Picture the scene. It’s a cold, grey afternoon at CareerFoundry HQ. Slowly but surely, one by one, the team stops what they’re doing and turns to look at Martin, the COO, who is completely oblivious to his new-found attention.
He looks more relaxed than he has in 3-and-half years, completely reclined in his chair, and lost in the Google Daydream—the virtual reality device powered by any VR-ready (i.e. uber-high-resolution) smartphone. We can only presume he’s exploring a virtual beach in the Bahamas.
It’s amazing that this kind of tech is now available as an affordable consumer product. Even so, many people haven’t experienced it and it hasn’t skyrocketed as many had hoped. Does this mean it’s not going to take off, or we’ve simply got more time to prepare?
Last September—in 2016—Google opened up the Play Store for new third-party VR apps, and some companies have already ported their apps to VR; Google-owned YouTube, of course, being one of the notable ones, and the app I’m going to look at today as my “best practice” inspiration.
YouTube’s expert transition from 2D to VR is no surprise:
YouTube has more than 1 billion users. Over 50% of the millions of hours of video watched each day is via mobile, according to their stats page. This makes the YouTube app one of the most successful apps to date.
How do you continue the success of an established hit into a new realm like virtual reality?
Here are my top 5 valuable lessons from YouTube that you can apply to the design of any VR app:
1. Offer the user a meal, not a snack
VR apps are so immersive that they require a deeper narrative to match that immersion. Mobile apps tend to be very snackable in nature, and users are often pulled out of the experience by the outside world or notifications from other apps. VR is an uninterrupted transformative experience, and because of this, it deserves to have all of the interactions that your app can offer.
You’re going to be getting fewer, more immersive visits than in mobile, so make sure you’re providing a narrative that matches that behavior. Give them the depth they’re searching for, and they’ll keep coming back to your app.
YouTube VR creates the narrative through smart suggestions of viewable content. The VR app continues the practice of showing the queue for what’s playing next, and it’s always smartly selected content. Once I picked a video from the home screen, I found myself navigating based on these “up next” suggestions the first few times I used the app.
Eventually, I found a few VR content creators that I followed, and I relied less on the smart suggestions. The narrative that YouTube creates is based on your viewing history, so the content suggestions improve with each session. Content suggestions are an excellent way to create a narrative in cinematic apps, and YouTube continues to do a great a job at content suggestion.
2. Give the user control at all times
You’re offering your user a world of new experiences. And along with this new freedom, you must also offer control. Instead of dropping them down a rabbit hole, guide them through the experience like a cheshire cat. The negative effects of jarring the user into unplanned environments can actually cause digital motion sickness (known as cybersickness).
Google published their VR design principles for their Cardboard platform based on some early testing they did in the VR space. One of their first points was that VR environments can be very immersive, so it’s important to always give the user control.
While cinematic experiences will be more passive, this doesn’t mean the user is on autopilot. Don’t treat the user like a mere observer. Instead think of them as an explorer—and like any explorer, they’re going to need the proper controls to navigate this new reality.