Future FWD

UX is the Future of XR (and Vice Versa)

October 25, 2022
Jordan Campbell
Design Lead, Brand Experience

The explosive growth of Pokemon Go. The official re-branding of Facebook to “Meta”. The addition of in-room furniture placement on marketplaces like Wayfair. XR, or Extended Reality, has quickly transformed from being a novel piece of technology to a potent new medium for designers everywhere to embrace with arms wide open. As one of these designers, I’ve constantly found myself thinking of new possibilities, applications and use cases to explore in my everyday life. But like all new trends and technological advancements, there’s always a learning curve. Not for coming up with ideas, but for understanding what’s truly feasible, how to go about making them a reality, and, quite honestly, how to sell someone on making the leap of faith for their brand or business in the first place.

If I’ve learned anything over the last few years in experimenting with emerging tech, it’s that it can be nearly impossible to follow the hype succinctly through this swirling sea of fast-moving buzzwords, let alone have a meaningful discussion about the design principles or investment required to design these experiences. In this case, knowledge really is power, and it starts by understanding the basics. Once you have a handle on that, then you’re ready to take a deep dive into the metaverse of XR design...or more specifically, the UX of XR.

Ready to kick your knowledge of XR into high gear? Grab your coffee (or energy drink of choice) and let’s dig in.

Got some knowledge of the topic already and want to jump ahead?

Introducing & Defining UX & XR 

What is UX Design?

User Experience design is centered around the user's requirements, values, and capabilities, sitting at the point where consumer experiences and corporate goals converge. Psychology, graphic design, programming, interaction design, accessibility, and accommodation are just a few of the many interrelated fields that make up User Experience. The requirements for XR design are somewhat higher, yet similar.

What Is Extended Reality?

Extended Reality (XR) is becoming a permanent fixture in our lives and is becoming more prevalent in industries including entertainment, education, and advertising. Discover the complex relationship between XR and UX and why User Experience is essential to this exciting developing future if you want to keep up with client demands or increase ROI. XR refers to any technologies that interact with, enhance, and create various realities, as the name suggests. This catch-all phrase unites VR, AR, and MR, representing three distinct methods of fusing the real and the virtual; pairing it with User Experience is more practical because there is only one acronym for all of them.

How Extended Reality Works

While the specific strategies used by each Extended Reality product vary, Extended Reality uses a variety of technologies to accomplish this goal.

Headsets like the HoloLens and HTC Vive Pro use different kinds of sensors to capture movement in great detail, allowing users to interact with their Extended Reality surroundings naturally. Others, like Magic Leap One and the Meta Quest 2, employ external cameras to cast virtual environments onto physical surfaces. 

Understanding the 3 main components (or methods) or XR 

VR – Virtual Reality material can be computer-generated or real-world-inspired.

In the first scenario, you can lose yourself in any imaginable setting, such as Jurassic Park. In the second situation, you may watch 360-degree recordings of any location in the globe, even that fantastic safari ride you've always wanted to experience but haven't dared to accomplish or don't have the financial or physical ability to do so. You only need a head-mounted gadget to explore this new world of impressions. That may be VR glasses, a VR helmet, or both. Imagine conversing with someone on Skype in VR as if they were standing right next to you and there was no physical space between you (see Spatial). Or by displaying their designs as though the structures and transportation network existed. The design & architectural industry has already been testing this at the enterprise level for years, such as the MRBuilder project, now looking towards commercial adoption in the upcoming years.

AR – Augmented Reality is a combination of reality and digital.

Through a tool like a smartphone or glasses, you can add a virtual layer to your current surroundings. This technology enables digital features to be superimposed over reality, giving it a different viewpoint. Take a look at Ikea's excellent software, which recently made interior planning and design more convenient using this technology. To see if that gray couch fits into the corner of your apartment and matches the color scheme, you can easily place the furniture's 3D model in the desired setting.

MR – A more engaging technology than augmented reality is Mixed Reality.

It contains readily distinguished moving or altering virtual features from the actual landscape. Take, for example, Microsoft Hololens. In testing it out myself, it is apparent that MR is the future of education and collaboration; however, due to exorbitant pricing, widespread adoption is not in our sights.

