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Designing an Immersive Environment from the User's Perspective
A Review of VR UX: 100 Pages of VR UX, Design, Sound, Storytelling, Movement & Controls by Casey Fictum

By Michael A. Dzbenski / November 2019

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Casey Fictum has created the quintessential guide to creating the ultimate virtual reality user experience. While he says not to use his work as a “commandment, Fictum’s book VR UX: 100 Pages of VR UX, Design, Sound, Storytelling, Movement & Controls outlines where to start in creating virtual experiences and all the facets a creator should consider in their design. He begins the book with humorous anecdotes about his student loan debt, evolving technology, crediting contributors, and transitional fluff. This narrative sets up his multi-section guidebook to speak directly to designers making these virtual worlds for people to interact with.

The strength of this book is the emphasis of user perspective. Designers of simulations need to treat users as beginners at first, allowing them to explore. The familiar interactions need to be enhanced with training of new movements and connections. Designers should not only mix reality and the virtual space but ensure a balance between the two. The movement within the simulation should be organic and the environment should focus on the entire play space. Purposefully taking the user out of the world or eluding that the world is not real is the worst thing a designer can do.

Fictum outlines eight points to strategize a virtual reality user experience:

(1)     Write a short narrative

(2)     Form persona and motives

(3)     Research and pick your tools

(4)     Choose an interaction model

(5)     Sketch and storyboard

(6)     Apply sound, cues, inputs and add-ons

(7)     Develop your test plan

(8)     Prototype and adjust the strategy

The narrative assists in having a reference to the creator’s imagination. This can then be broken down into the different parts of the reality. Who the user is and who/what they interact with, the motives/desires of the user and other characters, the target audience for the simulation, and what the user should get out of the experience are all vital to the creation of an authentic virtual learning environment. Knowing the audience will define what type/tier of headset to use, what interactions they can engage in, how the story should unfold, and what types of cueing (sound, light, guides, etc.) is required to keep the story moving forward. More of this topic is introduced in later portions of the book. Point-of-view (POV), story formats, and control over the story are addressed and best practices explained.

The author provides his formula for testing a virtual reality user experience. He provides tips and tricks for identifying the purpose of the experience (solving a problem or entertaining), testing for motion sickness, virtual/physical interaction, measuring time between tasks, tracking bodily reactions, and any other questions the creator may have. He uses multiple measuring devices focusing on direct questions and Likert scale evaluations. While some of the assessments are humorous, “Were you entertained? 1 being “nah man” and 5 being “speechless,” they should never take place during the interaction. The users should never be broken from the experience or the results will be skewed.

Even though there is an abundance of technical jargon, the best practices section of the book focuses on the expectations that make the experience as comfortable as possible for the user. Tutorials, warnings, perspectives, cues, affordances, clarity, movement, manipulation, camera placement, teleportation, zoom, direction changing, lag, and accessibility are all explicitly addressed concisely, telling creators what to do and not do. It also states that some of the consequences of immersive virtual reality include sickness, uncomfortable feelings, and the feeling of “stomach dropping.”

There is an entire section dedicated to sound, which Fictum says “is 50% of the VR experience.” Headphones are vital to aligning sound to visual representation. The sounds should come from the direction and position of the user and character in the world. It should also change with motion. Mimicking reality should be the standard.

The rest of the book focuses on the creation of content and how the user experiences the content. Some of the sections are highly technical, for instance, citing such things as the display-field-of-view (dFOV) and the camerafield-of-view (cFOV) and the number of degrees most people are comfortable moving.

Fictum concludes the book, leaving the reader with six core principles: optimize for performance, prioritize comfort, prioritize ease of learning, avoid being too literal, sound is critical, and don’t break presence. These principles weave themselves throughout the book and help designers get perspective from all the different elements that should be considered in creating virtual reality user experiences. This guide is an easy read and would benefit anyone considering creating virtual reality content. Readers would benefit from a table of contents and a checklist outlining the presented ideas and concerns. Illustrations intermittently included throughout help the reader visualize the different technologies presented and how a user would interact. While it is not aimed at the novice, VR UX provides the reader with a comprehensive guide to understanding the creation process for virtual reality user experiences.

About the Author

Michael A. Dzbenski is a proud member of the 2019 cohort for Boise State University’s Ed.D. in Educational Technology. Currently, he serves as an adjunct music instructor at Big Bend Community College and as the Elementary Technology Specialist at Lutacaga Elementary School. Michael holds a master’s degree in music education from Texas Tech University, a Bachelor of Arts in music from George Mason University, and numerous certificates in educational Technology and eLearning. Although he has a passion for live music like symphony orchestras, concert choirs, and ukulele ensembles, he loves to share amazing educational trends that are growing throughout his school and beyond. Incorporating everything from project-based learning, virtual learning environments, and gamification in the classroom, Michael is glad to share ideas and present his findings in any venue. Michael and his wife Stacy, who is also an Ed.D. student, collaborate on all sorts of events in the pacific northwest under the name Arcade Classroom. They cover topics like Raspberry Pi, gamification in the classroom, makerspaces, 3-D printing, the science of sound, virtual/augmented reality, and anything else in the technology world that strikes their interest. They hope to grow their educational technology knowledge, continue to research the hottest topics, and disseminate their findings to the education community. 


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