MSc Thesis

Design Principles for Virtual Reality

In my final Human Factors thesis I identified design principles that can help create UX-centered interaction models in VR. Using a design-research method I followed an application-based process that had the development of an exemplary VR prototype as outcome. The prototype was used in user tests to identify UX constraints of the principles.

Although recent hardware releases move VR headsets toward the mainstream market, the design of VR user interfaces has remained in an area of exploration. While traditional two-dimensional interfaces in screen-design often refer to design guidelines in order to create user-centric interactions, VR practitioners cannot rely on such help. This thesis analyses the ideas, visions and the knowledge of a series of different VR stakeholders in order to form one comprehensive set of VR design principles. The so arising guideline is aimed toward the design of interactive models for virtual environments in order to enhance the user’s experience. Altogether 32 design principles were identified, subdivided into the compatible divisions System-driven and Design-driven, and complemented by one Value-driven principle. On a dedicated website you can find all principles with a growing number of academic examples.

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Suggesting Design Principles for Interaction Models in VR
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All VR design principles
on one site
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Ideation workshop: Asking future users

As a starting point of the thesis I asked six technology interested people from different academic fields what they think and know about VR. The workshop helped identify todays understanding of VR and gave insight into what possible future users may expect. If interested, you can read more about the workshop's outcome in this Medium story.

Creative techniques

A series of prepared tasks and suggested techniques helped the participants form a wide variety of ideas in a short period of time: brainstorming, aleatory techniques, story telling, warm-ups, crafting, ...

The power of the user

Asking the user is a valuable tool to me. Especially in the beginning of a project the insight of (possible) users can be of crucial importance to the projects outcome. The ideation workshop proved to identify prospective needs of a kind that is not discussed in literature or by VR practitioners, mostly related to value.

Web-research on suggestions by the industries

There is plenty of information on how to design for VR available online. Some of this information is more valuable than others. In a systematic research process I identified a series of resources. Using a clustering method I structured these resources according to their relevance and bundled different design suggestions to a series of design principles. In order to allow easy back-tracing of the principles, two indipendent infographs arose (see below).

Expert interviews and evaluation

Altogether five experts from the fields VR research, VR development, and interaction design were interviewed about VR matters and their stance on VR design principles. An evaluation procedure helped give the conducted principles further structure by assigning each a different level of importance.

Design framework and concepts

In order to show a possible process of evaluating each principle, I picked one of the conducted principles. „Break Free“ depicts how 3D interfaces should be the preferred way of letting users interact with a virtual environment. It was henceforth used for the development of an exemplary VR prototype. A design framework helped me create a series of concepts and tasks. The final VR app concept envisions a „Change Background Color“ metaphor for VR by using two different interaction methods: Real (3D) and flat (2D).

Unity development

The VR app prototypes were developed using Unity, learning UnityScript while in the process. My focus was on natural interactions inside an immersive VR system. With the help of the university's chair I got access to the HTC Vive, which I used in combination with a Leap Motion hand tracker.

Programming Challenges

I was completely new to VR development. Although the community is growing, there is yet only little help for absolute beginners. On Medium I published two stories with code snippets that may help whomever is getting started with VR interactions using Unity.

Writing VR apps

I was surprised how fast and easy it is to prototype in VR. My knowledge of JavaScript definitely helped me understand UnityScript. Yet, the design and development process differs from traditional software: VR interactions are very similar to real life interactions and require a more spacial, 360-ish mental model. An approach that is much fun and oddly feels more realistic than coding for the web.

User Tests

Altogether 22 test subjects were asked to complete the tasks of coloring their virtual environment in a within-subject design. I used a series of different questionnaires to identify UX issues: The meCUE questionnaire for a general insight into the apps UX, the IPQ to determine presence, and the AffectGrid to get changes in pleasure and arousal. The outcome shows that the test subjects had a stronger feeling of presence when interacting with the 3D interface. Yet an improvement in UX still needs to be proven due to usability constraints of the two VR apps. If you are interested in my thesis work you are welcome to download the full thesis.

Personal reflection

In the beginning I entered the void. When I did my first research on VR I did not know what to expect. Now I am standing in a fully built virtual environment, with mountains around me and a soap bubble in my hand. It was so much fun experiencing VR as a developer and receiving that much expert insight. The VR community is inspiring and breathtaking at the same time. I pursue making the VR design principles public in order to give something back to the community.
Nevertheless, the void sometimes still lives on. What is the future of VR? It is a great tool for entertainment and a wide series of professional fields. Yet, even for me, it has to prove itself as a daily life medium. I would like to take a dive into AR at one point. For VR, I think there is a future, it may just not be as extensively present in our daily lives as some may expect.
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