User guidance in Virtual Reality

Explorations of user guidance types to guide users through VR environments.

User guidance in Virtual Reality

Summary

Not much is known about how users can be optimally guided through Virtual Reality experiences. During my internship at Philips Design, I prototyped different types of user guides and tested those with users to discover user-centric ways of VR guidance.

Internship at Philips Design User Research, Prototyping, Usability testing

Mar - Jun 2020

Goal

Explore & test VR guidance types and develop early design principles to set directions for further research.

The problem

Virtual Reality experiences are immersive and impactful. As soon as users get immersed, they need some sort of guidance. This can be achieved in many ways. For example, a virtual character can guide around but that might be too realistic. Text and arrows are one alternative but that might be boring.

  • What types of guidance do users prefer and when?
  • What are the effects of different types of user guides on users?
  • What fits best with Philips' VR experiences and branding guidelines?

Taking a step back

I took a step back to get a better understanding of the topic. An example of user guidance that triggered me was a fox character in Google Maps' Augmented Reality mode. The fox was introduced in 2018 but removed the year after because users expected her to be a lot smarter than she really is. This so-called 'anthropomorphic dissonance' and other theories were what I used to frame my study.

Google Maps Augmented Reality Fox

Defining the scope

The next step was to define the scope. Exploring effective user guidance for VR is obviously broad and heavily depends on context. To be able to do user testing and extract design principles that are neither too broad nor too narrow, I scoped it to a common Philips VR experience: one in which users are introduced to a medical room & machine and guided around in a self-explanatory way, with a focus on:

  1. introduction of the VR Experience to the user and introducing next steps.
  2. guiding attention of the user to specific parts of the screen.
  3. explanation of how to control and handle the machine.

User profiles & use cases

The target users are primarily medical specialists. Together with the coronavirus, this was difficult for fast user research. I used observations of people who used Philips' VR demos during pre-corona days, as well as conversations and existing research, to build user profiles. Some elements are:

1

VR expertise VR guidance should be helpful for both first-time users (who can be quickly overwhelmed) and experienced users.

2

Personality traits VR guidance should work for both observing users who need active guidance and proactive users.

3

Depth of information VR guidance should be able to facilitate moments of quick information but also in-depth information.

Guide designs and storyboarding

Based on my research, I created a spectrum of different types of visual guides. Out of this spectrum, I designed three different guide types to test:

  1. a traditional guide, which guides users through shapes, text, and arrows.
  2. an abstract guide, which guides users by transforming, resizing and moving through space.
  3. a character guide, which guides users as a real human being would do.
Spectrum of realism

Storyboarding

I took an existing VR Experience as a use case in which the guides would operate. I ideated and iterated on a suitable storyline that would give the most useful testing insights. Next, I sketched storyboards of how each of the three guides would behave. For example, how would the abstract guide highlight parts of a machine? And how would the character move from one point in the scene to another?

Brainstorm
Brainstorm

Explorations and prototyping

Within this already existing VR Experience, I prototyped all three guides using Unity.

Prototypes

Usability testing

Due to the coronavirus, it was difficult to test the prototypes with users. Next to participants with a VR headset at home, I shipped around Google Cardboards too. Participants were asked to watch the VR prototypes and fill in a questionnaire afterwards. The questionnaire was aimed to measure differences between all three guides in terms of usability, efficiency, and alignment with branding guidelines.

The outcome

The conclusions of user testing, which I am not able to share unfortunately, showed interesting differences between guides. I developed design principles and recommendations for further research, and I also gave a breakdown and estimations of how each guide could scale across VR experiences.