Is virtual reality old news? Virtual reality, or VR, has existed in various permutations since at least the early 80s with varying degrees of success. It wasn’t until the 2010s that VR experienced a resurgence in both development and consumer popularity. If you were to plot VR on Gartner’s Hype Cycle, VR currently seems to be finally pulling out of the “trough of disillusionment” into the “slope of enlightenment”. VR’s novelty has worn off and has shifted into more mainstream adoption through consumer markets such as video gaming and 3D cinema. But as VR technology expands into other channels and grows into maturity, what other applications might VR have? Specifically, what kind of applications can we expect to explore as technical communicators? As it turns out, several!

VR is currently being researched and tested in a whole host of educational- and training-related scenarios as a way to walk users through learning and completing complex tasks. (Gartner doesn’t call that final stage of the hype cycle the “plateau of productivity” for nothing, after all!) VR is especially ideal as a training simulator for situations that consist of high-stakes or dangerous factors. For example, several VR simulation platforms, such as Ossr VR, have been created to provide surgeons with the visual and kinetic experience of practicing complex procedures. When users of VR programs like these are interacting with objects in the virtual space, they can be guided by text, animations, and visual cues that also are layered into the virtual environment. The immersive training sessions afforded by VR represent a new medium of communication and a new opportunity for instructional designers and technical communicators to design useful, usable, and hopefully delightful experiences.

Student using VR

A student uses virtual versions of surgical tools to practice a medical procedure. Image source: Osso VR.

VR procedure

While the student completes the steps in the virtual procedure, text and animations provide guidance for the current task. Image source: Osso VR.

When designing these experiences for VR technology, the greatest challenges are information organization and presentation. Information must be carefully modelled and presented because it is so ubiquitous and overtakes the user’s complete field of vision. Too much information crowded on the user’s display will overload the user with information, resulting in a confusing and unpleasant experience. To create usable VR experiences, relevant information must be organized into guided scenarios or hierarchies of steps while also reducing clutter and cognitive workload in a user’s perceived environment.

The success of VR depends on a deeply layered hierarchy of information: the limited, initial layer should provide an uncluttered set of information or options with which the user could interact to reveal further information or options. Additionally, information should be designed and presented in ways that support users’ emotional expectations of VR, including captivation by feeling immersed in VR interaction and empowerment to reach goals with new means that augment their capabilities.

When designing these experiences for VR technology, the greatest challenges are information organization and presentation. Information must be carefully modelled and presented because it is so ubiquitous and overtakes the user’s complete field of vision. Too much information crowded on the user’s display will overload the user with information, resulting in a confusing and unpleasant experience. To create usable VR experiences, relevant information must be organized into guided scenarios or hierarchies of steps while also reducing clutter and cognitive workload in a user’s perceived environment.

The success of VR depends on a deeply layered hierarchy of information: the limited, initial layer should provide an uncluttered set of information or options with which the user could interact to reveal further information or options. Additionally, information should be designed and presented in ways that support users’ emotional expectations of VR, including captivation by feeling immersed in VR interaction and empowerment to reach goals with new means that augment their capabilities.

VR instructions

Because objects and interactions in VR might be visually overwhelming, textual guidance must be concise and can be layered, such as through buttons, to provide further information. Image source: Rachael Graham.

Want to get started with some VR? Check out some of the following resources.

If you’re still new to the whole “virtual reality” concept, I recommend trying some basic demos with apps like the Google Cardboard app. Even if you don’t have a headset to put your smartphone into, you can still use your phone as a window into all kinds of interactive VR experiences.

If you want to ease into VR content creation, try starting with augmented reality (AR). Some AR platforms, like BlippAR, provide a free trial so that you can augment printed materials with a virtual, interactive layer that can be accessed through your smartphone.

Finally, if you are ready to try your hand at VR content creation, check out BRIOVR’s free trial. You can get started on a VR experience with as little as a JPEG and a single interaction.

Rachael Graham

Rachael Graham

Guest Contributor

A graduate of the NC State MS Technical Communication program, Rachael currently works as a technical writer at IBM for cloud computing and open source technologies.

She’s interested in how to improve user experience through content, and enjoys visualizing technical information like networking traffic or API calls through architecture diagrams and even VR.

Interested in learning more about ways to extend your documentation and training projects with virtual reality (VR)? Check out the STC Carolina’s virtual October event!

Adobe Captivate 2019: Creating Virtual Reality eLearning