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Designers Are Ready For VR

Designers Are Ready For VR

Many designers are concerned about the transition from web or app to virtual reality. Most of these fears are unfounded.

Designers currently involved in website or app design have a preconceived notion that designing an interface for virtual reality will be difficult to adapt to; that it’s a whole different ball game. The general consensus is that transitioning to VR requires specialist skills that most 2D designers are not prepared for.

“The truth is, digital designers already have most of the skills necessary to produce UI for virtual reality. The majority of the principles and tools required are the same.”

What people don’t realize is there is still a need for a 2D interface in the 3D environment. Screens and flat surfaces have an important place for creating effective interactions in the virtual world just like in the real world. While this doesn’t necessarily mean 2D should translate directly, it becomes possible to enhance 2D interfaces with layering and animation, and add subtle depths to elements.

We are witnessing the next wave of technology and many designers are not sure whether to go all in—to see if it’s worth investing time in. Believe me, it is. And it’s a lot simpler than you think.



1. “I Have To Learn New Skills & Practices”

Designing 3D objects, environments and textures is a whole different skill set that requires a significant amount of time to invest in learning, and frankly, unless you’re starting out and taking that path from scratch it wouldn't make sense to abandon your current skills.

“You have already invested a lot of time in 2D design—you’re good at it, so why waste that experience?”

Best practices and the laws of design in the real world also apply to the virtual world. This means that the principles we have for legibility, ease-of-use and intuitiveness also apply to VR. For example, text should be bigger so it is readable from a distance. Interactive elements like buttons should clearly be buttons. Visual hierarchy should be clear. These are common sense practices that can be translated from other mediums. Even some principles from print design are relevant to VR.

As is the case with most website and app projects, a team of specialists will be involved. No one person can do everything, and if they could it wouldn’t be practical or sustainable. VR can require more specialists because it’s a little more complex.

Individuals should be in place to focus specifically on each of the many parts including: UX, scripts, environments, objects, textures, development, production, and last but not least the UI. The point is, no one said you had to learn 3D or new tools like Unity, because that can be left to those with a passion for it.


2. “I Have To Learn New Tools”

Designers can produce compositions for virtual reality user interfaces using the same tools they’re using right now including Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, and Figma. That’s because 2D UI doesn’t need specialist 3D software, it just needs a tool that can produce decent high-fidelity compositions in layers and export assets at high resolution.

“You don’t need to learn new tools to design UI in VR.”

Of course, it helps to have an awareness of the other tools required by 3D modelers and developers. You may have heard of platform tools such as Unity and Unreal Engine, which are strictly tools for development. Much like how web developers take static comps from Photoshop or Sketch and translate them into websites or apps, Unity or Unreal developers will use these tools to merge the UI with the environment and create the necessary interactions.


3. “Prototyping Is Difficult”

In virtual reality it only takes seconds for the problem areas to become clear. VR prototyping is especially useful for finding things like text legibility or user experience issues. The hardest part of VR prototyping is acquiring the necessary hardware.

“The best prototyping will still be done early in the project, with your peers, and with pen and paper.”

VR capable hardware is expensive and can be hard to come by. However, there is a cheap and easy solution to viewing your design in 3D. For under 20 bucks you can view your work with a Google Cardboard viewer and your phone. Chances are, if you are at the stage of the project to begin testing UI assets, you have a fully fleshed out concept that will only require positional, color, or size tweaking. Any changes can easily be communicated to a developer.


Final Note

There are quite a few misconceptions from designers on VR; designing UI’s in particular don’t need to be complicated. Designing for VR isn’t necessarily easy—every project has its own unique challenges that will rely on varying levels of iteration and process. That’s normal on any platform. The important thing to remember is that the design principles you’ve learned will still apply. So find yourself a VR headset, a project, and jump in.

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