Design immersive interaction: 8 tips for your AR & VR app
To create convincing VR or AR apps, several factors come into play: In addition to selecting the right technology and a well-thought-out concept idea, an optimal UX is essential above all. Because a good UX supports the immersion experience. Lack of UX can throw users out of the application and their virtual world. Then the fun is quickly gone. Find out how to design an optimal UX for your AR or VR app and adapt it to your target group in our article.
Immersive technologies are still quite young. The biggest challenges for AR and VR apps remain hardware and ergonomics. Although special AR/VR hardware is becoming smaller, lighter and more energy-efficient, data glasses and the like are not yet very widespread among end users. Technological acceptance has yet to be created in some cases. In addition, users cannot fall back on known interaction patterns. And while UI design for 2D is well researched, recommendations for developing good UX for immersive UIs are still in their infancy. Therefore, we want to give you eight tips from our practice for designing AR and VR apps:
1. Less is more
Make it as easy as possible to get started with your application. If you use gestures, we recommend explaining them at the beginning. Don't overwhelm your users with input, keep units like videos rather short, and allow the application to be interrupted for breaks.
2. Room instead of screen
The design of AR and VR apps is focused on the whole space, rather than 2D, as with traditional user interfaces. The eyes of the users are the camera; the screen is infinite.
In 3D space, elements always have a reverse side. You must consider them during the design. To ensure that virtual objects merge with reality as realistically as possible, you should also give objects realistic physical properties: For example, heavy objects like stones should fall faster, while light ones like a feather should float slowly to the ground.
3. Clearly guide users
The 360-degree perspective requires that you clearly direct the user's attention and guide their gaze so that they can perform their task. The user can be guided not only visually, but also via sound, to activate more senses. You can also change the size and perspective of objects. Clarifies it for users which objects they can interact with. For example: Our AR app "HoloMed" uses virtual elements to support surgeons during brain operations. AR basically offers the possibility to place holograms in 360 degrees around the operator. In operating rooms, however, the focus must clearly be on the patients. Virtual elements should therefore be arranged in such a way that surgeons do not have to turn too far away from the patient. Any distraction can entail errors.
4. Consider environment
Consider the environmental context of your AR or VR app when designing it. Is the user environment brightly lit, as in the operating room? Or are the lighting conditions rather dark, like on a factory floor or in a laboratory? Matches fonts, sizes and color of your elements to the background and provides enough contrast. In AR applications, the background or lighting conditions can change repeatedly due to different times of day, for example. To make elements work on both light and dark backgrounds, the font in this case sets on a color area or object.
5. Analyze context of use
Tip 3 and 4 make it clear: You need to know the context in which your AR or VR app will be used. So, analyze the respective context of use in advance by observing your target group interacting on site, interviewing them and creating personas. Only then can you derive starting points for UX design. For example, it is difficult to formulate a universal recommendation for the use of objects: For an AR app in a medical context, too many objects are rather disadvantageous because they distract the surgeon from the patient or cover the surgical field. In other usage contexts – e-learning, for example – this can be a desired effect to provide additional information.
6. Hardware defines interaction
AR and VR apps can be implemented with different technologies. The decision influences the type of interaction and the design. Immersive applications for smartphones are currently the most widespread on the market. However, the users do not have their hands free for interaction. This eliminates interaction with gestures. On the other hand, if you rely on VR/AR hardware such as glasses, your users could use head and body movements in addition to their hands to control your AR or VR app. For example, in "HoloMed", we use a long gaze interaction. In this case, users activate elements by controlling a pointer to an object through head movement and by fixing it for a specified period of time.
7. Avoid motion sickness
Rapid transitions or too many (abrupt) changes in perspective can trigger motion sickness when using VR/AR hardware. If your application contains fixed landmarks like a horizon, they should not move.
8. Test, test, test
You should regularly test prototypes of the product at the actual site of your application. When developing an AR or VR app, plan for (even) more iterations and iterative testing under real-world conditions. This is the only way you can figure out how to design UI elements that fit perfectly your use case. Involve your target audience from the beginning. This reduces the risk of not meeting the user's needs and ensures the acceptance of your target group.
With these 8 tips, you can lay the foundation for a positive user experience in augmented or virtual reality. The Human Centered Design Process supports you in this. Human-centered methods help you design immersive user experiences that are truly user-centered, allowing for maximum immersion.
- Immersive UX: Immersing into new world
- UID News: Immersive applications are the trend: attracting users with immersion
- UID News: Augmented Reality: between fascination and challenges
- UID Studie: Augmented Reality in medicine
- UX Guideline: Design principles for AR in medicine