Variations in Immersion

The worlds of AR, MR, and VR are typically getting more and more immersive. In AR, we primarily experience physical reality, with the unexpected twist of superimposed imagined reality over the backdrop of reality. This is the least immersive experience of all. In MR, we now have the option to add inventive functionality that enables us to alter items visually. For instance, we can create a focus effect for our gaze and a blur effect for our peripheral vision. While MR is more immersive than AR, it doesn’t quite compare to VR. In VR, we are able to explore entirely new worlds. We may construct a new base reality in whatever way we choose, going well beyond merely adding imagination to our current base reality. Our creativity is the only restriction.

Hopefully, this helps catch you up on your latest acronym understanding. Now you're primed and ready to talk about the philosophy and future of design and why it will change the way you work and what you deliver for customers or clients.

XR and UX are two sides of the same coin.

These new age technologies are beginning to influence the perceived private and professional lives of the future. Because of this, they require visual planning, information architecture, logical user processes, and pixel-perfect details, whether VR, AR, or anything in between. The secret to success is offering a smooth and enjoyable User Experience, regardless of the method used. 

What XR difficulties does UX need to address? 

XR's Present Limitations and Problems

XR technologies now face several functional difficulties, such as battery life problems, memory and power capabilities, and mobile device storage capacity limitations. Additionally, cultural norms constrain XR; some still view it as merely a curiosity, while others are concerned that it might cause a blending of reality and fiction. Although XR has numerous practical applications, it is still occasionally perceived as "creepy."

Further considerations to address include:

  • Design difficulty - XR technologies need a new degree of complex detailing on different layers, going beyond 2D or 3D design.
  • The false appearance of tact - The website or application does not produce a tactile experience. XR allows for creative sensorium responses.
  • An emotion of comfort - So that users won't become ill from their labyrinth going mad when engaging in tiger combat or seeing lavish castles. (see comfortability measure in Meta goggles)
  • Realistic expression - When Extended Reality appears so artificial, it aches. What fun is that? Establish realistic environments and ensure seamless interactions between virtual add-ons and actual components.
  • Intuitivity - When traveling across virtual seas, user-friendly control panels and menus are essential. Additionally, the fewer controls, much like traditional UX's case, the better. When a user disregards the fact that one reality exists in another, it can disorient the user and remove the intended tier of immersion. 

How to Get Started

User design is challenging. User design for cutting-edge technology that’s just now gaining popularity? That’s even more added difficulty! Let's examine the function of UX design in AR apps, including how designers might consider their users' experiences while making technological choices for a particular AR app.  

The Five Pillars of UX + AR Design

Users prefer not to be reminded of the contents of an interface when interacting with its elements. Furthermore, the User Experience associated with standard websites and mail programs differs. The 3D user interface (UI), often known as the User Experience for Augmented Reality (UX + AR), emphasizes interactivity and aesthetic appeal. Users are motivated to enter the virtual environment while simultaneously being undeterred by unreal surroundings. You may specify the factors you'll need to consider when creating your UI and experiences for virtual items using five typical UX design pillars for AR. 

Start your design process by taking these factors into account: 

  1. Environment
  2. Movement
  3. Onboarding
  4. Interaction
  5. UI (User Interface) 

While the first two pillars—environment and movement—must be considered when designing for augmented reality, the latter three—onboarding, interaction, and UI—are equally crucial for both 3D and conventional 2D screen space UI. 

Creating for Virtual and Augmented Reality: Business Opportunities and Challenges 

Unlike any other technology, AR and VR provide the chance to create a memorable and intensely immersive experience for the user. It can alter how we interact with our surroundings fundamentally. In addition to ground-breaking experiences like PokemonGo, the forthcoming developments from Apple (AR Kit) and Google (AR Core) are pushing them quickly toward becoming more widely adopted.

Via Statista

The user does not need to provide any commands when using AR or VR; the technology reacts to the user's surroundings and perceives their movements in real time. We can engage closer with inanimate items, feel more connected to others and our surroundings, and visualize things the way we want them to be, thanks to augmented reality and virtual reality. There is also much promise for AR and VR in journalism, manufacturing, and healthcare.

