Observation: VR World NYC

By Elise Fu

This year, the largest virtual reality experience center in North America-VR World, landed in New York, right close to the Empire State Building. Visitor can try out 50 unique VR experiences in three floors, including gaming, film, art, music, etc. I went there a few weeks ago, experiencing some games and movies, and also observing players’ behaviors from a user experience standpoint.

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Visitors are handed disposable eye masks for the purpose of hygiene when using public VR headsets. Each game has guide staff there to assist each experience, ensuring players have a full understanding of the equipment and experiences. Depending on the experience, each should last between 5-10 minutes. Most gaming bays have a big-screen TV where you can watch the action that’s happening in the headset, which makes it convenient to observe players’ behaviors and responses.

Experience types

There are different types of the VR experiences in the VR World, including gaming, film, art, and music, etc. Undoubtedly, gaming is the most popular one and usually needs to wait for playing.

All experiences require a headset and headphone. The simplest experiences are you can just sit and watch a film or documentary. The most common ones are those require controllers in hands and your body movements, such as “Raw Data” which lets you shoot droid with controllers, and “Tilt Brush” which lets you paint in virtual reality. Some special experiences normally need other equipment to interact with, such as steering wheel, “paraglider” and “spaceship”.

VR World Experiences

Children and adult have different experiences in VR games

Kids love VR game! During the 3-4 hours I was visiting, nearly half of the visitors are kids and they keep coming back to the game they found interesting. They are very excited and not stopped by the frustrations they came across. I can see a future where a place like this could become a “theme park” like Disneyland and Universal Studios.

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One interesting thing I noticed is children and adults have different experiences in VR games, majorly because of the height and learning curve.

Even though in the same game, we can see the angle of view from kid and adult are different. Adult’s is higher and kid’s is lower because of the height, which actually influences their performance in games. The broader view you can see, the better you can handle the situation, such as the enemy in the game. To improve the experience for kids, designers may consider providing a “child mode” and lifting the angle of view for them.

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Same for the experiences which require other equipment. In the below example, the kids were struggling with pressing the brake. He cannot sat comfortably when his foot touched the brake. When kids are playing games, they actually consider themselves “an adult/hero” who can beat everything, then why not help them remove the constraints?

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(Notice from VR World about age requirements: “VR World isn’t an all-ages attraction. In fact, children under age 7 aren’t admitted and certain games have age requirements, while a couple of others are geared toward those over 5-foot-2.”)

Female characters are missing

Having game characters controlled by players is very common in most games, especially in role-playing games. While if you play alone, you may not get the chance to see what you look like in the game. If you have teammates who play with you, then they can see you and potentially collaborate with you.

When I was playing the shooting game called “Raw Data” with one friend, even though I am a female, my friend still saw a man in the game which is not appropriate. It reminds me of a discussion I’ve been through about  “feminist theories of technology”, which mentioned how women’s needs are less met by new technologies because there are fewer women worked in the tech industry, either as designers or developers. The situation I came across in the game is just a good example for that. Virtual reality aims to make people feel real, but if women cannot behavior or been seen as a female, how can it be real?

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Emotional Impacts and Learning Curve

Another two things I think the UX designer of VR games should consider are the emotional impacts and learning curve.

People react differently to the games, some calm and some exciting. Fear and frustration are the two major negative emotions I found when observing other people play. Although negative emotions don’t mean negative impacts, because people could actually be excited about experiencing vivid feeling in the VR games, the emotional impacts are still something needs to be paid attention. VR is emotion amplifier because of the immersion, which can also lead to motion sickness when players lose control – I felt once when I was playing the racing game and suddenly lose the control of the steering wheel.

Giving control to players is very important for the user experience of VR game, which connects the second aspect – learning curve. Different people have different learning curves, and different games also have different learning curves. First-time players can act very differently while playing. Currently, every game in the VR World has guide staff there to explain the instructions before each one plays. Therefore, how to make the games intuitive and self-explanatory, and help players master the techniques quickly are good challenges to tackle. When players are comfortable with playing it without assistance, VR games or places like this should be much easier to scale up.

 

References:
1. VR World NYC: https://vrworldnyc.com/

2. Wajcman, J. (2009) “Feminist theories of technology,” Cambridge Journal of Economics http://wiki.medialab-prado.es/images/4/4b/Wajcman_Feminist_theories_of_technology.pdf.

3. Moor, J. H. (1985). “What is computer ethics?” Metaphilosophy 16(4): 266–275.

The UX of Virtual/VR Tour of Museum

By Elise Fu

Virtual tour of museums has been around for a while, but it is far from being widespread and popular, which I found it is a pity because it can really benefit a lot of people if we do it right. It is also a perfect category for the recent hottest tech – VR to implement. After browsing some virtual tour project of museums, I found some common issues and drawbacks and a few shining points. As a UX designer, I would like to try on analyzing these projects from a user experience perspective. Below are the key factors I found that matter the most for a good experience of virtual/VR tour of museums.

