You just can’t overemphasize the importance of UX/UI design in VR/AR. Virtual and augmented reality is complex and puzzling, and if some developer tells you that’s easy to build an app, don’t believe it.
Developing VR/AR apps is like unloading a truck full of sand under the water when it’s minus 40 outside without any shovel. Or even a bit more complicated.
UI/UX are supposed to make this overwhelmingly complex technology easy to use and comprehensible for users. So that a 89-year-old almost blind granny or a 15-year-old teenage boy could to navigate it any augmented reality app or virtual reality app easily. It seems that the task of UI/UX designer is even more challenging.
I’ve been there, I worked on UI/UX for many AR/VR apps and I know that sometimes it’s easier to unload that truck than to create something intuitive, appealing, and efficient at the same time.
How to hook customers through VR/AR app? How should a good VR/AR app look like?
Before I start speaking about UX/UI for VR apps, I think I should need to clarify what these concepts mean in general. The main purpose of UX/UI is to help a user to reach some particular goal – to buy a blender online or to sharpen the knife, it doesn’t matter.
Thus, UX is responsible for overall experience/ impressions the user receives in the process of achieving this goal. How easily can a user reach this goal? UX is all about the steps a user undertakes to reach the goal.
UI is a general look of the interface: the color of the buttons, the readability of the text, the comfort during swiping. UI should provide a user with a logical design that should accompany those steps.
Yet, the user experience of augmented reality as well as for virtual reality is UI/UX challenge squared.
To understand what a really good UI/UX design is in VR/AR man I came up with these 5 basic criteria. It’s a UI/UX guide to designing virtual reality experiences of the exceptional level.
First and foremost, any app, whether it is VR or AR or even a mobile app must be perceived as NATURAL to a human eye.
What does it mean? With VR it’s really a complex task, a maze to get through. The thing is we’ve got used to thinking in terms of frames. We’ve got used to utilizing media that are windows: TV sets, computers, even our smartphones are nothing but windows to other virtual worlds. VR and even AR are completely and profoundly different. Virtual reality apps break the wall between a viewer and content, like modern theatres without a scene. So in VR, you’re into the content, you are experiencing the content, you’re a part of it.
Obviously, UX/UI design must be not just believable and natural, but more than believable but also absolutely natural. The one that doesn’t offend the eye.
It’s important to be able to walk in the client’s shoes to feel what he/she might think and feel in the same situation. Is this a VR app to learn new languages? Then recall yourself in the unfamiliar linguistic environment? What would help you? What would motivate you? What clues would you react to?
In this example, you see that the bars with translations are located just in front of the user’s eyes. It easy to reach and to tap them, at the same time, they don’t draw all the attention of the user. So they don’t distract a VR user from the speaker because communication with the avatar is the main purpose of this app.
With AR apps the principle will be very similar: a client must believe that the objects in AR are real at least in a virtual paradigm created by a developer. Even with bars and buttons virtual environment is perceived as normal or natural.
For instance, take a look at this AR app created for ALLO virtual shop.
The main button that actually leads you into the virtual space is spherical. Why? Because the whole environment is spherical – it’s a circle on which home appliances are placed, and it’s important to emphasize that the user is inside the 3D world despite the fact that he is using this app on his tablet.
UX/UI MUST BE INTERACTIVE
The phrase “interactive design” is almost a cliche. Even my 3-year-old niece uses it from time to time. “We want this app to be interactive”- that’s what you hear from customers often. But what is that? From my experience in AR/VR sphere, interactivity means direct interaction with objects which can blur the line between real reality and virtual environment.
That’s important. It means getting feedback from all the actions inside the app. For a modern user who finds himself /herself in the world full of digital data ( which is perceived as unreal by the brain), it’s crucial to be able to know that each movement and each decision leads somewhere.
VR apps developers are luckier in this sense because their user is immersed into the new space completely and if 3D graphics are good and there are controllers or even some haptic suit, a user forgets about everything in the process of interaction. Thus, creating VR experiences that transport a user into a virtual environment seems challenging but still reachable.
With AR, achieving the effect of interactivity is more challenging because, after all, a user is standing with a smartphone in his/her hand. How can you push a user to interact with digital content if he/she never loses the impression that all he /she sees on the screen is not real? And even with the most realistic, detailed, and colorful 3D models, a user has doubts.
That’s how making AR app interactive becomes a quest for a UI/UX designer and he/she must learn to think outside of the box to achieve this. A designer can experiment with colors, forms, locations of bars and buttons a lot before he/she reaches the golden mean.
For instance, in this AR app, a virtual reality shop for Allo the idea of interactivity was implemented by blurring lines between real buttons and virtual buttons.
If you could travel in a time machine in the past and let some French king wear HoloLens or use some trivial AR app, such as Pokemon Go, he would say that it’s PURE MAGIC. And burn you down or hire a royal prophet.
And it is even for modern users VR/AR apps are associated with, and I think that VR/AR are so popular today because they can create this elusive feeling of magic even today. That’s why it is important to think about WOW effects for augmented and virtual reality apps. In my opinion, these effects can be achieved with the help of animations.
Modern users want dynamics in all the senses: they want action because they adore action.
Animations serve different purposes: they provide context and instant feedback. A user doesn’t have to think “ Did I do everything right? Did I press the right button?” Movement is a natural response in the whole world to some action that’s why placing a bet on animations is a synonym to winning user’s attention.
What does impressiveness mean? It means that after interaction with this AR/VR app the impression about it will be imprinted in human memory. It means that the user will recall positive emotions from the interaction with the product clearly after some time.
For instance, in this AR app, which is a virtual reality store of home appliances, there is one “magical element”- flying plates with names of the products and prices. They follow the user as he/she moves around virtual shop. So at the moment when he decides to buy – he could do it easily.
So a user doesn’t need to look for the information: it pops up naturally before his/her very eyes. It’s bright, transparent, and calling for action.
VR/AR App MUST BE COMFORT AND EASE
How is a comfortable AR app different from an uncomfortable one?
When using a convenient AR/VR app you literally stop thinking. Your brain is processing the content: it is not trying to find out how to navigate the virtual room or how to choose the object you want to choose.
Yes, VR/AR app must be impressive, intuitive, believable. But any app must be comforting and ease first of all. Comfort means strong support during each step of your trip inside the application.
It means that the person is guided in VR environment and each step is logical and is commented with some textual or visual information. A user doesn’t need to guess. A UI/UX designer thought all the steps through and created strong support.
Well in a comfortable app you don’t have to look for signs and plates, you don’t make extra movements to go to the next stage, you see everything clearly and adequately.
More than this, the movement through the augmented space must look logical: no need to think twice what to do to see the objects in AR, no need to bend your mind to understand how to approach and interact with this object.
UI/UX must be consistent with the user’s needs first of all- it must communicate to the user on his/her language and answer user’s questions. Just take a look at one of the most popular augmented reality apps- Pokemon Go.
Cartoon elements, such as a big bright red ball, were preserved in the app so a user could feel the connection between the cartoon and the app. Such a small detail creates such a strong emotional effect.
More than that, it is important to keep UI/UX consistent with the company’s voice and the look for which this design is created. Users notice this connection on the subconscious level. Consistency is revealed via colors, tables, forms, text. The style in general so to say.
Design for virtual reality experience must also be consistent with the company’s image and with the general idea of the new environment.
Long Story Short:
It may seem that designing UI/UX for VR/AR apps is more challenging than killing a dragon in a faraway cave. But it’s not if you know some basic principles and your UI/UX actually reflects USER’S needs, requirements, and problems. Think about the pain of a user first and try to offer smart, natural, intuitive, comfortable, and interactive design.
And of course, don’t forget to impress and surprise your user. It doesn’t matter if he is choosing a laptop in a virtual store or wants to play a game in AR. A user is still a kid deep inside and kids want to have fun. So impress your User.