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What You Should Know About VR

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In the last few years, we’ve witnessed an explosion in virtual reality (VR) devices and apps for them. VR is emerging as a new medium with the potential of having as strong an impact as radio or television did in the past century. According to the Heather Bellini of Goldman Sachs:
“We expect virtual and augmented reality to become an $80 billion market by 2025, roughly the size of the desktop PC market today”

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift is the first high-end virtual reality headset sold on the retail market.

With the increasing popularity of VR, a design is evolving to incorporate its requirements and new capabilities.

Where Can We Use VR

VR is giving birth to an entirely new arena for entertainment, education, collaboration, communication and marketing. The following are some general categories that will merge with VR:

Gaming

All types of entertainment activities can be amplified with the integration of VR. VR makes it possible to put your users into a 100% designed space with predetermined tasks while giving the user total control of moving, exploring and learning within this space.
VR for gaming

Learning

VR can have tremendous implications for education — education can be both more engaging and effective. VR can be used for educational classes, labs and demonstrations. To make education experience truly immersive, designers should consider how users may interact with objects.

VR for learning
Microsoft Hololens for medical education

Training

Using VR, training simulations for professionals like drivers, pilots, doctors and police officers can become more accurate, complex and cost-effective.

VR for training
Image credit: Wareable

Big companies like Toyota see the educational potential of VR. The latest training simulator from Toyota – TeenDrive365 system – is focussed on teaching new drivers about the risks associated with distracted driving.

VR for training
Toyota driving simulator.The driver is in a fully immersive virtual environment – and that includes passengers, traffic, buildings and roadway obstacles.

Prototyping

VR can greatly enhance prototyping and testing phases for engineers, with all types of projects from a handstick design to new car designs.

VR for training
The hologram and the object on the screen are synchronized and this makes spatial application part of the production pipeline, not just an isolated island. Image credit: Solidsmack

Communication

Communicating will drastically change with the help of VR. VR makes it possible to create a brand new experience for video conferencing services, such as Skype.

VR for communication
Remote collaboration using avatars.

Shopping

VR makes it possible to blend the online and offline shopping together. Instead of looking at a 2D image of an object online, shoppers in VR will have the ability to pick up an object and look at it in detail. Alibaba Group, Asia’s biggest e-commerce company, divided into virtual reality later last year.

VR for training
Alibaba’s VR shopping. Buy+ technology allows customers to browse 3D images of products and make real-time payment in a virtual mall as if they were shopping in the real store.

Creating VR Experience

Creating a VR experience is much more complex than traditional 2D experiences, which presents designers with a whole new set of challenges. There are currently 4 core considerations for the design of virtual reality experiences:

1. Make Sure Users Don’t Get Motion Sickness

The most important quality to creating any successful UX design is ensuring that users are comfortable throughout the experience. This is especially true in the context of VR experience. Motion sickness (when physical and visual motion cues give a user adverse information) is one of the most common problems of VR experiences. Humans evolved to be very sensitive to vestibular ocular disparities (disparity between the movement and what we’re seeing). So reducing motion sickness is very important for VR systems. The keys to preventing users from getting motion sick while using VR are

  • Always maintain head tracking. VR software should constantly track the user’s head and eye movements, allowing the images to change with every new perspective.
  • Prevent performance degradation. If the system freezes even for a split second that’s going to trigger a lot of motion sickness.

2. Develop Easy-To-Use Controls And Menus

Same as for traditional UI interfaces navigational menus and other controls should be easily accessible and user-friendly. Unfortunately, there’s no universally accepted way to designing menus for VR interfaces. This is a challenge that designers are still working on. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t transfer existing (2D) practices to 3D. It’s absolutely possible to place the menus on the user’s VR hands. One of such menu interfaces is Hovercast. All menu actions – including navigation between levels – are controlled by simple hand movements and reliable gestures.

VR navigation menu
Hovercast is 2D menu interface for VR environment. Hovercast radiates from the palm of your hand and you can interact with menu items using the index finger of your opposite hand.

3. Ensure Text Is Readable

All text elements should be clear and easily legible, preventing eye strain. The resolution of the VR headset is pretty bad. Because of the display’s resolution, all UI elements in VR will look pixelated. This means that text will be difficult to read. But you can avoid this by using big text blocks.

VR text
Consider the readability for different text section in this VR game. Instructions are almost unreadable. Image credit: Mozilla

4. Use Sound To Create Immersive Experience

As designers, we often don’t think about sound and audio. When we do that we miss an opportunity to communicate more information through a different set of senses. When we have audio sources attached to the objects we create much more realistic environment — if you’re telling a brain that it can see the object and it can hear the object then the object must be real. Try to build a mental image of the environment via sound:

  • Introducing the user to the environment via soundscapes. The audio can be used to give the user the illusion of being in the middle of a particular environment.
  • Guiding the user with sound. By applying positional audio and 3D audio effects to VR, the user will know the direction in which certain sounds originated in relation to where they are.
VR sound
Music and high-quality sound effects are a pivotal feature to encourage experience immersion. Image credit: Google

Conclusion

The possibilities for VR are endless. Soon, all types of companies will be seeking to extend their brand presences into this space. I hope I’ve made the VR space a bit less scary with this article and inspired you to start designing for VR your project.