Smithsonian Museum Virtual Tour

(Typical setting of virtual tour: map, arrow, controller)

To clarify, a virtual tour is a simulation of an existing location, often composed of a sequence of videos or still images that are panorama. If it is still images, users often have the control of the pace and location where they “stand” and look at, the drawbacks are the scene is static and most of the projects are difficult-to-control. If it is video, then the location will be filmed at a walking pace while moving continuously from one point to another, where users have to follow the sequence and won’t have free control.

Virtual reality tours are the virtual tours that can be viewed and experienced by a VR viewer (headset). They are more immersive and have different controllers compared with viewing on a computer, tablet or phone, depending on which headset or app users use.

virtual-reality-museum-tour

3D vs 2D

There are two ways these virtual tours present the work in the museum – 2D photos or 3D model.

The most common way is using 2D still photos where users can only see the work from a certain angle, which presents the same scene with the physical museum but the experience is incomplete, such as the one from Smithsonian Nation Museum of Natural History.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

(2D Virtual Tour – Smithsonian Nation Museum of Natural History)

While some project use 3D model to rebuild a virtual museum, where each object is independent, so users can select, zoom in, and rotate to observe closely, such as the project of Ancient Sculptures of Vietnam.

3dSculpture-horse

(3D Virtual Tour – Ancient Sculptures of Vietnam)

From the user experience perspective, the experience of 3D is much better than the 2D one, because users can interact with objects. It also has the advantage of better storytelling, since the narrative or commentary can pair with each object, and be presented only when users select the object. Sketchfab, a 3D models platform, also has some exquisite 3D models in different categories including one for cultural heritage & history.

Sketchfab- Cultural Heritage & History

(Sketchfab.com)

User-control and Interaction

Another issue I found when experiencing the virtual tours is the awkward user-control.

In the most common 2D virtual tour, users can only stand in one location at a scene. The only interactions are rotating the viewing angle and zoom in/out. Since users can’t move horizontally, they can’t see the objects placed in the longest distance clearly. It means what users can see in the virtual tour is partial. The only movement users can take is to move the next scene by clicking the “large arrow” on the ground where the transition isn’t smooth and continuous either. I think the poor performace of user interaction is the most important reason why the virtual tours are not real enough so far.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History2

 

Narrative and Commentary

The accessibility and convenience of narrative or commentary should be the advantage of a virtual tour because users already have a device anyway. However, I can’t find the well-presented narrative or commentary in most of the cases. This is tied to the issues of 2D photos which can’t separate the objects within it.

For cultural heritage like the work in museums, the stories behind them are too important to neglect. On the app or website of Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art), there are great introductions and audio commentary for each work. While in its virtual tour, the narratives are still missing. Since this kind of narrative and commentary resources is already there, I would say adding them to the virtual tour should be the next step to improve the experience.

Met App

(App of The Met)

Searchability and Shareability

Other features that should be the advantages of the digital tour while missing are the searchability and shareability. When people are consuming information, search and share are the two vital parts of their behaviors. (Wilson, T. D., 2000). One happens at the beginning (of information behavior), and one happens in the end.

In the physical museum, people use a map to search and locate the information they want, and they take photos or write notes to share with others. While in the virtual tour, the map (often located on the top right corner of view) is majorly for switching location. There is no search bar or menu as other digital products, and the map is not listing enough details for users to easily locate the things they want.

Virtual Museum Tour Map

(2D Virtual Tour – Smithsonian Nation Museum of Natural History)

In terms of the shareability, if users experience the tours on the computer, tablet or phone, they may be able to take screenshots, although it is not convenient and personalized. If they watch with a VR headset, then there is no way for them to keep a record and share with others. Without the shareability, the virtual tours just lost the free yet powerful marketing opportunities – word-of-mouth.

I believe the virtual tours has great potential because it makes the best work and cultural heritage of the world more accessible to anyone. It has unique advantages compared with physical tour while there are still some gaps it needs to catch with the experience of the physical tour. Hopefully, it will happen soon as the evolvement of virtual reality and 3D modeling.

 

References:

[1] Dalbello, M. (2009). “Digital cultural heritage: concepts, projects, and emerging constructions of heritage,” Proceedings of the Libraries in the Digital Age (LIDA Conference, 25-30 May, 2009

[2] Wilson, T. D. (2000). “Human information behavior.” InformingScience3(2): 49–56. http://ptarpp2.uitm.edu.my/ptarpprack/silibus/is772/HumanInfoBehavior.pdf.

