VR UX for history education
Design and Development
Unity, C#, Blender
Sep.2019 - Dec.2019
1 designer, 2 researchers
VR-ATX is an exploration into employing virtual reality to study the local history of a place through a first person driven experience.
To present an instance of exploratory VR experience and measure the effectiveness of immersion in learning history and cultural preservation.
This project started with extensive research about VR, presence and learning different methods of making a VR experience for users for educational purposes. After defining the challenge, idea generation for designing a viable experience started. Through the design and development phase, constant feedback from users was taken to revise ideas and make the experience more effective for the user.
Interior setting in its current status
Igniting the transition phase (get ready for takeoff)
Designing a transition experience for Time Travel
Interior setting in 100 years ago
In this project we aimed to understand if an experiential mode of learning subjects like history would have a more positive impact on the users than traditional reading, or audio-visual media. We looked at many factors that passively indicate deep learning such as familiarity or recognition/recall of information in users’ present day experience of the city.
Looking for a real case
The Scholzgarten in Austin is the oldest operating business in Austin, TX with a history of over 150 years. It was established in 1866 and stood witness to the city’s rise, fall, struggles and glory. We were inspired from this place and tried to leverage familiarity of the local people with the bar to anchor their exploration of Austin’s local history and culture through time to make the experience more understandable for users.
History education as mere instruction of objective information is limited in engagement of students and providing lasting experience or measurable real world change in user perception/ behavior.
Virtual Environments and using the VR medium has its own set of complications and might result in cyber-sickness. For this reason, testing with large numbers of people was essential to ﬁnd a common solution for the users.
In the limited time between problem definition and design/development of the actual delivery of the submission, we managed to test it with multiple users and evaluated their experiences through multiple measurement methods.
Users Reached in Research/Testing
To tailor the past-time experience, we studied the present day experiences of the users, and synthesized them into the VR. The measurements were primarily for presence and how it inﬂuenced user experience in understanding the spatial clues.
Behavioral Analysis & Observations
Our immediate users were the people of Austin who:
frequented places like Scholzgarten
were interested in learning about /experiencing their local history
For our contextual analysis, we started with the Scholzgarten, and knowing how much the context of history drives the visitors to this place. We also met with the Austin History Association for the more formally inclined user base.
We conducted user interviews, surveys and also observational inquires about the habits, attributes, and inclination of the user base to use the product we were designing.
Easy to Use
Learn About Their City
Since exploring local history through immersive first person experience was a new concept to most users, we relied on two existing methods to help them understand the concept, while also aiming to test it with user interest, engagement, and usefulness.
Before we could build the VE itself, we used immersive experiences through a 360 video on YouTube. We gathered and quantiﬁed the results through a questionnaire, and also interviews and observations.
The VR experience would consist of a storyline to present information, and also the affordances in place that a user can interact with. Converting information into this experience was at the core of the design, and the research to aid and provide a framework for this was done through user journey maps.
Our research and preliminary testing identified two primary sets of users for the VR experience driven by their purpose and approach: Formal set, and the Informal set.
The formal set had a narrower focus group and consisted mostly of users from academic backgrounds
The informal ones consisted of users seeking entertainment
To better identify and empathize with the focus groups, we mapped out their pain points and priorities as they went through the low ﬁdelity prototype experience of VE.
Informal Set (Entertain)
Formal Set (Curious)
Since VR is a spatial medium, it was essential for us to think spatially and design the architecture of the space and place the triggers as an affordance of the character in the context of the bar. We used a phone booth that would trigger the transport of the user to the time period around 100 years ago.
The design has to be thought as not screens or interactions, but spatial, like a building or an actual restaurant
Defining elements in the space that afford specific interaction that users will understand quickly
Learning happens through overhearing a conversation, noticing a fleeting image, or in other subtle and passive ways
How might we create an immersive experience to encourage students learn history and retain their knowledge?
We then began rapidly ideating a number of concepts to select few for creating ﬂows, user stories and storyboards and discover user requirements for the VR experience.
The main ideas that we found more interesting in our initial concepts had at leas a little of the following freatures:
Design and Test
The users journey inside of the VE had to be balanced between an exploratory experience while remaining true to the story-line to keep them engaged. The story-line was vital to mapping out the events, affordances and triggers to translate into the Unity Editor. The initial storyline we were working on is mapped below. This story-line changed later due to technical problems:
I used my architectural design skill-sets and experience to design the space that drives the user to explore a limited space inside. The circulation space between the tables, social setups and artifacts such as photographs on the wall, and sound design further reinforced the social presence to make the user believe the time travel happened.
Cues, Triggers & Interactions
The ﬂow the entire experience was vital for the engagement levels and presence, towards this end, we decided to embed the triggers for the transitions between the time periods into interactions of the user with the objects, conversations and auditory cues from the other agents inside of the VE.
Low Fidelity Prototype
We made a low ﬁdelity VE with two different models inside Unity but without a transition that we were happy with. The VE enabled he user to explore the environment, use their hands to interact, and had a time triggered transition into the different time period. The environment was also not populated with sufﬁcient human presence, and ambiance suiting a bar, thereby reducing both self presence and social presence inside the VE.
We did the user testing with 8 participants and collected their subjective and objective feedback. We also measured their experience of our VE through a series of simple tasks that were given to them.
We addressed cybersickness in the following ways through design choices in the ﬁrst iteration and testing to find the optimum amount of movements in different users.
Provide interactive hands to give orientation and sense of direction for the user inside the VE
Managing the speed of automatic movement by tested animations.
Keeping only a small percentage of contents in the FOV animated/ moving during the exploratory phase
The final solution consisted of
a single large environment which had two different models inside of it which were inaccessible and also invisible from inside each other.
a ‘transition space’ where the time travel journey triggers (The suspension point)
A phone booth that rings and the user picks up the handle (Inspired from the movie "The Matrix")
A voice clue that makes the user ready for happening something strange (A dialogue from the TV show "True Detective" about the recurring nature of time)
An automatic movement for transporting the user to another time through a transitional space (Bright space with music from Hans Zimmer inspired from the movie "Inception")
We had the chance to present our final design to a group of iSchool students, faculty and staff and see their reactions. We looked at this session as a final round of user testing to see how users feel and perceive our design. The result of informal talks with users was interesting among which we can say:
No one had any motion sickness feeling after the experience
Most of the users found the transition state interesting for believing the time travel
The social context was perceived by users as positive point of the experienced
Movement limits and interaction restrictions were the major flaws of the experience
Adding informational clues like text and voice over to the experience was needed to make it more of educational type
Within the time-frame we worked on this project, I have learned a lot about Virtual Environment and the challenges that we face for designing and developing an experience through VR technology. However, in case I had more time:
I will work on making the experience more interactive and call for user actions to trigger various events. Once a user can change something in the space their feeling of presence will augment to a larger extent and the experience design will be more effective.
I will employ some kind of UI to make the user more engaged while presenting some background information.
I will use untethered HMD like (Oculus Quest) to test design and users' interaction with the environment once they are detached from the cables.