Vive R&D with HTC
About a year before HTC launched the Vive, they approached Thomas Street to help them develop design guidelines for the first commercially available room-scale Virtual Reality experience. The complete lack of existing standards, paired with new hardware, was a thrilling space to work in.
Over the next year, our 2- to 3-person team prototyped UI experiments based on experience areas that would lead to good first-run Vive experiences. My role mostly involved thinking through interactions, documenting design patterns and systems, visualizing UI and assets, and working with an engineer to refine the demos. Each week, we’d present VR demos to the client, gather feedback, and either refine or move on.
How to do X?
Whether the task was how to pick up an object and throw it, or move outside of room-scale, or watch 2D content on a virtual screen, we spent a lot of time answering questions like these. More importantly, we spent time resolving interaction conflicts and documenting what worked within the larger system of behaviors and actions.
A key piece of the Vive experience was keeping people tethered to some aspects of the outside world without leaving VR. This mostly took the form of a dashboard, which included access to new store content, texting and calling your contacts, and all of your other VR apps.
Story and World-building
As our experimental UI work with HTC began to yield a comprehensive system of design patterns, one of the larger UX barriers became very obvious. No matter how consistent and streamlined the design system, without an active conceptual framework, VR spaces give users no easy way of making sense of their environment. So, in addition to the prototyping, we devoted time to testing and sharing conceptual frameworks with the team, which provided rationale for major aspects of the system and the core experience.
During the last stretch of the project my role shifted to writing a comprehensive guide incorporating the patterns and systems we found to be most repeatable. The initial draft comprised several thousand words, broken into sections ranging from high-level theory (such as the concept of an application, and building VR worlds) to very low-level mechanics (such as button mappings and what sort of data they supply to the experience).
After earning some trust working directly with HTC, we had the opportunity to consult with some of their partners in investigating the translation of existing content into VR space. This effort involved more prototyping, but this time with a broader team, and pulling real data into the experience.