of the glasses, or a moving object (e.g. a butterfly) can be used to guide attention towards the content.
  • Prompts or arrows can be used to direct users.
  • Users can be enabled to move content to where they would like it to be and even customise it. 
  • Alternatively, users could be enabled to miss content and go wherever they want until they find it, sparking curiosity and encouraging repeat experiences.

 

Dan also emphasised the significance of position in relation to interaction, such as the need to consider the user’s eye level. Dan also commented on the possibility that a user might view something from an unflattering angle, such as a car or a text panel, and explained that rotation or locking the content to the screen could be used to rectify this (although locking the content entirely to screen would then create an image, video or Heads Up Display, rather than a true AR experience!)

 

 

UX/UI

Finally, Dan suggested some UX/UI tips when designing AR:

  • Use stable and consistent UI patterns so the AR is discoverable.
  • Use visual indicators as a way to explain what the technology is doing.
  • Use icons for guidance.
  • Use both text and audio, which is essential for ensuring the AR is accessible.
  • Use haptics to indicate that the user needs to take action.
  • Highlight progress to indicate that a user has completed an action (e.g. checkboxes, a definition of ‘done’).
  • Enable users to have a choice: AR becomes a video if you don’t give users agency. Avoid linear narratives and draw on game design to allow users to explore, use their curiosity, and take ownership of their experience.
  • Practice lots of usability testing with a wide range of users as it is likely you will encounter many different use cases with AR.
  • Keep the experience as natural as possible to draw on experiences that users are already familiar with.

 

Photo from Make it Clear UX Event: Designing Immersive Experiences for Users

The second speaker of the evening, Dan Webb, CEO and Co-Founder of Existent, explored creating accessible experiences within the virtual world to provide a happier, more productive experience for users.

 

1. Spatial computing 

Firstly, Dan discussed the meaning of spatial computing, which is a new computer with a new set of inputs and outputs which differ from computers that we are already familiar with. Rather than typing with buttons, this new computing enables us to interact with the world around us as we do in real life. 

The inputs of spatial computing include movement, hand tracking, gestures, speech, thoughts and even eye tracking, which might figure out intent and predict what people will do before they do them. Since senses are central to these new inputs, context is critical for these devices: they are required to know where the user is, what the user is doing, and what the user wants to achieve. Experiences with these computers are implicit and intuitive rather than explicit. 

Outputs of spatial computing can come in the form of drawing over reality by ‘painting over’ the real world or creating a whole new world. Dan shared some examples of spatial computing, such as enabling police officers to undergo training, providing therapy for people who fear public speaking, and football training used by premiership football players to test realistic experiences from within virtual reality. 

 

2. Presence

Next, Dan explored the importance of making people feel comfortable and ‘at home’ in virtual worlds so that they can achieve their goals without feeling awkward or distressed. Dan reiterated that presence is associated with the synchronicity between sensory, cognitive and psychological input with both active and reactive expectations, and this is the bedrock of user experience. In brief, if the surrounding environment does not feel natural, the effectiveness of the experience is damaged. For this reason, it is essential to consider how to create and maintain a presence in the experiences we build. 

Dan illustrated the significance of physiological and sensory factors such as touch, sound, smell, taste and the vestibular system when creating VR experiences. Regarding the vestibular system, when your sense of balance is out of sync with what the VR headset is presenting to your eyes, this is a problem of presence but also has a physical impact which could make the user unwell. Similarly, it is crucial to take into account the psychological and emotional implications of VR – might the user feel uncomfortable or out of place using a headset in the presence of others? 

 

3. The limitations of VR

Dan explained that virtual and mixed realities undoubtedly have their limitations. Since virtual reality ignores the real world, boundaries are often overlooked, and users might fall over things. A successful example of mixed reality uses its limitations to its advantage. Dan’s approach to achieving comfort and presence for users involves creating a natural experience by transporting people into a virtual reality that feels real. Dan emphasises the importance of embracing the real world rather than ignoring it by allowing users the ability to physically interact with the virtual world in a familiar way rather than using abstractions like button presses or gestures.

 

Finally, Dan ended his presentation with some key takeaways: 

  • Moments of presence are easy, but sustaining presence is hard. It is vital to continually deliver and confirm the world you are presenting in a headset and maintain users’ engagement and interest. 
  • ‘Feels right’ is always better than ‘is right’, which Dan consistently endeavours to embed in his approach. It is essential to remove glitchiness from experiences and make them feel as natural as possible. 
  • Presence is about building trust – these experiences should become somewhat ‘normalised’ for users so that they are no longer shocked by VR as their expectations are met.

 

Photo from Make it Clear UX Event: Designing Immersive Experiences for Users

To conclude

Dan Moller’s discussion of the role of AR and Dan Webb’s presentation on providing a happier, more productive experience for users offered valuable insights that designers might consider when working on XR products. The event inspired attendees to look forward to the possibilities of delighting, entertaining and educating users with XR as well as achieving a natural sense of presence while doing so. 

 

Photo from Make it Clear UX Event: Designing Immersive Experiences for Users

If you missed this UX meetup and would like to attend the next, network with like-minded peers and join our UX community!

 


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