Originally published on “Matters” by Designit
VR Showreel — video production by Anders Toft — Photo: Designit
When it comes to experience prototyping — it’s a widely accepted that ‘failing fast and failing often’ is the universal mantra of the digital designer, where prototyping in a digital space is far quicker in achieving hi-fidelity experiences. In comparison, experience prototyping in the physical realm to validate usability can be fast and prove the principle, but lacks the necessary fidelity to inspire an audience.
At Designit, we’re working on a variety of projects from industrial equipment to eco-systems of connected products for the home and face constant questions regarding when is the right time to prototype? How deep should we go and to what end do we want our prototypes to serve? Are they to validate a working principle, to confirm a specific detail or to deliver a vision of a future product experience.
So back to the quest for hi-fidelity yet agile experience prototyping — We’ve been experimenting for a while now in mixed reality and VR/AR as a tool has some great potential for solving these issues and delivering fast yet hi-fidelity physical experiences without the lengthy and expensive needs of producing large scale/Hi-fidelity physical models.
The following is our approach for embedding VR technology within your next development process for physical product experiences at scale:
Quick phyiscal wire-framing in VR — Proof of principle mock ups — Photo: Designit
Validate the concept from beginning.
Speed outperforms fidelity where usability is concerned.
To start, we use VR and other technology within the process that allows for quick and iterative testing and validation. At the earliest stages, the overall fidelity — look and feel isn’t so important; proportions and usage yes, but exact CMF and detailing is not required when testing the fundamentals of usability. For us, this is the physical equivalent of wire framing an app flow — We can validate the functional aspect but not get distracted by the emotion and beauty of the interface. Typically, we use this to validate overall usage of a physical experience from a proportion and usability perspective.
Iterative testing the concept — Bringing designs to life — Photo: Designit
Fail fast, Iterate often.
Scaling and iteration during development creates an agile feedback loop.
The second step in the process is to scale the experience through iterations to a fidelity that adds the emotion back. With the use of our existing files produced in the design process we can easily translate a 3D file into a virtual space to allow designers to be more connected to the development of the aesthetic beyond the screen — I’ve seen examples of the entire design process being done in VR but we’re not there just yet commercially as it lacks the relative accuracy to make this a feasible design for production tool. The designers then use the virtual space to experience the design at scale during the development process and start to experiment with details and the traditional aspects of the design process such and ergonomics/Scale and specification of the overall product and experience.
Usability testing at scale with real users — Traffic flow testing — Photo: Designit
Experience test with real users.
The best validation of any product experience is that carried out with the intended end user.
Testing with real users in a virtual space is a relatively new area but the ability to carry out simple functionality with virtual products is fast and saves the massive investments in physical models before we’re more informed — we’re not talking about removing the physical experience but we can be sure through testing in mixed realities that the designs we prototype physically are validated before pulling the trigger on the larger investment of physical experience prototypes.
VR for Product Development.
We’re using these steps more and more in the product development process and although it’s true that this approach with VR as a prototyping tool is more credible when scale comes into play, it’s applicable to experiences of all shapes and sizes. It’s the way we see tools and technologies adding value not just to the consumer and client but already delivering value in our process.
Look out for more examples of this coming from both Designit and the industry as the fidelity continues to increase, barrier of entry drops further and the competition for low investment yet physically validated product experience and spaces become more expected by our clients.