A Virtual Reality Experience Of stories in a Melancholy environment
Timeline: 2 weeks
Roles: UX Design, Interaction Design, Developer
Team: Andrew R McHugh, Rachel Ng, Joel Rodrigues
Methods: Personas, Wireframing, Storyboarding
Tools: Photoshop, Paper Prototypes, Sketch, A-Frame
Cities are vast social organisms that are quickly becoming intangible. We wanted to learn what people feel in big cities, and to do this we looked at the Missed Connections section of Craigslist, and rearrange the posts into poems. We placed these poems in front of an avatar of a person in a scaled virtual reality model of the city, to give viewers exposure to the feelings that people experience on specific areas. To increase the effect of the poems emotional content, the virtual environment was designed to be melancholic and dystopian-like.
Our project brief challenged us to create an application that exposed the invisible, underlying layers of data in a given place. We wanted to present the deeper, more personal, and peculiar stories that reflect the people living there. To do this, we needed authentic stories from the people who lived there, so we decided to use Craigslist "Missed Connections" section as the source for our story's material. We aimed to create a virtual city viewers would explore while finding poems.
We designed for low fidelity VR headsets to create an experience that could be viewed by anyone. Specifically, we designed with google cardboard in mind. This greatly limited our interaction styles as google cardboard only has a few interaction techniques:
- Tap & Holding
- Double Tap
These limited interactions defined how we controlled user movement. Navigation was a key challenge due to lack of traditional movement options like keyboards, input pads, or joysticks.
During Low Fidelity testing, we created an experience with two different types of views: a topographic that had the viewer looking down at the city from the sky and a street view where the viewer was standing in front of the person in front of a "speaking" avatar. To create this environment we developed using a VR framework called A-Frame. We used the topographic view as a navigation method and allowed users to see where the most posts had been located. As the avatar "spoke'", the poem scrolled vertically infinitely toward the sky, creating a sense of ephemerality of the stories being told.
Testing and Feedback:
After testing and collecting feedback, we decided to move away from the topographic view. While the view allowed for a more novel approach to how the user could observe and navigate the data, it detracted from the immersion and cohesion of the experience. We also increased a lot of legibility issues and decided to place a box on the speaker's head to increase the feeling of anonymity of the speaker as well as reducing the viewer's urge to try to identify the person speaking rather than reading the story. We felt that a simple look and tap interface worked best to allow the viewer to easily change between stories. The viewer's gaze moved the cursor and tapping the button selected the option.
In order to get a dystopian feeling, we wanted to create a cityscape environment to portray the existence of civilization. However, this existence in the cityscape was coupled with stories that helped create a feeling of isolation.
While designing the audio experience, I used sounds that reflect the somber nature of the stories as well: slow piano music, rain, horns honking, and the sounds of people murmuring. By combining natural and city sounds, the viewer never feels like they are "alone" in the environment, but they cannot connect with the other people around them.
We felt that a simple look and tap interface worked best to allow the viewer to easily change between stories. We used the viewer's gaze to move the cursor and tapping the button on the headset selected the navigation options when hovered over. This approach also helped keep the viewer immersed in the environment and did not create emotional distance between the stories and the viewer.