The Question Of A 3D User Interface

Virtual Reality as an emerging field is a practice in answering questions never asked before. It’s an industry of “hows” to the truest form, and nowhere is this more indicative than in the design of user interfaces for Virtual Reality. Interface design has traditionally been a two-dimensional industry. Sure, overeager designers with a point to prove might implement pseudo-3D elements, but the functional reality of most devices constrained user interfaces to a 2D space, even in 3D applications like video games. With virtual reality however, all of that has changed. The user interface can no longer consist of a colorful nested sequence of rectangles. They have to have shape, depth, and have to exist in a reality where the user could poke their head behind it, through it, above it, or simply stare away from it. In short, while this assignment has asked us to review either a physical space or a wayfinding system, a Virtual Reality interface is both at once. The UI I will be reviewing for this purpose is the “Chateau” designed for users of the Windows Mixed Reality platform.

When users turn on their Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets, they are placed into a 3D level known as the ‘Chateau.’ This building is an inviting and warm space, flanked by mountains and fields abound. It features white walls, and bright wood flooring, giving the space an airy and “light” feeling, making virtual reality appear more approachable and friendly. Within this Chateau, various widgets have been placed, similar to TV screens, computer monitors, and pedestals, all of which serve as ‘links’ to jump to other programs. They are arranged in a seemingly haphazard way, with little attention given to categories or themes. This is a major misstep in my opinion, and to compound this issue, there is not a single sign or arrow to assist in wayfinding. This Chateau is hardly a large space, but it can still be somewhat confusing to navigate without having any prior experience in exploring it.

An example of a pedestal that you can touch to open a game, and a screen you can enable to play video

I’ve quickly breached the 300 word assignment length, so unfortunately I won’t be able to explore the individual controller interactions in detail. I can however offer a summary opinion of this interface. It’s instantly intuitive, without being overbearing. This interface/space is easy to navigate, airy, open, and inviting. Although specific things can be hard to find, grabbing things in a 3D space is instantly understandable, and it serves to invite and encourage users to mess around within their environment, and explore all of their options. While there are a lot of things to figure out with VR, I think this is a massive step in the right direction for the design of it as a whole.

Discussion — One Response

  • Maddy Kelly 03/16/2021 on 12:15 PM

    I’m so excited to see a VR post in the Navigating Space assignment! You’re spot-on that 3D interfaces provide a new, unique challenge to designers facilitating an experience, and users making their way through both space and experience. In my own explorations with(in) virtual reality, designing for the experience and for user understanding requires a ton of detailed planning, testing, and refining. I so appreciate that you’ve included designed features like the ‘airy’ atmosphere, as well as mistakes in wayfinding. I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts on how Chateau teaches, or coaches, users on how to navigate and use objects, and for what purposes. I’d also love to try the program for audience experience and audience purpose. Thanks for sharing this!

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