[3] Virtual tour, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_tour

[4] How VR Is Changing UX: From Prototyping To Device Design https://uxplanet.org/how-vr-is-changing-ux-from-prototyping-to-device-design-a75e6b45e5f8

[5] Smithsonian Nation Museum of Natural History http://naturalhistory.si.edu/VT3/NMNH/z_NMNH-016.html

[6] First 3D Virtual Museum with 3D scans of ancient relics – Ancient sculptures of Vietnam, http://vr3d.vn/trienlam/virtual-3d-museum-ancient-sculptures-of-vietnam

“Information Visualization for the Future Generation Catalogue” – ASIS&T Webinar

By Elise Fu

On Sep 20, Prof. Charles-Antoine from McGill’s School of Information Studies was invited by ASIS&T (Association for Information Science and Technology) to present at the webinars “Information Visualization for the Future Generation Catalog”. Prof. Julien talked about the benefits of Information Visualization (IV), The Visualization Process, Current Library Catalogues, IV for Library Management, the barriers in libraries and the expectations for future generation catalogue.

It is a good learning about the development and potential of information visualization in academic space, as well as a good reflection and reminder about how to make information more accessible to the public.

The Benefits of Information Visualization

Prof. Julien pointed out the benefits of IV are to help users easily find, analyze and connect the information matters to them, also “makes the data accessible to all users, not just those who possess advanced analytic skills” (Chen, 2017), which is in line with the viewpoint of how the networked information economy improves the practical capacities of individuals (Benkler, 2006).

ASIS&T Webinars - “Information Visualization for the Future Generation Catalogue”

 

Today people tend to actively search, analyze, learn and communicate information as individuals, no matter what kind of technical and academic background they have. This is one of the biggest impetus for today’s social progress because everyone is trying to make a difference. Therefore, the improvement of information visualization of the library catalogue, making the information more discoverable, accessible and usable will be very meaningful for the society from every aspect.

The Barriers and Gap

In the presentation, Prof. Julien shared some screenshots of several library catalogues. Surprisingly, many of them haven’t changed a lot for the last ten years. If we think about how the internet evolves in the last ten years, it is actually hard to believe the stagnation. Prof. Julien explained it majorly from a technical perspective. From data parsing/filtering, mining to front-end design and development, it requires complicated skills and massive collaborations to conduct all the works.

NCSU Libraries (the standard) 2007 vs 2017U of Washington - 2007 vs 2017

Obviously, there is a gap between the world of business and academic. Separate the two and keep them independent may benefit the academic integrity, but is that hindering the process of making information more accessible to everyone? As Prof. Julien mentioned, in the current library catalogues, “the relationships between topics are ignored”, and “a small number of the most popular search queries accounts for a disproportionate amount of the overall queries”, thus it there anything the academic organizations can learn from the business world, such as using meta tag and user-generated tags? Or is there any way we can leverage the power of peer production like the practice of Wikipedia?

Google Books Library Project is an ambitious attempt although it seems doesn’t go well now and facing some controversial accusation, but maybe it is worthy if they can improve the query functions with their expertise. In the current era, libraries may need to go out and try to involve the public into their practices of creating or communicating information. For example, the Library of Congress turned to Flickr to present its photographic heritage material which receives surprisingly massive views. “This practice leads to image collections searchable and viewable through an identical interface for each institution and favored by the public.” (Dalbello, 2009) For library catalogues, the “social cataloging” website Goodreads might be a good place to learn and cooperate.

The Future

“We believe that the OPAC (online public access catalog) is dead. (Kortekaas, Kramer, 2014)” is an outstanding headline of one of the presentation slides, Prof. Julien further mentioned and cited “We will move away from an institutional catalogue and set of subscribed databases to ‘managing our imprint on shared global discovery systems’.” (Booth, S McDonald, B Tiffen, 2010)

Integration and globalization are two terms and trends happening in almost every industry, then how will they look like in libraries? We can see some libraries are exploring the ways of information visualization for their catalogues or library management system, although it is not perfect yet. As in anywhere else, the rule of “a little progress each day adds up to big results” should also be applied to here.

Laatest Generation CataloguesHarvard Library Explorer

It may be worthwhile for libraries to reconsider and redefine its relationship with its information or collections, and the relationship with the public. If the goal is to make the information more accessible to everyone, then the public should be able to participate the practices of creating information visualization – because that’s the spirit of the internet.

 

References:

[1] Chen, HM. (2017) Information Visualization Meets Libraries. – Library Technology Reports.

[2] Benkler, Y. (2006). “Introduction: a moment of opportunity and challenge” in The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets andFreedom University Press, 1–18.

[3] Dalbello, M. (2009). “Digital cultural heritage: concepts, projects, and emerging constructions of heritage,” Proceedings of the Libraries in the Digital Age (LIDA Conference, 25-30 May, 2009.)

[4] Kortekaas, S., & Kramer, B. (2014). Thinking the unthinkable – doing away with the library catalogue. Insights.

[5] Booth, M., S McDonald, B Tiffen. (2010). A new vision for university libraries: towards 2015. – VALA2010 15th Biennial

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