Things To Remember When Designing For Augmented Reality

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Augmented Reality (AR) is changing how we interact with the world around us. Over the past several years, AR technology established a strong foundation in media, marketing, education, games and many other industries. This happened because computing hardware has finally advanced to the point where it’s become capable for AR platform. Today, AR prompting many brands to explore this strange new world for the first time.

What is AR?

AR technology incorporates real-time inputs from the existing world to create an output that combines both real-world data and some computer-generated elements which are based on those real-world inputs.

The concept of AR is not a new one. The term was first introduced in 1992 by researcher Tom Caudell to describe a digital display used by aircraft electricians that blended virtual graphics onto a physical reality. And AR isn’t rare. A frequently overlooked, yet widespread example of AR is the automobile parking assistance system.

Rear parking assist with the rear-facing camera.
Rear parking assist with the rear-facing camera. The vehicle’s computer calculates the vehicle’s distance from surrounding obstacles, and, based on the steering wheel’s position, determines the vehicle’s trajectory.

However, only after popular apps PokemonGO and SnapChat were released and adopted by users the term “augmented reality” got into the spotlight.

PokemonGo.
PokemonGo

How AR Will Change Brand Experiences

There is a distinct advantage for AR to be accepted sooner and on a wider basis than VR, particularly in the commercial sector. While Virtual Reality (VR) gets a lot of talk because of how cool this technology for entertainment, AR is going to truly impact the way we work and live. AR forecasted to be a $150 billion dollar industry by 2020.

[Tweet “AR creates an opportunity for brands to build new digital pathways to tell stories and engage with users”] in a way that’s never before been possible. Here are 3 ways that businesses will be able exploit AR and its associated technologies in the near future.

Guidance

Even the most capable professional can run into situations where they need a helping hand from someone, and it’s here that AR technology could come in handy. For example, AR app makes it possible for doctors to navigate the innards of the patient to effectively and efficiently complete the surgery.

The surgeons used the augmented reality app through an iPad
The surgeons used the augmented reality app through an iPad

Design Visualization

In terms of design visualisation, AR is creating some breathtaking possibilities. It merges the virtual and the real world — adding virtual overlays directly into the view of headset-wearers, or inserting these digital add-ons into video captured on a phone screen. As AR technologies become more refined, users will be able to preview their designs and experiences in real-world spaces. One such example is this spatial AR setup used by Volkswagen, in which virtual layouts of a car interior are projected onto a full-size model of a car dashboard.

spatial AR setup used by Volkswagen
Spatial AR setup used by Volkswagen

Training and Education

When it comes to training and education, AR has a lot of promise. Unlike a real-world training scenario, a trainee can play through an AR situation as many times as they need to understand a concept or a procedure. This will create deeper learning opportunities where students are in the flow of learning.

Training using AR
Image credit: Columbia University

How to Design For AR?

Since there are no established UX best practices for AR yet, I’d like to share my own personal approach to UX in AR apps.

1. AR use-case needs to be evaluated

The concept of “measure twice, cut once” is especially important in building AR apps. Before diving in, it’s important to ask yourself why you want to pursue this type of medium and what outcome would you like to have. Keep in mind following moments:

  • AR experiences are powerful, but they should tie back to clear business objectives. AR shouldn’t be added on top of a planned app just because it’s trendy technology — that’s almost a sure way to create a poor UX. Rather, the desired functionality needs to be evaluated to fit with the experience that the AR display medium can offer.
  • If you’re going to design an AR experience, you should invest heavily in user research. Spend some time really getting your target audience and not just how that you would perform a specific task using a software, get to know how they’ll do something in real-world without any kind of devices.

2. Consider the environment in which the product will be used

Since AR apps are grounded in reality, the environment affects AR design significantly. For example, in private environment (home, work) you can count on long user sessions and complex interaction model – the whole body can be involved in the interaction, as well as specific devices (such as head mounted display) can be used for manipulation (see Microsoft Hololens example below).
Microsoft Hololens
But in public environments (e.g. outdoors), it’s important to focus on short user sessions. Because regardless of how much people might enjoy AR experience, they won’t want to walk around with their hands up, holding a device for an extended period of time.

AR using iPad
Thus, when designing augmented reality apps, you first need to research environmental conditions in which the service will be used and how it effects on the user:

  • Identify interaction scenarios upfront even before specifying technical requirements for the project.
  • Collect all the details of the physical environment to be augmented.The more environmental conditions you’ll test before building a product, the better.

