VR in UX Design: Basic Guidelines for a Better Experience

Understand the importance of design principles for VR in UX design. Learn about the best practices and design guidelines for improved user experience.

Written by RamotionJan 16, 202314 min read

The world of design is changing at a rapid pace. The experience is now moving beyond the simple concepts of physical and digital products. The future of UX design lies in immersive technologies that create highly interactive experiences, thus having a lot to offer. This is where virtual reality and augmented reality come into play. However, when we talk about new technologies, particularly technologies that lead to a paradigm change in design, it is critical to understand them in light of well-established design principles. On the one hand, these technologies test design skills, but, on the other, create new avenues for development and growth.

A number of industries are now moving toward VR and AR in UX design. This will create new opportunities for designers to be creative and produce interactive technological solutions. It will not be wrong to say that in the near future VR UI/UX designers could be in high demand. Therefore, it is important for designers to not only understand the nuances of these immersive technologies but also find ways to improve their design, thus providing a better user experience. The demands of modern organizations will, indeed, be challenging.

Virtual Reality as an Immersive Experience (Pexels)

In this article, we introduce virtual reality in UX design. We introduce the concept of virtual reality and its significance for designers, followed by a relationship between the principles of UX design and VR. We also share comprehensive guidelines for designers to create better VR experiences.

  1. Understanding virtual reality in UX design
  2. UX design principles and VR
  3. Virtual reality UX design guidelines

Read along as we explore this exciting topic and understand how UX design principles can be applied to create better experiences in a virtual environment.

Understanding virtual reality in UX design

Although our memory of VR headsets and controllers does not go way back in time, the concept of virtual reality itself is more than half a century old. However, recent advancements in technology have helped in realizing the concept, thus creating a more interactive and immersive experience for users. For UX designers, this change has brought numerous possibilities. Many designers and organizations have acknowledged the potential of VR, and have started paying attention to ways in which these technologies can improve the user experience.

The adoption of virtual reality in digital products and services, such as mobile games, museums, and learning platforms, gives users a highly interactive experience. It can serve the needs of various industries, such as education, healthcare, entertainment, marketing, and a lot more. VR has a lot to offer to the field of design as well. Some of the ways in which designers can unleash the potential of VR are discussed below.

The adoption of virtual reality in digital products and services, such as mobile games, museums, and learning platforms, gives users a highly interactive experience. It can serve the needs of various industries, such as education, healthcare, entertainment, marketing, and a lot more. VR has a lot to offer to the field of design as well. Some of the ways in which designers can unleash the potential of VR are discussed below.

VR and User Experience (Affinity VR)

Highly interactive experience

The level of interactivity and immersion that can be achieved with the introduction of VR cannot otherwise be created. This technology lives up to the standards of a holistic experience, where the users are highly immersed in the tasks that they are doing. VR can also help in channeling the context of users in the best ways, thus helping them achieve their goals in a quick and efficient manner.

User control and freedom

All physical and digital products have certain limitations. Virtual reality goes beyond these limitations to give users more control and freedom when performing a task. The fact that the users become a part of the virtual environment they are interacting with, makes the experience more enjoyable and useful. This is not to say that VR does not have any limitations. However, the limitations here are quite a few as compared to traditional physical or digital environments.

Endless possibilities

The advancements in VR have only just begun. This technology has a lot to offer. From education and entertainment to legal services and healthcare, virtual reality solutions are emerging at a rapid pace. This also means that the responsibilities of, and expectations from, UI/UX designers are going to change. There will be an increased demand for designers with experience in VR, which is exciting for creative individuals as well as the field of design.

UX design principles and VR

The field of UI/UX design has some basic principles that are applicable to both physical and digital environments. It will not come as a surprise that the same principles, with some modifications, can be applied to augmented and virtual reality solutions. For UI/UX professionals working on VR design, it is critical to stick to these principles to ensure an overall useful and enjoyable experience.

When creating an experience in the virtual environment, the design process may vary, but the principles of design still hold true.

