“It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman” everyone knows this famous phrase from the Superman movie. People like him as he can fly faster than a jet, swim like a dolphin, is as powerful as Hulk and has a pair of laser eyes like scott (Cyclops) from X Men. Likewise, a designer is respectable when the ingredients are mixed in right proportions.
The term “designer” has emerged as a generic terminology often used today. But how is one distinguished from another? How do your skills play a major role within the team? In this blog, I will walk you through the process followed in executing augmented and virtual reality projects and the relevant skills required. Alike “Work-Life-Balance” our focus here will be in visualizing a perfect blend between skillsets as a UX Designer in developing an augmented or virtual reality application.
“The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
Being a 3D-artist, I always jump into solutions that involve creative aspects; be it a mobile application, an e-learning module, or a training video. What I visualize at the beginning and what gets delivered have most of the time not met my expectation, though clients were excited and happy with it. So how did I go about it?
My education played a vital role. Given my engineering background, a Master degree in Digital Media did add value to my creative side, as I could easily understand and learn from SME’s in the engineering domain. Well, this scenario can’t be the same with others. In case it is, then you’re just as lucky as I am. Since my focus was always in 3D visualization and animation, I did not bother much about other technologies, until I got involved in an augmented/virtual reality project.
It was a one of its kind project which I had previously not worked with. Hence, the first logical step was to learn what it was, speaking to developers, and reading blogs. Finally, I noticed that what I was doing was just a drop in the ocean. With my basic knowledge in C programming I started experimenting with tools and quickly adapted to other processes. In the end, I did not develop a solution, but had a fair idea of how to go about it.
A User Experience designer profile adds great value to the design field. Designers execute a project after considering a few key parameters such as who, when, what and how. This shows clarity in understanding stakeholders and their competitors to build and deliver what is required.
Just remember, you can't climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
Every design process is unique but the fundamental ingredients are the same. Adopting a streamlined process to build a virtual or augmented reality application will deliver an immersive experience. Shown below is the process flow I followed for designing the augmented or virtual reality application. The flow is defined from a user experience designer perspective (The four D’s) and the focus here is not on the methodology.
Now, before we reveal the process to our client, a trick to start off with, is to show The Squiggle of Design by Damien Newman. It depicts the process flow starting from an uncertainty level and narrows down to single point of clarity, which for me, felt as a simple design attached with a lot of meaning.
Like birdwatching, where you wait for hours into the woods and understand the behaviour of birds and its surrounding, this is the phase where you study the customer in their environment. Here a UX designer plays a major role. You provide a minimalistic task to observe and understand the user behaviour with the product. As the name suggests, this is also the problem identifier stage as one will study the client’s current issues and deliver a detailed report of understanding and improvements at the end of this phase. Check this link for best practices .
The most essential thought one should take to their heart is that we are designing the product around a user and not programming the user how to work around.
This is the area where creativity comes into picture. Artists and programmers blend in to understand and develop the application. This is where your patience plays a major role; if you fail here, you lose the game. The projects are broken down and tested at different level, to ensure quality deliverable and meeting deadlines.
However, this just not where you deliver a product rather ensure you deliver “The Product”. Many great products might look exciting for a developer but missing those minute details will always catch the customer’s attention. As a designer, I don’t want to repeat that boring, unhealthy deliverable. So, ensure the checklist is ticked off before the product is sent.
In order to drive this, a diverse team of designers and programmers focus on certain tasks to deliver the product at every stage. Listed below are the key players and most common tools used for development:
- UX Designer – MS Office / Axure Pro / Balsamic / InVision / Visio
- 3D Artist – 3DS Max / Maya / Cinema 4D / Blender / Adobe Creative Suite
- UI Designer – Illustrator / Photoshop
- Programmer – Unity 3D / C# Programming / Vuforia
A UX Designer should visualize the product considering the technology and its feasibility. In today’s world, visual design is a must-know skill set for any UxD. It has evolved from the early days that people having graphics design skills are more prone to become a UX person. A GD understands the workflow and builds appealing visuals, finally, providing the content for implementation and that's, why it is said, a UI/UX Designer will have an advantage in an organization.
To stand out from the rest, having knowledge in 3D virtual reality applications is a huge advantage. Virtual, mixed, and augmented reality applications offer good opportunities to a 3D artist and are expected to be the top jobs in the future, since creativity is in your mind and automating it is not that easy. It is important to know how polygon numbers are controlled and animations are done in 3D space. This helps a UxD person to build wireframes and prototypes as per the requirement. Also, modelling, lighting and texturing will add value to your creativity which, in turn, will produce a better immersive experience product.
Most of us with a computer background have learnt HTML and C languages; don’t panic in case you have forgotten. Programming these days has become more user friendly to the extent that I can build a website from scratch without any programming knowledge. All it takes is to think logical and get what is required. Programming for VR/AR is not simple though, but if you understand the logics like if, while, Switch case, etc.. things get easy. The most common tool used for building virtual or augmented reality application is Unity 3D along with other 3rd party tools and is available for free. It comes with tons of pre-programmed assets, forums, and tutorials through which one can self-learn.
“All Birds find shelter during a rain. But Eagle avoids rain by flying above the Clouds.”
- A.P.J Abdul Kalam
Specialization always helps you to be a key member but remember it takes two hands to clap. Technology and tools are being automated these days and our role as a specialist declines over a period. In such scenarios, you develop new capabilities to standout. The following topic talks about good to know skills and not enforcing someone to implement this to succeed.
“So be Special than being Specialized.
- Alex Cowan – The Four D’s : Fill the Void between lean principals and agile development
- Jean-Marc Denis – From Product design to virtual reality
- The Design Squiggle
- Microsoft – The Planning and Discover Phase