Designing an AR and VR experience is extremely difficult for various reasons. Because the interfaces in question lack screens and are entirely formless. The use of 2D screen-based interfaces seen on laptops and mobile devices in AR is not practicable. With AR and VR, we must establish new norms for engagement and depart from the norm. It's crucial to remember that projects involving augmented and virtual reality have unique guidelines and design techniques. Here are some actions we can do to provide a better User Experience for AR and VR:

Be specific about your business objectives.

Even though there has been considerable discussion about how AR and VR may enhance various business processes, you must be clear on your objectives. Considering the labor involved in designing and deploying these technologies is essential. Pursuing AR and VR technology is pointless if there is no apparent financial value. For instance, given their low adoption rates, AR and VR are ineffective in campaigns to raise public awareness. However, it's a terrific tool for a corporate training program to include more staff enjoyably and collaboratively. AR has example use cases as a functional tool for productivity, such as saving time measuring a room or remote expert assistance as seen through apps such as TeamViewer.

TeamViewer Showcasing their Augmented Reality for Smartphones and Tablets use case.

Allow customers to decide for themselves.

Every business is aware of the necessity to create a responsive mobile site for users since the number of online users on mobile devices is continually growing. Launching your product using a mobile-first strategy to encourage user input and speedy user learning is preferable, ie., 74% of Millennials open an app when they're bored, and 76% of them claim that their phone is useless without mobile applications. It's critical to limit the number of activities and pointless features and to provide a consistent User Experience across all platforms.

Consider the user from a "first-person" perspective.

The obstacles are different when building User Experiences for AR and VR. You create for users who have complete control over their adventures. Users are in charge of making independent decisions that impact them. To ensure a more satisfying encounter, all you need to do is observe from a distance. All other forms of media, including plays, television shows, and movies, are told from a third-person perspective.

In contrast, the spectator is the first person in a virtual experience. Because it allows the user so much flexibility, AR and VR are unique platforms. The best you, as producers, can do is offer the user the most acceptable ways to enhance their environment.

Make the most of your design skills.

You must acquire the appropriate information and resources if you want to increase the effect of the AR and VR experience. Since most designers have expertise in the mobile space, we can find it challenging to adapt to the needs of AR and VR. Consider how humans are used to using our mobile devices. We have instant access to everything, including features that are simple to identify and an interactive user interface (UI). The process of designing a mobile device and an AR or VR device is not that similar. Designers must maintain flexibility while generating new ideas as they move forward with AR design. Even if Designers can use specific mobility methods in VR, it's still a novel experience for the participants. Considerable additional resources, such as Cornell Hillman's UX for XR, and Microsoft's MRTK Figma Toolkit, showcase incredible AR design methods in tools like Figma and Unreal Engine that are readily available and free to use.

Set reasonable goals.

An AR and VR project needs a specific amount of time to be finished. There is much work going on behind the scenes that employees in other departments might not be aware of, so ensure to talk with teams across the board. According to a general guideline, the project must be started 12 to 16 weeks before the product launch. However, when working under deadline constraints, you must discover strategies to complete the assignment as soon as possible. A general understanding is to allow designers enough time to study and test the product to improve the User Experience. 

A Case Study: Why UX Design is a top priority for automotive firms.

User experience (UX) design, a human-centered strategy with software industry roots, allows OEMs to test new ideas across various physical, digital, and service offerings, bridging the departments that now exist in silos at modern manufacturers. While there are frequent priorities for functional, geometric, and technical prototypes while building a technical hardware product, User Experience offers an opportunity to perform user research as early as the first idea stage. Additionally, immersive prototypes offer quicker iteration, fewer mistakes, considerable time and budget savings, and ultimately superior solutions since they concentrate on the entire User Experience rather than just aesthetic or technical issues. The technology-driven strategy used in Silicon Valley has frequently resulted in products that fail due to a mismatch between the product and the market, poor timing, or the fact that they don't satisfy consumers' demands. This "technology for technology's sake" mentality utterly eliminates any thought for the User Experience.

