3 Tips On Designing For VR, From Google

A Google designer shared what he learned working on Cardboard so that you don’t have to suffer so much.

Virtual Reality is a nascent technology, in which all of the studied rules and clever UI elements that have made our phones and laptops so comfortable to use don’t actually exist yet. And so Jean-Marc Denis, a designer for Google (where he helped launched Inbox), took to Medium to share his experience of jumping into the new field for Google Cardboard.


His takeaways?

If You Die In The Matrix, You Die In Real Life
VR can cause seasickness if you shift the orientation of the horizon. A small space can elicit real claustrophobia, and a big one, agoraphobia. “There is a set of intrinsic rules you need to know to be able to respect physiologically and treat your users carefully,” he says. But most importantly, he says you should remember two things above all else: don’t drop frames, and don’t lose headtracking. Because in a smartphone app, a dropped frame is just a stutter. In a headset, it’s like an error in your consciousness.

Jean-Marc Denis, Google

Let Users Be Lazy
When I played UsTwo’s new VR game, Land’s End, I found it immersive and striking…and painful. Stretching my neck and turning in my seat actually left me sore. “Bad design can lead to more serious conditions,” Denis writes. And in turn, dug through research on the matter, and then he created this simple heat map to consider when designing content for VR. As he puts it, “Green is good, yellow is okay and avoid red.” In other words, all of those 360-degree cameras that are being sold these days? They could create content that’s quite painful to watch.


It Takes A Broad Range Of Skills
An eye for the right spacing of the right typography is just the beginning. In addition to heeding the aforementioned physiological information to make sure you’re not hurting the user, Denis recommends deep knowledge of both photography and motion design, along with skills in coding and 3-D software. He points to the new standards of Sketch, Cinema4D, Maya, Unity, and The Unreal Engine as being essentials in designing for VR. It’s a whole new world you’re designing for, after all.

For more on Google’s design standards for VR, you can check out their instructive app, Cardboard Design Lab.

Related: Virtual Reality’s First Person Shooter Problem


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach