Recently, our team increased its ranks by one with the arrival of a new child in the ROROSORO offices. While much could be said about the early days of a baby’s life, For one post I’d like to focus on how we might think of designing for Virtual Reality by imagining the newborn’s perspective.
We are all born into this world woefully unprepared to survive it. Our bodies are small and weak (limiting movement), our sensor systems aren’t acclimated or attuned (creating tremendous disorientation), and our control systems aren’t calibrated for the physics of the world ex-utero.
We are obviously not designed to operate without assistance in this world from the moment of our entrance.
Now, an adult human strapping on an Occulus or similar Virtual Reality headset is obviously a strained analogy when it comes trying to immerse our designing minds around this new technological space, but it does offer some important reminders.
In VR, the size and strength of our physical bodies are of secondary importance to our experiences within those digital realms. And yet, our perceptions within that space will simultaneously interact with our motor control cognition (in the real world), and begin informing us of the capabilities and limitation of our virtual bodies. We will know, via our familiarity with movement in the real world, what the endowments our VR characters (and worlds) possess. This entails that our sensory experience within VR must closely match that of our sensations in the real world. The better this is achieved, the better the immersivity of the VR experience, but how do we design for a harmonized physical, sensory, and cognitive experience given that the technology does not hold parity with what most users will be bringing into their first VR encounters?
To answer this question, let’s look at how we already nurture these developments in children – the methods that we deploy to guide infants to make meaningful and discernible associations across the interactive spectrum.
1. Don’t Shake the Baby
This is probably one of the most important early lessons anyone charged with caring for an infant learns. Why not? Because the primary connective bundle between the brain (controls) and the body (movements and actions) is precarious at birth. Among the first muscles a baby must develop are those of the neck, but until then, the head, neck, and spine must be continuously safeguarded.
While an adult user is not likely to snap their neck by interacting with VR, what is more likely is that early disconnects between motor controls and virtual reactions, can cause serious problems, perhaps even total user withdrawal. Therefore, both the mind and the movement must be coddled upfront. Protect the fragile connection points that are first formed, and
2. Baby-proof the Environment
As a baby grows into their new capacities, and start to explore the limits of their movement, the world itself becomes the next threat to user experiences. The same way that hard surfaces and sharp edges, create dangers for newly mobile humans, abrupt changes and shifts in the interface of VR create breaks in the immersivity of the space. Such breaks might not be lethal or damaging to the human user, but they will almost certainly affect the reputation of the VR experience in question, and the designers and developers thereof.
So, round all the corners, plug up all the wall-sockets, clip drawers and cupboards with dangerous items, and put down space age material padding on hard surfaces. To get a better idea of what these analogies mean in terms of VR design, check out the more in-depth article.
3. Patience & Repetition
Watching a newborn ‘learn’ about the world breaks down a lot of misconceptions about child rearing that run rampant across social media and pop science. The practice of observing the little tykes doesn’t directly refute any particular theories, but hasn’t revealed any particular ‘way’ to do child rearing either. And that is exactly the point of this article.
Patiently observing how different users will relate to and react to their experiences within a VR space is the only way to decipher how best to cater to their needs, to test their boundaries, and to help them push their limits and experience achievement.
But observations need data, and data requires repetition. Repetition can be very boring, but it can also be subversive. The observed action might be repeated, but it might be the same action mechanic that drives an entire category of interaction types within a VR space, as opposed to a single action. Working around the problems that repetition presents will be the focus of another article, but user repetition, both to practice action and reinforce meaning in the user, and as a primary source for improving design, remains essential.