Stay Alive in VR

What it means to enhance User Experiences with Virtual Reality

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The aim of this article is not a review of technologies or trying to convince you of the need for additional technical skills, a computer science degree or some secret knowledge of sorts to explore the applications of VR in your products, apps or services. The fact of the matter is that technical components aside such as hardware, equipment and a multitude of software and apps readily available, there are more significant elements of design at stake when utilizing VR such as dealing with the interactions between humans and multisensory feedback of sight, sound, touch, smell, self-motion and taste, and their impacts on the cognitive systems of users. As designers our primary interest lies in the effect of technology on humans which gives us something to work with, not just technical implementations. Already multiple industries are leading this charge as is the case of medicine, education and military to name a few, but looking at the current trends of nonverbal behavior and social interactions in VR it is evident that future possibilities for designers are wide open.

The 1990s called…

Traditionally since the early 1990’s a full VR environment implementation required cameras with optical sensors that would track the user’s position in a room, an accelerometer that would capture the user’s movements as they moved their heads around the room, a computer that would receive their movements data and would render it to the VR set in the mounted in the user’s head. That was the scene for almost two decades where VR was the domain of computer scientists but nowadays all you need to get started and track user behavior in VR is a VR headset or a smartphone and at least a web application. The access to VR for designers allows us to push technical limitations aside and focus on what’s of value to humans or what is worth solving, but many questions still arise.

Emerging VR Mental Models

As designers we’re already cognizant of the effects in the attitudes and behavior of our users and when dealing with VR the following models make a difference in the outcomes we’re trying to achieve:

Cognitive

A human immersed in VR is the main actor in the environment created for them and they’re typically more aware of their actions and reactions as what they observe through their headset is updated to these. As a result of this hyper level of interactivity they’re more active than in other digital channels or customer experiences and a lot more cognitively engaged.

Attitudinal

Related to what humans like, believe or perceive in VR experiences. Elements of Attitudinal components in VR are directly linked to aesthetic appeal, satisfaction, trustworthiness and credibility of the experience.

Emotional

The attention triggers, positive or negative emotions and semantic values derived from a VR experience. Ultimately users must understand their purpose in the experience and work through positive and negative emotions to achieve an outcome.

Behavioral

It’s all about striking a mental chord with humans, the energy and time they invest will be worth it if in the end we are able to connect on a “deeper level”. If their engagement from their point of view is worth it, we’ve achieved this behavioral effect and are using emerging technology as a force for good.

Content and Collaboration

Rising trends in VR will impact the content that is served and new production modes for these will soon blow past current traditional media content, leading to new ways of human cognitive interaction. The most successful experiences will result from collaboration of cross-functional teams that aim to solve real world problems such as in health care where VR is used to training medical professionals’ communication skills with patients or the space of non profits where group training and performance through VR can be improved to meet an organizational mission to cite a few examples.