UX Design Principles and VR

User-centered design

The needs and expectations of users always take precedence in the design of any product or service. This holds true for VR design as well where the users interact with the objects in a virtual, but highly interactive, manner. Apart from the virtual experience, there are several physical elements, such as the VR headset, that cannot be ignored when creating the overall experience. Therefore, the designers have to consider all the needs of the target audience in mind. This also requires due consideration of the context in which the VR equipment is used. The focus of the design should not be focused on making more money or creating cheap technology. Instead, the final product should meet the needs of the users, helping them achieve their goals with little effort.

Consistency

Consistency is another key principle that UI/UX designers need to be cognizant of when working in a virtual environment, as the concerns get more pronounced in these cases. The use of colors, typography, and visual hierarchy are all relevant and important. However, the designers have to go beyond these general practices and think of ways to maintain consistency throughout the interaction. When the users interact with an object in the virtual environment, it changes based on the position and perspective of the user. Therefore, the overall experience should be consistent in all ways and from all angles.

Consistency is Important for VR Design (Game Developers Conference)

Hierarchy

Hierarchy is a key element of UI/UX design, having a significant impact on the level of understanding and satisfaction of the users. Among other things, visual and textual hierarchy is also important for aesthetic purposes. The principles of the hierarchy are critical to the creation of a successful VR experience. Since the objects are not in a two-dimensional plane and the users can, in most cases, walk around and ‘touch’ them on the go, maintaining visual hierarchy becomes challenging. However, by making the typography consistent, and defining the standards of visual hierarchy that are consistent throughout the experience, these challenges can be overcome.

Comfort of the users

A designer can consider a project finished if the users can accomplish their tasks. However, the project will only be successful if the users are comfortable and satisfied with the experience. The comfort of users is one of the key priorities that is a little hard to achieve in a virtual environment. There are several reasons for that. The most important one is the fact that they have to attach different technologies to their bodies and interact with things that are not real. The entire experience seems futuristic and can make the users a little uncomfortable. The design of any VR experience should, therefore, bring all these factors into consideration. Understanding the context of the users, the technologies they use, and the situations where they might interact with VR can help in creating an improved experience.

Users’ Comfort is the First Priority (Hughes and Coleman)

Empathy

When working with mixed reality, empathy is one of the aspects that might get overlooked. Since VR is still developing, the technology also puts certain limitations. It is, however, entirely possible to create a VR experience that takes care of the users’ needs, and brings their perspectives into the design process. This is where practices such as user research and design thinking can be extremely helpful. User testing the prototype of a VR system can help in understanding the perception of the experience and how the users feel about it. The findings of these processes can help in highlighting the key concerns, thus paving way for their resolution.

Virtual reality UX design guidelines

When it comes to virtual reality design, the basic principles of UX serve as an excellent starting point. However, there are some specific aspects of a virtual experience that call for specific guidelines. To design virtual reality, UI/UX professionals have to be careful about the context, the difference between the real and the virtual, and the audio elements at the same time. All these aspects alter the design process to some extent, making it more suitable for a VR experience.

There are several organizations with virtual reality design guidelines of their own.Google’s VR guidelines and those curated by Occulus are some of the best ones out there. Some of the most important guidelines for designers working on the creation of virtual immersive experiences are discussed below.

Understand the users and their needs

Like any other product or service, the design of a virtual experience requires a good understanding of the users and their needs. This means that when organizations design virtual reality solutions, they need to make sure that user research and market analysis are conducted beforehand. The needs and expectations of the target audience may be different, and unrealistic in some cases when working with VR and AR. This is where designers have to make a tradeoff between expectations and realistic goals. Nevertheless, the data gathered from user research is always helpful in addressing their concerns and creating better immersive experiences.

Understand the Users’ Needs (PlaybookUX)

Focus on the learning experience

One of the concerns about modern technologies and innovative solutions is that these can be a little hard to understand. If the experience is not familiar or too demanding, then the customers might find it overwhelming, thus moving away from the product or service. Therefore, it is important to think of VR as a learning experience for the users. The design of the system and information architecture should be such that the users are eased into this new experience. Designers should not expect too much from the users and, instead, create the experience in a way that guides and helps the users throughout their interaction.

