In the early days of television, it would be fair to say there was a ‘breaking in period’. It took broadcasters some time to get to grips with the new medium. In fairness, they and their listeners were used to news, information and entertainment primarily being delivered to their ears via a radio and therefore, with little appreciation for the context of a visual medium, the earliest shows consisted of little more than a camera being pointed at a radio presenter.
Similarly VR is the new and compelling game in town with the power to entertain, to communicate and to tell visual stories in an entirely different, multi-dimensional way. Creating strong content for this new medium inherently comes with the same challenges – how to effectively use all the various tools that VR offers in the right way and at the right time, to create the most engaging and immersive experiences possible. All while still providing users with plenty of information.
Long held design habits, honed through work within multiple different formats can be tough to shake and so, based on the findings from over a thousand hours of VR user testing we’ve carried out, we’ve put together a few things to consider that we think will help when using text, audio and video in VR without interrupting the immersive experience.
Show, Don’t Tell
Although, as we will touch on later, VR isn’t a visual-only platform, it is visual-first. In the same way that filming a radio broadcaster doesn’t fulfil the potential of television, or recording a Cirque Du Soleil show wouldn’t make for good radio, using more than minimal text with a VR experience is a distraction. People don’t naturally come to VR to read.
Beyond a few words within a menu, or used as concise pointers for navigation, blocks of floating text can be disorienting and unnecessarily cover portions of a design. Not only that, the sensory conflict that can take place when people view hovering text can cause feelings of nausea.
While the desire to add a text-based commentary might understandably be to provide further detail on a specific product, or to highlight a designer’s thought process, in the context of VR, there are better ways of providing a narrative which can add to an experience rather than detracting from it. Save text for good menu design, or to help users orient themselves within VR.
Title: An example of menu VR text used to navigate a design portfolio
A good gauge on when to include text in VR designs:
● Do you have navigation you need to label to orientate users?
● Do you wish for viewers to take an action when they land on a design?
● Can you express the directions in point form, or in less than two sentences?
Offering short pieces of audio commentary at strategic points within a VR experience can be a great way to share key information in a non distracting way. We recently developed a new audio hotspots feature which allows designers to add audio files of up to two minutes to specific parts of their designs.
Triggered when a viewer gazes at the hotspot, these commentaries can be used to describe design choices, offer answers to questions, or provide information about products used in the design, all without interrupting the immersion of a VR experience.
As an example of this in practice, an interior designer might choose to place a hotspot over an area a client had questions about on the last iteration or where they requested changes, and call attention to exactly how concerns were addressed.
For those designers who typically present to a stakeholder who will later be sharing the design with others, audio hotspots also let the designer maintain the control and consistency of the conversation.
Beyond strategically placed commentaries, ambient background noise relevant to a visual is anecdotally believed to considerably increase the immersive quality of a VR experience. Whether it be the sound of kids playing when viewing the design of proposed new community development or office background noise within a new building design, audio is able to add an additional layer of reality into the experience.
A good gauge for when to include audio in VR designs:
● Do you have additional information that is key to clients understanding the design?
● Are their features in the design that may raise questions you want to preemptively address?
● Have you put specific objects or materials in the design that have important features which would be served by a detailed explanation?
● Does the space need ambient noise to bring it to life?
● Will your design be viewed by stakeholders when you aren’t there to present it?
Video in VR
Another way of creatively sharing information in a way that suits the immersive context of VR, is through video. By adding video clips strategically within a design, triggered in the same ‘gaze-to-go’ technique as audio and navigation hotspots, creatives can offer viewers the ability to take a deeper dive into a specific element.
Whether it be a retail application where viewers might gaze at a piece of furniture and view a short video clip of it being created in a workshop with specific details of the materials used, etc, or a real estate application where a new home buyer might gaze at a window in an, as yet, unbuilt home and launch a clip of the real life surrounding area. When used creatively, video can add depth to a story being told in a way that perfectly fits the VR environment.
A good gauge for including video in VR designs:
● Do you have a video asset that explains features of products used in the design?
● WIll a video of the designer discussing their inspiration lend flavour to your design?
● Is there an in-context sales pitch that would be useful if the design is used in a sales setting?
● Do you have instructions or next steps you want to share with visuals?
● Do you have video assets that enrich the story and could be incorporated in a logical way?
By Rob Kendal Managing Director, Yulio Technologies