We started the conversation with some reflections about our early experiences of VR and 360-degree video content. Positive memories were about the wah-factor from immersing into new and different worlds, or getting access to events and viewpoints that we hadn’t had before. But it was clear that even our first-time experiences had come with problems or raised interesting questions for technology and content people to think about. Here are a few of the observations:
- Even on first use many people quit viewing after 60-90 seconds (“It got kind of boring after a while”, “It was too long”).
- For some the experience got physically tiring after a while due the weight and shape of the headset.
- Half of our group didn’t view the content using any headset device: they either moved their phone around in front of them or simply used a mouse or trackpad to explore 360 views on a desktop.
In the second half of the discussion we talked about the questions or advice we would offer to communities working on VR and 360-degree content:
- Assume most content will be ‘checked-out’ using a mobile or desktop device before the user decides whether to commit to the hassle of loading the content into a headset for viewing. With Facebook starting to put 360 content into news feeds we might soon start to see a quick look at a few seconds of content as the ‘normal’ way to assess content before committing to the full immersive experience.
- The whole experience of getting a piece of content up and running is too clunky. (Maybe the analogy is a really awesome video game but which has clunky menus and slow load-times.) At the moment the VR world seems most interested in tech and content – but it should also be thinking about interaction design and IA. Finding, loading and moving around content items will slow adoption of headset-based experiences. Oh yeah, and none of the rest of the tech world has instructions: we should get rid of instructions as soon as possible. It’s not the 1990s.
- The ‘awesomeness’ lasts about 10-20 seconds: after that poorly planned passive audio-visual experiences can get boring. Either content has to be structured and paced to get and hold attention, or it needs better interactivity to draw the user in as a participant in the experience.
- Every extra gram of headset weight will decrease the time people will spend wearing headsets. Is the tech and industrial design really ready yet?
- What about accessibility? Are people with visual impairment invited to the party? Even mild long or short sightedness makes some devices unusable.
All-in-all the group was enthusiastic about this new medium. But we worried that (as with so many new technologies before) the UX people will only get called in once products and content starts to fail. We suspect that the winners in the VR and 360-content space will be the ones who think early about information design and interaction design – and who stay close to customers through user research and testing.