Guide users along the way

When it comes to creating a learning experience, it is important to note that this goal doesn’t get fulfilled by creating an introductory tutorial. In a virtual environment, the users may need guidance at every interaction. It is critical to provide them with user guides, helpful information, resources, and mini tutorials wherever needed. However, the guidance should not take control from the users. These materials and resources should be accessible, but not in a way that they take the enjoyment out of the experience.

Guide Users for a Better Experience (XR Bootcamp)

Prioritize the comfort of users

Interaction in VR can be intimidating, making the users feel that they are a part of an environment where they don’t belong. Therefore, it is important to prioritize the comfort of the users and create a familiar experience for them. Good user experiences are those that require minimum effort from the customers and do not ask them to move out of their comfort zones. The importance of this principle gets more pronounced when users are immersed in an environment that is not quite real. This is where designers can take cues from the natural context of users, making them feel more relaxed and at ease when interacting with VR products.

Avoid abrupt changes

Virtual environments do come with their challenges. These include physical limitations and the cognitive abilities of humans. Any abrupt changes in the environment can lead to motion sickness, thus ruining the entire experience. Since the comfort of users is the priority in any experience, health concerns can be damaging for VR. Therefore, designers must take great care that the virtual experience does not cause any such discomfort.

Save Users from Motion Sickness (Starmark)

Create natural actions for hands

One of the successful aspects of any user experience is the similarity between mental and actual models of the system. This is where the use of hands and interactions becomes critical for virtual environments. The design elements and actions should be designed in a way that the users are not expected to do something unusual with their hands. Focusing on natural actions and interactions is always a good idea, as this makes the users feel comfortable and also creates a familiar experience for them.

Use minimal text for instructions

No one wants to read long blocks of text with a VR headset. There are several reasons for avoiding text, particularly for instructional content, in virtual environments. When the users are immersed in the experience, they would not want to pause and read long articles to move ahead in the experience. Additionally, the position and perspective of the users can impact how text is displayed on user interfaces in VR. The text thus displayed on the screen might be harmful to the users, instead of helping them out. Therefore, it is recommended to rely more on visual cues and hierarchies to present instructions and use minimal text.

Use Visual Instructions (UploadVR on YouTube)

Focus on the audio elements

One of the strengths of VR is that it brings the visual and auditory senses together. When the users are in a virtual environment, the ambiance matters a lot. One way to create a good experience is to focus on the audio details. Since the users can see things clearly and are, in fact, a part of that environment, sound pulls them closer, making things more realistic. When creating a VR design solution, always select the audio elements in a careful manner, giving due attention to details.

Give due attention to aesthetics

VR experiences are highly attractive in and of themselves. However, these experiences need some beautification as well. This is where designers can use aesthetic appeals to create a more pleasing and engaging experience for the users. Small choices, such as the use of colors, the selection of sounds, and the transition between scenes, can go a long way. Although aesthetics are not everything when it comes to user experience design, it is important to consider this aspect when creating an immersive experience.

Aesthetics for VR User Experience Design (Muzli on Medium)

Conclusion

Creating VR and AR experiences is an exciting challenge for modern UI/UX designers. Granted that the technology is still developing, it has still got a lot to offer. The immersive and highly interactive nature of a virtual environment helps in giving users an entirely different experience. However, designers need to consider particular elements of VR that can be a little difficult to create, while ensuring that the users do not get overwhelmed or confused. Sticking to the basic principles of design can go a long way, helping in the creation of an extended reality that is not only attractive and futuristic but also helpful and useful for the target audience.

In this article, we discussed how UI/UX principles apply to the creation of virtual environments. We also shared carefully curated guidelines that can help you create a better VR experience. If you’re already working as a designer, it is a good time to focus on VR and expand your skill set. On the other hand, if you’re a student of design, know that VR is no longer the future, it is here in the present as well. Learning about the design of VR experiences can help you land better jobs, and add value to your projects.

Updated: Jan 16, 2023