Is VR the platform to take business to the next level? Jeff Piazza, user experience director at behaviordesign.com thinks so
There’s no doubt about it, interest in VR is skyrocketing. In fact, Deloitte Global predicts that virtual reality will have its first billion-dollar year in 2016, with about $700 million (£478 million) in hardware sales alone. As the greater market is poised to broaden, applications that directly address business challenges will be springing up across all industries. Given the growing VR market and increase in consumer demand, the following question arises: how might VR be leveraged to enhance user experience for all brands?
Technology companies are in an arms race to be the pioneer and go-to manufacturer for VR experiences; notably, Google partnered with The New York Times to ship out over a million Google Cardboard headsets to subscribers, and additional wearable displays have launched or are nearing launch from Oculus (Facebook), HTC and Samsung. Over the next few years, new and more compelling content will help propel the adoption of VR from the narrow innovator audience to a broad early adopter audience. I believe that VR and AR are the future of UX design for businesses because they provide the most natural way humans can engage with information – immersing the user in a simulated environment that enables a brand to connect emotionally on a deeper level with their audience. It is why VR is commonly called the ‘empathy machine’.
This is directly in contrast to present mass computing, which is confined to two-dimensional rectangular surfaces. The screen and cursor that we use today are a proxy for sight and touch in a digital environment. As adaption rises, the paradigm will evolve across all digital media to a dimensional experience that feels more like the real world. In this new world, users have a more tangible relationship to the brand offering, making it more personal. With this in mind, what should organisations consider when deciding if VR is right for their business?
The first step is to understand what the platform can truly do. Creating an immersive experience means either developing a completely computer-simulated environment that can resemble the physical real/imagined world or using video to immerse the participant in a space and give a sense of depth in every direction. Both leverage the perception of transporting the audience to a different place. The key for businesses is to find purposeful uses for these experiences.
Why rely on text to describe the benefits of the latest car model when one can sit inside it, look around, try out the features for themselves as they would in real life and take it on a test drive on any type of terrain? As an opportunity to create a stronger connection between the product and brand story, Volvo created a 360-degree video on Google Cardboard to take users on a picturesque test drive through the Swedish countryside. The journey gives users a sense of presence and complete immersion to feel as though they are in the driver’s seat. The experience visually connects Volvo’s design beliefs, which are grounded in space, quietness and nature as core influences in their products. The brand’s offering – a luxury car cabin and a smooth, exhilarating drive – translates effectively to VR.
In the education market, Google created Google Expedition, a journey-based experience that brings classrooms on virtual reality field trips. Students can travel around the world, from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef without leaving the classroom. The program leverages active learning behaviour where instructors and students can control and interact with the subject. This in turn reinforces classroom lessons that create better retention of knowledge.
In both of these examples, the respective companies sought to understand what virtual reality is capable of and matched their project mission to the vehicle in question. They asked themselves: ‘If our goal is to communicate ‘X,’ how can we provide an experience that demonstrates this like never before, embracing VR with a full immersion into our brand and offerings?’
This is what businesses today should be asking themselves as they consider virtual reality. In a crowded market, companies must consider if providing an immersive experience to demonstrate its offerings or bring information to life in a new way would provide a competitive advantage. There’s no question that AR and VR will completely transform the desktop experience for business applications. AR/VR allow the enterprise to move beyond the four corners of the common screen. No longer will business users have to sift through file upon file to find the document, or be constrained to the size of a computer monitor. A ‘boundless screen’ will allow you to see all data at once, to perform common tasks such as comparing and reviewing data. Businesses can create dynamic ways to visualise data that can be manipulated to identify insights not clearly visible from conventional means.
The mechanisms to engage with individuals on a more meaningful level are here. Where VR differs from other trending technologies is its current status as an open canvas inviting creators and makers of all kinds to participate in what it will eventually become. It is a great time for businesses to both learn and experiment with the medium, seizing the occasion to explore new applications and experiences that elevate brand differentiators and also resonate more personally with target audiences.