Introduction- Designing for VR: the medium of the future!

Hello all,

A few months ago I started to learn UI/UX design for mobile as I wanted to be really close to the product that I build. Previously, I had run a startup that did not do as well as expected.

Breaking into UX was intimidating at first, but with persistence and the right resources/tools, I managed to get over my insecurity and designed things I would be intimidated by. Once here, it just feels like the UI/UX landscape is heavily commoditized. I mean, everyone seems to become a ‘LEAD’ in like 3 months. Also, the amount of people willing to do the work for pennies is astonishing. I guess what they really can do is ‘UI’ whilst not paying attention to the ‘UX’. There’s a lot more to it than curved edges and drop shadows.

Over a month ago I started to think about what’s next in computing and technology. What’s the next medium I could design for? I saw a VR design video from Google I/O 2016, where the person said that “designing for VR is like designing for the web in the 1990s”. I mean, think about it, we went from designing for the web in the 1990s.

Web UI/UX- 1990s

To designing for Smart Watches in 2017.

Smart Watches- 2017 & beyond.

What else could we design for? We’ve done Websites, then mobile, then watches and now? What’s next in computing that could have a profound impact on our society? The smartphone has its share of changing social dynamics to unprecedented degrees, so what is the next smartphone?

Enter VR/AR/XR-

VR- Virtual Reality
AR- Augmented Reality
XR- Mixed Reality

Due to the advancements made in XR, we are living in a time where technologists are finding new ways to expand our experiences.

The PC extended our information reach by bringing us e-commerce, newsletters, etc.

The Mobile extended our reach to complete tasks- think communication and productivity apps, reminders/to-do lists apps, etc.

Mobile disruption

AR (Augmented Reality) extended our visualization reach- Google maps with augmented directions and Pokemon Go.

AR in Google Maps

VR is going to extend our experiences- It is going to create a world where we are the center of everything! It will be our world, and we can do what we want in it (once such experiences are created).

Nature Treks- VR experience

For instance, take Nature Treks. A VR experience designed for therapy. There are a few worlds that you can enter and explore. This is being used in hospitals where patients with PTSD for disabilities are put into these experiences to relieve stress/depression. There is also a story of an ex-diver who couldn’t dive anymore and went into the ‘underwater experience’ in Nature Treks and was literally in tears.

Why VR is the next big visual medium

I have this analogy of why VR will be the next medium, and it goes something like this:
Our evolution to process visuals could predict where we are going next.

  1. One of the first mass mediums for visual aids were movie theaters and plays. While we were there, the screen/play was a few meters away from us (unless you sit right below the screen, you get the point).
Movie theaters, back in the day.

2. Due to advances in technology and capital availability, we could afford a TV set, which was a few feet away from where we sit in the living room.

A TV set

3. Move further along and we have the PC, which was closer to us, and we could just walk up to it. Gradually, we also ended up spending increasing amounts of time on it. In many cases, it was also kept just beside us, easily accessible, right next to our beds.

PC- right next to the bed

4. Now we enter a visual medium that arguably changed our lives more than the theater, TV, and PC combined. MOBILE!
This literally was inches away from our eyes, with us at all times, and acts as an extension of ourselves.

Smartphones- our closest visual medium.

5. What next? VR!

If we just were to analyze this pattern, it seems like our visual experiences went from a few meters away to a few inches away.
Next, it would be millimeters away!

VR- our closest visual medium

How will our society look like, when everyone can have their own experiences, the way they want, that feel undistinguished from the real world? Will we spend a great deal of time in these virtual worlds at the expense of the real-world?

VR is powerful because it literally has the power to change your beliefs.
Hell, it is even used for drug rehabilitation.

Though many people suggest that VR was hyped and it did not really take off as expected, there are several reasons why. Most notably that there’s no “Killer-App” for VR, and that spending $300 minimum for an HMD (Head Mounted Display) strapped around your head can feel nauseating after a while. Sure, these do make sense, but over-time, it is only going to get affordable and smaller (just like putting on a pair of spectacles). It also happens to be that AR actually seems to be a better bet for VCs and developers, as AR can be built for on our smartphone- which is widely adopted.

Having laid out my findings above- I am deciding to continue a series of posts, where I share my learnings for designing for VR. I have enrolled in the “How to Design for Augmented and Virtual Reality” course on the ‘Interaction Design Foundation’ and various other resources. Every week, I will post what I learned new for that week and hopefully, you can learn with me in the process and tell me where/if I am going wrong!

“When one teaches, two learn.”

Robert Heinlein


Keen interest in technology, design, philosophy, and psychology. Why are we here? And where are we headed?