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Visions in VR: Making the leap and transitioning from 2D to VR design

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Robert Kendal, Managing Director of Yulio Technologies, on how we can apply what we know about the 2D world in VR and his own experiences with VR design.

Finding yourself facing your first leap into VR? Don’t worry, you’ve got this. VR is still design –but design that creates an immersive experience and therefore emotional connection, and less ambiguous presentation of your ideas. If you’re beginning your first VR design, focus on the design elements, then apply the tips we’ve outlined below. These are based on over a thousand hours of VR testing over the last 15 years.

Look behind you

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There’s a fundamental shift happening in design. Where artists once had full control over the narrative, viewers are now able to focus on any element they wish. They won’t be staring straight ahead at all times. You can’t force a 2D design concept into 3D space, and if you aren’t adapting, your designs won’t meet the new expectations of clients to fully investigate your presentation. You’re used to setting a viewpoint into a scene, something that sits inside a frame, but VR is controlled more by the viewer. Users can turn their heads and of course, look behind themselves. If viewers turn around to be confronted with a blank abyss, you’ve lost the sense of immersion. That doesn’t mean you need to take the time to create everything in the scene at the same level of fidelity as your primary view, but you should plan for what viewers will see behind them.

Use real world measurements

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Make your VR experience as pure an abstraction of the real world as possible. Users will see everything in real-world scale and should feel like they’re occupying the space. Having door knobs, windows and kitchen surfaces appear either too high or too low disrupts the experience. Mixing up heights can also make a design disorientating. Setting your camera view at about 5’6” above the desired viewpoint will create an “average height” viewing experience and give viewers an entry to the scene that you have chosen.

Create a Story

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Once you’ve established your entry points, most designs will flow through various scenes or rooms, which lead the user through your design story. These movements should be based upon what clients will want to explore. Using VR software with ‘linkable’ hotspots can help streamline the user experience and connect multiple vantage points or additional scenes. Set up your hotspots carefully so they don’t disrupt the visuals and spoil the user’s overall experience. At Yulio, we achieve this partly by allowing you to set the depth of the hotspot in the scene, so it can appear further or closer in space and be part of the natural design flow. Hotspots can also be labelled, although we don’t recommend using too much text in VR – it spoils immersion and the rapid eye movements required to read a massive wall of text can create nausea.

Be a Guide

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Consider how you’ll guide your user through the space – is there a logical path to the linked scenes or hotspots, and have you thought about what draws attention in the headset…and if you want it to draw attention? No one wants to have to ask a dozen technical questions just to successfully view a design so ensuring that the navigation is simple and user friendly will leave viewers able to concentrate solely on the design itself.

Testing

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Finally, when in doubt, test it. At Facebook they say “put it on your face”, I prefer to “pop it in a headset”… just look at it in VR, see how the experience feels. I’ve talked with numerous seasoned designers and architects with years of experience and they’ve all changed elements, the location of a beam, the height of a light switch or the amount of skylights in an office, based on viewing in VR, things that they just wouldn’t have noticed in 2D and all before construction began.

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