Designing in VR: Rules by Google
At the recent Google I/O conference held in Mountain View, California, the company unveiled the DayDream VR platform. It seems hardware wasn’t the only thing the company worked on. A team of four Google staff consisting of two designers and two engineers spent 30 weeks developing various virtual reality simulations. About 60 apps have been developed by the team.
Week in week out, these apps are tested by volunteers every Monday. The volunteers are recorded on video so as to capture their reactions.
At the company’s panel, the team shared some lessons they learnt while developing apps in VR.
VR Rules by Google
Let us discuss the lessons and rules the Google team came up with.
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1. Allow people enjoy the use of tools in VR
The first of the rules by Google is all about what VR is made for: enjoyment.
Humans enjoy the opportunity of using tools in virtual reality. Input devices like keyboards, mice, etc. are good, but we prefer actual tools in a lot of cases. In a scenario involving a gardening program, an actual loaded watering can was used and a lot of people preferred this to holding a mere controller. “We thought people would set it down because it was so heavy,” says Stefan Welker, software engineer on the Google VR team. “But it connected the real world and virtual world better.”
On the other hand, some tools are too large, and they don’t have to be replicated in full size. A smaller size or smaller representational tool can be used.
People enjoy half physical, half virtual tools, which can be customized as desired. In another demo, a virtual drum set was built with drum heads that can be rearranged. A lot of people enjoyed the experience a lot. Plus, “there’s nothing like building your own drum fort and hiding inside it,” says Welker.
2. People enjoy simulation of the imaginary as well as the simulation of reality
A lot of developers think virtual reality is all about simulating the physical real environment, but imaginary spaces that can’t exist in real life can also be created and enjoyed by many.
A fruit cutting simulator was built and the experience was set in a kitchen. It felt natural and ordinary. But when the simulation was redesigned to feature a giant fruit in the sky, appreciation for the simulation grew immensely.
“More and more, we see people more engaged with delightful environments,” says Manuel Clement, UX designer and prototyper on the Google VR team.
In another demo called Slides and Ladders, a giant obstacle course of slides and a never ending ladder was built. The participators were made to enjoy this VR in a tiny room of 5 feet by 12 feet. “When people took off their headset they were stunned at how small the room was,” says Clement, “because that VR experience was massive.”
The human body could also be made to feel abstract instead of just tools alone. An avatar of the human body could be used to represent the human body.
Speaking of which, the Google VR team’s UX designer, Robbie Tilton, said, “By showing bodies, we’re predicting where legs, arms, and torsos should be. People looked at their body expecting it to be in one place, but it would be somewhere other than expected. . . . Full-body avatars are really hard to get right.”
3. There is a purpose in placing limitations on freedom
Limits need to be placed on virtual reality as VR could be misused. A home decorating simulation was built by the team. The tool was designed without much limits, and people used it for other uses other than the intended.
“Giving users creative feeling can lead to unexpected outcomes,” says Welker. “We created a clone button. People were very creative. They created trees out of speakers. But we found this creative freedom can distract from the app’s core use case.”
The team also warns that this is one of the rules by Google that should be taken very serious especially in the case of social interaction. People could misuse VR and troll or bully other users with it.
“Just like in reality, people would be in the same room and just had nothing to talk about,” says Tilton. “To remedy this, give them a shared objective.”
In this case? A jigsaw puzzle.
More Rules by Google to Be Announced Soon
DayDream VR is a relatively new technology, and it is still being tested and evaluated. Google says that apps developed won’t be just by a team of four anymore, but it would be open to a lot more people. The company plans to share more rules as they are being discovered.
The presentation on DayDream VR is available on YouTube, if readers need more information on it.
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