I worked in a team to create a prototype model to demonstrate best usability practices for Microsoft Hololens for Research and Development at Mirada Studios. The prototype focused on fantasy YA author Cornelia Funke.
Problem to Solve What are the best usability practices of navigating content for the Microsoft Hololens?
Solution Deliver a List of Research findings validated through User Testing + Digital Prototype. Model this practice through the lens of a Mirada franchise, YA Fantasy author Cornelia Funke.
My Role UX + AR/MR Researcher and Designer
Teammates Adrian Inchauste (Client Relations, Research, Audio Prototype and Testing), David Kim (User Research, User Testing), and Stephanie Morales (Project Manager, Research, User Testing).
Mirada Studios is a new-media, multi-platform production house founded by Guillermo del Toro that seeks to pioneer new storytelling experiences through the innovation of technology. I felt that the quote below reflected user experience in the brand:
“Sometimes the experience illuminates the inherent story values of a brand.
Sometimes it leads audiences to uncharted places.
Sometimes it’s just an incredible idea that needs to be realized, because it just does.”
With the rise of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, Mirada’s Research and Development department was keen to take a look into harnessing the power of these platforms for their storytelling purposes.
Creating a new model would be a powerful opportunity to develop the innovation of storytelling.
The AR/VR market is currently estimated by Goldman Sachs to be $3.5 billion based on investor funding. With a plethora of usages being ideated by companies, one matter needs to be fore-mostly investigated — how will people adopt it?
The answer to that lies in the process — test the user’s engagement through content. In content, creators can gauge emotional, visceral, physical and mental reactions to it.
Cornelia Funke is a critically acclaimed international bestselling author of fantasy books for children. Her books, Inkheart and The Thief Lord, have been adapted into films.
The Microsoft Hololens is a computer headset that projects digital holograms for the User to see, hear, and interact within their actual environment. This blend of reality and digital environment is known as Mixed Reality (MR), although is commonly mistaken for Augmented Reality (AR). Currently priced at $3,000, the Hololens is the purveyor of MR headsets in the field.
You may have noticed that I have talked about the Hololens being an “MR” technology. What is MR? From Wired, here are some definitions broken down:
Virtual Reality, or VR: VR places the user in another location entirely. Whether that location is computer-generated or captured by video, it entirely occludes the user’s natural surroundings.
Augmented Reality, or AR: In augmented reality — like Google Glass or the Yelp app’s Monocle feature on mobile devices — the visible natural world is overlaid with a layer of digital content.
Mixed Reality, or MR: In technologies like Magic Leap’s, virtual objects are integrated into — and responsive to — the natural world. A virtual ball under your desk, for example, would be blocked from view unless you bent down to look at it. In theory, MR could become VR in a dark room.
At the time in 2016, virtual reality and related technologies were a booming market. Amidst the competitive landscape, I conducted a competitive and comparative analysis of the different hardwares. The Hololens was the most expensive model, due to it being in beta.
Media franchises have expanded and deepened their audience reach through exploring books, movies, theme parks, toys, and video games — some even starting to explore the VR/AR space.
I referred to Mirada’s own case-study of Cornelia Funke Fearless franchise, iPad app Mirrorworld. The importance of the success in this app demonstrated interest and a market for Cornelia Funke and for new media.
Mirrorworld app, in addition to garnering lauded press, won Silver in the Mobile Lions category for Best Visual Design/Aesthetic and shortlisted in the Mobile category for Best Content created for Mobile.
Target Areas of Research Focus
1. Current UX practices in AR/VR
2. Interviews with Subject Matter Experts and identified key users
3. Contextual Inquiries in the Hololens
I helped research various existing methods of navigating content. Many of them relied on mimicking 2d screens as a way to transfer over similar users. However, a question arose if the User in the Hololens would still follow this pattern?
I evaluated the existing Hololens Interactions that define the restrictions of R&D:
In the first attempt to perform a survey, we found that not many had used the Hololens. We had to go to the experts, the Subject Matter Experts such as developers and tech-enthusiasts. From there, I found that these users overall had enjoyed the experience, but found the interaction with the technology to still be rudimentary.
But the main question we concerned ourselves with was, Who would use the Microsoft Hololens?
I knew that there was a unique insight to a fan-base, the Mirada audience. Mirada Studios prides itself on innovating technology for storytelling purposes. Through its existing franchise of YA Fantasy author Cornelia Funke, they have tested the waters by creating an iPad app for the Mirror World series.
1. Early Adopter — Excited by technology, one of the first to have had access to and tried out the Microsoft Hololens and other AR/MR/VR devices.
2. Fantasy Lover — Engages with YA Fantasy content such as Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight in the form of books, movies, TV shows as well as theme parks and merchandise.
By comparing these two user types, I found that there existed a User that straddled both worlds and would be on board as a consumer to MR content that would come out.
What does the persona mean for Mirada’s business?
I reviewed Goldman Sach’s Business Report, along with other financial research. These findings indicated that AR would soon eclipse VR, and move past entertainment sectors.
In my research, we interviewed Subject Matter Experts as well as Hololens Users to identify overlapping and contrasting experiences.
• “It is missing feedback from virtual objects (easy to not understand what is going on).”
• “Gesture control is the hardest to get right so instruction is key.”
• “Gestures don’t always make sense when navigating menus or opening apps so microphones on the headset will capture voice commands.”
• “I would like to see more 3D UI and go away from the 2D UI.”
•”It is so new so I’m not sure what to do first without instruction.”
•”View-point is small and can be hard to make sense of.”
•”It would be helpful to have boxes that outline the selection.”
• "I’m impressed but there’s not enough for me to want to come back to.”
After gathering these insights, it was necessary to validate these common pain-points by conducting contextual inquiries. I helped conduct 3 Hololens User Tests, and 3 Task Scenarios, in 15 minute sessions.
When people encounter an experience for the first time, they are also learning how to use it for the first time. 83% of human learning is visual, so having clear affordances that helps guide users through an experience is key for learnability.
The simple differential factor relies on one primary element: a User-Centered Design. By placing the user at the center of the experience and reducing complexity, you improve overall usability and ultimately provide them with real engagement.
Reduced Complexity = Optimal User Experience = Engagement
1. Browse content (Funke’s work)
2. Navigation (through fantasy worlds)
3. Informational learning (about characters)