What is immersive design and how to talk about it—in a podcast!
Introducing “Discovering Virtual Reality Design Podcast”
I’m happy to announce that the first episode of my new initiative with Dooley Murphy, a podcast on immersive design, is out!
With the podcast, we want to complement the great work that other podcasters, such as Kent Bye with his unmissable Voices of VR has already done for years. We also acknowledge e.g. Az Balabanian and Petr Legkov’s work with the ResearchVR podcast, but like to think that we bring a different, fresh angle to the table by focusing on immersive design and its contexts.
What is immersive design?
There is a great quote from branding designer Alina Wheeler saying “Design is intelligence made visible.” We live by that quote in that we strive to discover how designers channel their intelligence into spatial, immersive applications, and share insights into such design processes.
While we are VR and AR enthusiasts, we are also academics, and therefore we gravitate towards producing critical viewpoints to phenomena in the field by contextualising them into broader traditions and contexts of design and business. This might mean positioning developments in immersive into historical continuums of media technologies in order to understand why design are taking a particular direction or what might arrive next. Or, critiquing the hype around an immersive technology that has not yet evolved to a point where such key design questions as ergonomics and input are solved. Yes, Augmented Reality, we expect you to facilitate better designs soon-ish (and alas, HoloLens2 arrived while writing this and editing the first podcast episode).
We are both also practitioners, myself channelling a 15-year career in game design and production to various things immersive, and Dooley working full-time on his Ph.D. about narrative design in VR (see his video essay, linked below!) and honing his Unity skills whenever possible. Therefore, we want to balance discussing theory with practical design thinking, i.e. ours and our guests’ hands-on experiences in solving wicked, detailed problems in creating immersive work. This might range from rapid prototyping approaches to discussing work flows with specific software, to case studies of immersive art practices, and onwards to more conceptual takes on how to translate a design driver, such as an emotion, into a feature, or an immersive scene and/or asset design that aims to evoke it.
We will not cover the latest news regarding hardware, etc. Being interested in immersive from creative and design standpoints does mean that you are always constrained by the current state of the technology. Yet, we also acknowledge that working on design in such a context means that you have to explore how to harness that technology for the most elegant—often meaning most simple—designs; designs that provide intelligent solutions to use cases in tangible form, but also provide a joy of use, whether your use cases are for utility or entertainment.
That said, at times we will dip our toes into extrapolating where immersive design and our means of interacting with these technologies are heading, but we will look at it within a 5 to 10-year timeframe rather than speculating on what will be announced at the next industry event.
We definitely want to extend this exploration and discovery beyond our own activities and invite diverse contributions from the immersive design community—whom we obviously hope to find, listen, and enjoy the podcast!
How we are going to talk about it
The structure of the podcast will evolve, but I want to use this opportunity to walk through the segments we have in place, initially:
We believe that in order to produce insight into immersive design, one has to have clear, well-defined terminology, which is shared broadly among the practitioner and academic community. Therefore, we want to contribute, at least in a small way, to this discussion by drilling down into certain words that tend to come up in immersive design considerations. We start with the umbrella terms, such as “Spatial computing” and “Immersive design”, but in later episodes will focus on more specific items in the immersive lexicon.
Design Deep Dive
The podcast complements the video essays on immersive design we have produced, with a new one from myself in the works. We will continue similar deep dives into specific design domains in the podcast.
Deep dives reflect our unique selling point for the podcast, i.e. detailed breakdowns of designs in immersive apps, ranging from interaction flows to use of metaphors, and how user experiences are framed by specific design decisions regarding, e.g., the role the user is given, or the environment they are set in.
In the first episode, we touch (pun intended) on the topic of designing touch interactions for VR, which is the topic of my next video essay.
Because we want to develop critical design thinking around the topic, most of the time we tend to shy away from discussing the newest and latest apps—instead, we want to map interesting experiences that span the current wave of consumer headsets, starting from 2016 and up to today.
Our first choice of a ‘VR Original’ comes from Dooley, and it is Valve’s The Lab, which shipped with the Vive and therefore has been the first private VR experience for many people owning the headset. We discuss how The Lab uses its world as an interface and introduces a host of simple but clever VR native design solutions, some of which—in their elegant simplicity—have perhaps been somewhat forgotten by the design community. If you want to find out what we mean by that, click and listen below!
Mentioned above, this segment delves into practical solutions to immersive design and development issues. Our hope is to collect, through engaging with our audience and contacts, a set of proven practices for creating interesting work. These dev stories might range from using VR specific tools as part of the design and development process to more general descriptions of creative processes. Please reach out to us via Twitter to contribute!
Here we challenge each other to try out a new immersive app—mostly VR to begin with but going forward, we’d like to expand this to AR, etc. We will then share our experiences in the next episode.
For the first one, considering Dooley’s interest in VR storytelling approaches and design of affordances, I suggested him to play Moss, which negotiates third-person viewpoint, agency, and narrative sequences in an interesting way. Dooley challenged me to test The Cubicle, which apparently can not be discussed without spoiling it, and tends to invite contrasting opinions, so we’ll have to see—and hear—how I found it in episode two.
This segment also drives our aim to produce structured criticism towards immersive design, i.e. go beyond describing what the app in question is about and how we engaged with it individually, and elevate the viewpoint to articulating something meaningful about how the experience has been constructed, i.e. what have been the key design decisions and trade-offs. This we will do with the help of concepts relevant to experience and interaction design, such as presence, affordances, emotion, and so on.
Guests and Question of the Week
Finally, we don’t want to restrict the discussions between our idiosyncrasies, but want to diversify the perspectives by bringing guests in, either to our recording sessions, or in separate interview segments. We are reaching out to our networks to invite people to join. Meanwhile, we want to put out both polls and open-ended questions to get input from our audience, and discuss the results in the next episode. Our first question of the week is:
"What is medium-specificity in the context of VR?"