Athena has demonstrated Extended Reality (XR) as a toolset for UX designers working at automobile firms to evaluate future technologies with the program cARVR. Transparent and holographic displays, AR, and Level 5 autonomy may be tested by designers using XR, which integrates the fundamental elements of AR, VR, and mixed reality (MR) (touch interfaces, voice and gesture control).

For OEMs, immersive technology will change design and production procedures.

For instance, in-car infotainment, human-machine interfaces, and companion applications on smart and wearable devices are all significant differentiators and USPs for OEMs. Designers can create and test these touch devices and interfaces with accurate and trustworthy hand tracking. Additionally, the simple integration of high-resolution 2D prototypes produces real-time input from the vehicle and surroundings, giving the interaction context. UX designers may use XR technology to evaluate prototypes and inspire human interactions. These capabilities allow you to test and subsequently enhance the interface between a connected service and a car before either has begun construction. However, there are still non-trivial issues to overcome, such as generating haptic feedback to touch in a lean hardware configuration. Additionally, seeing the user's hands makes it easier to use the program and creates a more realistic immersive experience.  

A first-person view of the mixed reality wiring application using Hololens to see the digital engineering drawings indexed and displayed in real-time and interactively inside a Boeing airplane. (Photo courtesy Boeing) 

Extended Reality Applications for Business

Extended Reality technology is evolving and becoming more accessible, providing various fascinating new commercial applications. Extended reality provides top-notch training resources that let workers practice in virtual environments. Additionally, it improves access to information by allowing users to locate crucial data while interacting with actual items easily. Even mixed reality business meetings, where attendees from all over the world can gather in a shared virtual environment, can be built on the foundation of Extended Reality. The future of work as we know it is about to alter because of Extended Reality!

Future Prognostications on the Impact of Extended Reality on Our Lives

Some people think Extended Reality might significantly influence our lives much sooner; nevertheless, others predict Extended Reality will become commonplace in around ten years. According to experts, designers will utilize Extended Reality to improve education by bringing academic subjects like history to life. Extended realities may also enable people with disabilities to take pleasure in activities and movements previously believed they could not perform. Simulating routine tasks like cooking and running errands may allow them to carry out tasks that would otherwise be challenging or impossible in the real world.

Today's UX Principles are the answer to the problems of XR Tomorrow

For designers who are "in the know" about UX principles, the best news is that you don't need to learn any new skills! The current design thinking process (my favorite example being IBM's) and research methods work with XR. Comparing metrics such as time on task, failure rate, and usability scores are still relevant. The main difference is that UX researchers will have to adapt to more innovative methods of collecting this data through sit-down sessions and motion tracking to see where users' eyes venture off to first and to understand first impressions. We've JUST recently gotten this down pact on digital displays via testing tools like Maze, Neurons, and User Testing

Why pursue UX/XR design?

Digital designers and really, anyone who has the ability to impact or create new emerging experiences, should realize the necessity to be open to adapting their focus to meet business's needs, particularly in light of the impending significant disruption that digital goods, services, and experiences will bring about through new technologies from Meta and Apple. We are experiencing yet another major transition in this digital era. However, this time it comes from flat panels that display web pages and films that give either wholly or partially immersive digital experiences rather than the internet (including virtual and augmented reality).  

Closing thoughts

More and more, businesses are waking up to the ROI of XR-driven experiences. UX designers who can design for various VR, AR, and MR goods and applications won’t just be “a nice to have,” they’ll be table stakes. Companies will need UX designers with the necessary expertise to design for these new goods and mobile applications. If you’re a designer, start your education in immersive product design right away. If you’re a business owner, get educated on the principles and skill sets required for delivering these experiences to your customers. Now is the perfect time to explore what’s possible. The more you invest in your own knowledge, the faster you’ll be able to ride the cutting edge to real returns; for yourself, or for your business. Want even more? Here are a few courses and webinars we’ve used to learn more about the industry:

Circuit Stream Courses & Free Webinars

XRTerra Bootcamps & Courses 

What’s your experience been like working with XR? What UX design principles have you adopted for your experiences? We’d love to hear them.

Thanks for reading.
Jordan Campbell
Design Lead, Brand Experience
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