Leverage User Experience Design Principles When Developing Virtual Video Experiences

by Jim Broennimann

One of the latest technologies that marketers are beginning to embrace is the exciting challenge of virtual reality (VR). The early stages of a VR project begin like most others – with the tactical execution focused on the who, what, when, and how. However, as a concept takes shape it becomes much more experiential, focusing on the convergence of 3-D, digital, sound, and video. The actual VR experience takes on a life of its own – seeing the audience engage in the virtual world with the experience a brand created for them, in a way that no other medium can provide. 

While this new channel is incredibly exciting, it does pose a unique set of challenges and variables that stretch the boundaries and approach to producing content. According to Marketo, 30% of Forbes Global 2000 consumer-facing companies will experiment with augmented and virtual reality this year.

As brands begin to experiment with VR, many potential viewers haven’t had opportunities to experience this form of media. The Wall Street Journal recently said, “Virtual reality technology like Facebook’s Oculus Rift headset hasn’t yet gone mainstream with consumers. But marketers are finding it a valuable tool when pitching business partners and influencers.”

Even though many consumers haven’t yet had exposure to VR, brands are beginning to test the technology to find the most engaging and relevant uses for consumers. Leverage the following guiding principles to help ground the VR process and ensure that your brand stays on the right path when approaching VR.

Provide a clear and relevant purpose
What other marketing channel can make your muscles actually flex to gain stability while watching a virtual video? This unique capability makes the actual experience unforgettable for an audience. VR is an intense experience that can elicit strong emotions, unlike that of traditional channels. A participant’s brain reacts to VR in a different way – actually experiencing and feeling the benefits firsthand.

It’s really cool technology, but how do brands make it relevant to their audience? It’s important to start with a clear purpose for VR. The experience has to ladder up to a relevant reason why audiences are going to engage with it. What’s the goal for creating a VR experience? What do we want an audience to take away from the experience? Why specifically is VR the right, most strategic solution?

Know your audience
The consideration between a corporate audience at a regional sales meeting is very different from a VR experience at a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field. While getting dizzy and feeling sick probably won’t fly at either (motion sickness is a very real consideration for VR), it’s important to consider who will be going through the VR experience. If you’re proposing VR at an event or function, what’s the likelihood that your audience has interacted with the technology before? Will there be limitations with the movements they can make? Understanding who your audience is helps to align their expectations with the experience you want to deliver.

Limit choices and distractions
With an audience that has limited – or zero – experience with VR, it’s important to be cognizant of the decisions they need to make within the experience. In a recent project, we knew that the audience would be trying out the technology for the first time. As a result, we developed the storyboards, script, and scenes with our audience in mind. We limited scenes to one interaction, moment, and message to provide clarity to the viewer. The audience needed to feel confident and in control in order to process the choices available to them within the experience. Limiting those decisions and providing clear signals enabled the viewer to create space within the virtual setting, allowing them to look around and take in the experience.

Iterate to improve context and orientation
Moving the viewer through the virtual experience is something that should be iterated. By observing a test group of viewers both in the physical space and in the virtual space, you can observe how an audience interacts – how they twist, turn, pivot – with the video, and make any necessary updates or changes. In addition, by projecting the virtual experience of what the user was viewing through multiple monitors you can observe how they interact, and make updates to better engineer interaction, transitions, and intuitive cues to move the person through the experience. Taking the time to craft certain content, overlays, and visual cues within the experience is a subtle way to create context and orientation, giving the person viewing a sense of control. 

A unique opportunity exists to innovate and create something new within these early stages of technology adoption. It’s important to have a strategy that drives the tactical development of a virtual reality experience and establishing why it will work. The buzz around this technology is only going to grow. A Greenlight Insights Industry report predicts that in 2017 the VR industry will be $7.17 billion dollars and by 2021 that number will increase to $75 billion, with much of this growth in headset purchases and content. As more people adopt this technology, and content evolves more and more, people experiencing the world of virtual reality will increase rapidly. Using a strategic framework and following guiding principles are critical for brands looking to traverse this new digital medium.


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