User Experience in 360° Virtual Reality – Part 2

 

This is the second part in a blog series about UX in 360° VR. Read the first part here

Avoiding confusion

Besides physical strain, mental strain is highly possible in VR as well. A full 360° view provides a possibility for an incredible amount of information saturation. It is therefore necessary to make sure that everything is readable and its purpose is obvious. The user shouldn’t have to scan the whole area around them to find a relevant item. Even if the content on screen is relatively minimal, it’s unwise to needlessly spread things out over the whole available area.

For example, a single menu should fit within the user’s field of view so they don’t have to turn to see all of it. In the case that this is not possible, the overflowing menu items should at least show on the edge of the screen to imply there is something beyond the user’s periphery.

Menu contained in a single view, extra information visible in periphery

Guiding the user’s attention can also be as simple as fading in directional arrows when they’re looking the wrong way

 

Furthermore, interactive elements need to look like they can be interacted with, and must be distinct from “static” elements. We’re used to the way that buttons and links look like on websites as opposed to plain text, but simply copying the same visual cues for their VR counterparts might not always fit the platform.

A common approach is to try and incorporate these elements as a part of the virtual environment and using real-world context – for example, interacting with a door with an “exit” sign to quit the application.

What’s in front of you

Unlike regular computer screens, the screen in a VR headset isn’t something that the user can easily look away from. It is also much closer to the eyes, so visual overload is more likely. Take care to lessen any possible high-contrast transitions, over saturated colors, flashing lights or aggressive patterns. Any of these can easily cause issues related to visual overload – confusion, loss of balance and sense of presence, nausea, eye strain and headaches, among others.

Same goes for doing things like “taking over the camera” – forcing the view to rotate or tilt while the user is moving their head in a different way. That is a surefire way to make people queasy and confused.

An example of what to avoid – 360° video that subjects the user to an unexpectedly bright, “burned-out” footage

 

Something that works really well in non-VR applications and games is the head-up display (HUD) – information visually presented on top of the app/game view. In VR, however, a HUD usually feels like something glued onto the eyes, and may obstruct parts of the world behind it.

A good solution for continuously showing information to the user in VR is to place it within the virtual world as a 3D object – a display on the wall, etc. – or letting the element follow the user’s view “naturally”, with a slight delay and animation easing.

While not exactly a HUD element, this button would look quite odd if it was “frozen” in the middle of the screen no matter where the user turns. The solution is to force it to stay at a certain height, and make it follow the user’s field of view as if it’s trying to catch up

Reading should be easy

On the topic of user interfaces, text is still quite an issue in VR. Large amounts of text are frustrating to read and focus on. A common solution for that currently is simply letting the user adjust the distance the text is from their eyes. Giving the user a virtual tablet display or notepad allows them to read at arm’s length, or bring the text right up to their face.

Even more frustrating than reading is writing. The currently most often used writing tool found in VR is a floating keyboard that can be operated by pointing a laser at the necessary key and pressing a button on the controller to confirm the selection. However, this method tends to be tedious and imprecise. A better solution is required before we ask users to input anything longer than their name.

All of the issues brought up here mostly pertain to single-player experiences. Multiplayer VR offers a whole new set of challenges when it comes to user interface, experience and communication design. In order to do it right, you have to pay attention to the sense of presence users will have with each other, possibilities for multiple kinds of user interaction and efficient ways of communication, among other things. This is challenging to do all at once, but that’s a topic for another day.

Thank you for reading!

Harri Lammi