3. Make the interaction with AR app simple

In order for AR to be usable, it must be quick and simple. AR is really about designing layers of added value that reduce the time to complete simple tasks. Keep in mind that people are seeking out experiences, not technologies and they’ll technology that isn’t friendly to use. No one will use AR apps or tools if they take just as long or longer than the conventional way of doing something. Thus, when design your AR solution I recommend the following approach:
Go to the context of the area that you’re going to be performing the task (e.g. a specific room, a real-world device, etc)
Think through the each step that you use to accomplish the task.
Record each of those steps down
This information will help you conduct a task analysis. This analysis will help you make things more natural for the users.

Google Translate and AR
Google Translate app uses the phone’s built-in camera to translates the captured text into another language. This example perfectly illustrates the value that AR technology can provide.

Conclusion

AR has seen massive success in recent years and as more technologies take advantage of this growing trend, AR will grow to encompass much more than it does now. The most important things to consider when designing AR experience is users’ goals and contexts of use. AR apps should be easy to use and shouldn’t hinder users.

Conversational Interfaces

By | ai, onboarding, user experience, user interface | No Comments

You may have heard that “conversational interfaces” (interfaces that mimics chatting with a real human) are the new hot trend in digital product design. Several factors are contributing to this phenomenon:

  • With the advent of WhatsApp, Slack or Facebook Messenger the way we exchange information changed irreversibly. According to Business Insider, we are now spending more time in messaging apps than on social networks.
  • Artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology are progressing rapidly. Major technology players including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon placed huge bets on this type of interfaces, leveraging big data and machine learning to get as close to human intelligence as possible.

This represents an interesting shift in how we think about user experiences and interactions, more as a text/voice based ‘conversation’ that helps us to achieve our goals. In this article, we’ll examine all major aspects of conversational interfaces in the context of chatbots.

5 Basic Principles of Conversational Interfaces

1. Be specific about chatbot purpose

Unless you develop a bot like Facebook M, it’s always better to deploy a specialized, purpose-driven bot to engage your target audience. Don’t try to design your chatbot to do everything all at once. Instead, identify the core use cases for your chatbot based on user’s goals and focus on achieving domain mastery.
Faceboom M

2. Mimic natural conversation

Keep in mind that when the conversation is the interface, experience design is all about crafting the right words: bots must use and understand natural language. A vocabulary that’s limited to only a handful of generic answers will immediately destroy an illusion of real conversation and leave users feeling frustrated. Nobody want to participate in chats muffed by pre-determined answers.
Conversation flow with Hi Poncho chatboat
An early version of the weather chatbot Hi Poncho struggled to provide any meaningful information due to a limited understanding of natural language. Image credit: Gizmodo

3. Make it clear what options are available for user

In traditional GUIs, what you see is what you get. However, with conversational interfaces, the paths that the user can take are virtually infinite. For conversational interfaces, users should know what paths are available for them. If you app is complex and has a few main routes, you can use an onboarding process to show the users what’s available.
Onboarding experience in Kia Niro
Kia Niro using the carousel to explain how to use a chatbot. Image credit: Sabre Labs

4. Avoid lengthy messages

Lengthy messages look like text paragraphs. People don’t speak in paragraphs, we speak using single sentences. You should plan for no more than 90 characters per message (around three lines on mobile). Anything more than three lines of text seemed to activate the tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) response in users.
Too long sentences in KAYAK
Kayak chatbot hits the users with 4 opening messages, totaling nearly 750 characters. Most users glazed right over when they saw the wall of opening messages.

5. Animating the conversation

Animation can take the chatbot user experience to the next level, making the interactions more natural and pleasurable for user. Simple typing indicators can be used as an equivalent to phatic expression in speaking, making the conversation flow smooth.
Chatbot and animation
Typing animation via Buzzfeed

Best of the Best

Conversational interfaces open lots of new possibilities how you can interact with users. Below are two popular apps that successfully embraced the new paradigm of conversational UX:

Domino’s Pizza

Domino’s pizza allows “conversational ordering” via Facebook Messenger. Customers add Domino’s pizza as a friend via Facebook, set up the basics of their account, and can then “reorder their favorites” or ask for the latest deals.
Domino's pizza chatbot
Domino’s Pizza via Techcrunch

Duolingo

Duolingo is a language learning platform which uses gamification and personalization to make learning a new language effective. Last year Duolingo introduced Bots. This feature allows users to practice language skills by texting with a ‘Bot,’ which takes on different topics as a way to explore a range of conversations, such as going to a restaurant, going through border checks, or ordering a taxi.
Domino's pizza chatbot

Conclusion

Whether you love them or hate them, conversational interfaces have started making a significant impact in communication. Of course, most of them today have certain limitations and they don’t have human-like conversations perfectly that’s why it’s so important to follow basic principles of conversational interfaces  mentioned above. But in the near future, continuous advancement in machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies will fill this gap and we will see AI-powered chatbots which will have human-like conversation.