UX of VR

An excerpt from my white paper examining product strategy, UX, and IxD considerations for designing branded Virtual Reality experiences.

Project Overview


Virtual Reality has emerged as a trendy communications medium in 2017; however, designing for this medium necessitates new and alternative design considerations. Furthermore, many of the currently available VR experiences are lacking a substantial business rational, favoring novelty over utility.

How can brands harness the potential of this medium, leveraging its unique qualities to promote their business needs?


  • Identify key affordances and constraints of designing for VR
  • Identify business Applications for VR that leverage the unique capabilities of the medium
  • Design and test prototypes that speak to the above considerations
  • Develop documentation standards for communicating these designs


Research, document, and prepare a white paper on UX design and IxD for Virtual Reality, emphasizing strategic business considerations and interactive prototypes.

Excerpts from this study are below.

Example One

Memory Recall and Personal Presence

Of the more intriguing aspects of Virtual Reality is the idea that personal presence can aid memory recall and can therefore be used for educational purposes. Specifically, the idea that because a person feels actually present in and engaged with a particular scene, he or she will be capable of recalling the specifics of that scene more easily than if simply interacting with a 2D representation of said scene.

Imagine an extension for the Rosetta Stone language software. Currently, their software uses a series of audio, image, and video content to present the user with a series of patterns. The repetition of said patterns works to reinforce the learning and behavior. Their current 2D content works in tandem with voice recognition software and an immediate feedback response in order to connect the user behavior to the language and reinforce learning. Using these existing systems, adding a layer of presence and space through 3D immersion would serve to further reinforce the user behavior and provide stronger schema activation and memory recall.

If Rosetta Stone were to design a series of actual scenarios that a user could be presented with, he or she would be very likely to remember the specifics of that scenario when presented with a similar scenario in real life.

Let’s imagine that a hypothetical user is attempting to learn Italian in preparation for a trip to Italy in three weeks. This user enters the Rosetta Stone VR experience and is immediately prompted with a scenario that relates to their given level of learning: in this case, an outdoor trattoria in Florence. She is present at a table in a courtyard, surrounded by other tables. As she looks around, she sees people passing by, pigeons being fed, and a church in the background. There are clouds floating overhead, and she can hear the faint sounds of an accordion somewhere in the distance. As she looks down at her table, she sees a fully interactive place setting. She can pick up her fork, knife, or napkin for example. As she does so, she is prompted with an auditory and on-screen UI that provides her with the pronunciation of the item and asks her to repeat said pronounciation. She is then auditorily prompted in Italian to pick up the water jug and fill her water glass. After doing so, a waiter comes out of the interior of the Trattoria and begins to converse with her in Italian, prompting her for a spoken response and offering critique and encouragement of her progress. She is then graded on the engagement, and can repeat or progress into a different scene.

Now, when this person travels to Italy in two weeks, she might be presented with a similar scenario. Due to the extreme immersion, user agency, personal presence, and interactivity provided by virtual reality, she will be able to easily and intuitively recall what she learned, and be able to apply it to a real life situation that mirrors the virtual scenario.

"Adding a layer of presence and space through 3D immersion would serve to further reinforce the user behavior and provide stronger schema activation and memory recall."

Example Two

User Agency, Autonomy, and New Methods of Interaction Design

Virtual Reality affords interaction designers an entirely new set of parameters within which to design. Of primary importance is the concept that the user that is engaging with the experience possesses significantly greater autonomy than in a traditional 2D experience. This autonomy is a major consideration for immersive experience design, as the designer must consider the great amount of possible user outcomes. Understanding how to anticipate and design for user autonomy will be a significant factor moving forward. As such, new methods of interaction design will begin to emerge, directly correlating to the broad possibilities of user agency and autonomy in immersive media.

Skeuomorphism 2.0

If we look at the history of early touch based interactions, the trend of skeuomorphism in early UI design stemmed from the newness of the touch interface, and the desire for designers to introduce interaction in a way that was immediately both familiar and comfortable for the user. However, because skeuomorphism was an attempt to render the familiar in a different space, it inherently was limited, and flawed in the sense that it takes up superfluous space in the canvas.

Due to the newness of immersive media, coupled with the direct correlation to reality, skeuomorphic design once again has relevance. Given that the user feels as though an immersive experience could actually be an extension of reality, allowing for interactions that mimic reality will enhance personal presence and increase the sense of "there-ness." This will allow for a more intuitive and memorable experience overall, thus bringing the user back for repeated experiences. In addition, these new 3D interaction models can replace traditional 2D interaction models, as we design tools in immersive media that directly address design considerations such as utility, information, and education.

3D Skeuomorphic Interactions

For an example of this 3D Skeuomorphic interaction design, let’s imagine a person who is looking to purchase a used vehicle, perhaps from a modern used vehicle retailer such as Carmax. He knows that he is looking for a vehicle from the past several years, and that he would like a sedan that can comfortably fit his tall, 6’ 4” self. Traditionally, he would go to a website, and use the various sorting functions to see thumbnails of cars that match his sorting criteria. From there, he would click the thumbnails in order to see images of the vehicle in question. If he were to see something that he was interested in, he would contact the retailer in order to schedule a visit to see the car in person.

Now, let’s imagine a scenario where he is sorting through a new model. Using Virtual Reality, he is standing in a rendered garage. To his left, he sees a series of chests of drawers. Each chest and drawer is a collection of similar types of cars. Going to the sedan chest and the recently dated drawer, he pulls open the drawer and seeing small models of the various cars that are available. When he picks up a car that he is interested in, a screen to his right presents him with information about the car. By placing the car into the Model Expander and pressing the expand button, a life-sized, to scale model appears before him. He is now able to engage with the model, open the doors, and see for himself whether he feels the car will be correctly sized. This new method of interaction design allows for greater utility through the realistic modeling and 3D sorting.

"Virtual Reality affords interaction designers an entirely new set of parameters within which to design. Of primary importance is the concept that the user that is engaging with the experience possesses significantly greater autonomy than in a traditional 2D experience."

Design Documentation for VR

New UX Documentation Considerations for Immersive Experiences

Fig 1: 3D Scene Documentation

Fig 2: Controller Mapping

Fig 3: VR Non-Diegetic UI Wireframing

Fig 3: VR Non-Diegetic UI Wireframing - Detail View

As an experience designer at Team One, fellow UX Designer Kelly Padgett and I helped develop a set of standards for documenting the UX of immersive experiences. This includes considerations for 360º scene documentation, sound documentation, controller documentation, and UI documentation.

A full example of said documentation is available upon request.