Questions about Design (UI & UX) in Virtual and Augmented Reality
By Alexandria Heston
07/23/2020 & 07/24/2020
PLEASE be aware that I am not even remotely the height of opinion on design in VR/AR, I'm just very visible and therefore people ask me questions a lot. There are so many other amazing (and more experienced) designers in this industry that I look up to and admire.
Getting Started in VR/AR
Introductory Questions to How I Got Started and How You Can Too
“What are your top 10 pieces of advice to people struggling to break into the industry?”
1. Never stop looking for information, never stop learning. Passion isn’t what’s going to help you achieve your goal, it’s persistence.
2. There will be bad days. Days when you feel you’re not good enough. Let go of that idea, you do not benefit from it nor does anyone else.
3. Look for communities in ways you never thought you could. Go to local meet-ups, join slack groups, participate in hackathons, get involved in conversations on twitter. They do exist, you just have to search for them.
4. Speak your opinion with the resolve in which you believe it to be true. A voice is not heard if it is silent.
5. People in this field are paid to learn what works and what does not. Listen to them, because only on the shoulders of giants can you see further.
6. In saying that, developers, designers, evangelists, and influencers all have different opinions on what makes this industry tick. Take every single thing you hear with a grain of salt because nothing is ever certain in life and rules are always being broken.
7. Don’t just talk or research about doing the work. Get your hands dirty. No one is going around giving out jobs, this is one of the hardest industries to get into right now. If you can’t find someone that wants you, start something on your own.
8. You matter. Regardless of your success or losses, as a person you are valuable to this world in so many diverse and incredible ways. Don’t sell yourself short.
9. Be gracious, and be patient. You are so lucky to have the privilege of being in this community when so many don’t have the time, energy, or money. Know your place and recognize your advantages - raise up others who do not have that opportunity.
10. Your mental and physical health are a priority over EVERYTHING and ANYTHING this world could offer.
“Where can a novice like me find a way to break into this field?”
This is a very difficult question as there are many paths into the industry. Personally, I found the most success in investing my time and energy in learning how to design products by listening to industry experts (via twitter and through conferences like AWE and VRDC) as well as going to game jams and hackathons to meet other individuals like myself. Growing my network and personal abilities has helped me the most with “breaking in”, but know that I spent close to two years dedicated solely to this (taking on extra work, going to hacks, actively applying to roles) before I got a full-time job in the industry. It’s incredibly competitive, especially for designers.
“Was Across Realities your first time working on an XR project?”
No, actually I had many many projects before being pulled onto that project. Most of them were personal projects like my senior thesis, hackathons, and game jams. Across Realities was the first position I had working on a formal XR product (Spatiate) that had the goal of an actual shipped project.
You can look at my portfolio here to see more of my background.
“What inspired you to get into AR/VR? I would love to know your experience with the transition from UX design for web/mobile to UX for AR/VR”
I was always incredibly interested in 3D art and communication & culture. In fact, in my early college years I was super invested in both so much that I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. In 2015 I took a course in 3D digital art that used Unity (3D engine) and Maya (art asset creator), and I liked it so much that I ended up taking an intro to computer science course. I found UX Design and welcomed it as a really great intersection of cognitive psychology that I found super appealing because of its application into visual design and complex systems. My draw to VR/AR was that there are very few paradigms to how users should enter and explore a space and I was determined to jump right in and figure it out.
“How do I grow a network as an undergrad that knows nothing about the industry?”
I use twitter to follow people! It's really great for connecting with people around the world who are doing different things in UI/UX Design in VR/AR especially because it's such a niche field. The industry really doesn't use linkedin for networking, it's really all twitter. There are tons of “who to follow in VR/AR” lists on the internet, but I would also specifically seek out people at the intersection of what you specifically want to do.
“How do you respond to roles where the developers or designers are asked to build "polished 3D assets"? I've noticed when speaking w/ hiring managers, even w/ some big comps, there's an expectation to do this, when I thought there were staff to delegate to create assets. By polished I mean specifically, some have stated familiarity with substance designer / painter level of polish.”
I don’t want to assume anything of the company that’s wanting these things, but I do think it’s asking too much of either designers or engineers to have experience with polished 3D art. In the 2D world this is more possible because of the advancement of design software and standards, but even then there is a distinct difference between a graphic artist and a UX designer or a front-end engineer. Odds are they either don’t understand the constraints of someone to be established in purely technical or purely design AND art, or they may have previously had a multifaceted “rockstar” that wore multiple hats and find that to be the standard (which is unfortunate).
My response is to apply anyway and tell them you’re comfortable with the range you ARE familiar with implementing. If they’re incessant on polished 3D assets you should definitely “ask” them if they plan on giving you an art test. Good companies will already understand this is necessary, bad ones won’t know what you’re talking about. This will often clue the recruiter in that maybe they’re missing something. If they still don’t get it then inform them that if they’re requiring 3D polish then they should have an art test, that art tests are for artists, and that they're probably looking more for a Technical Artist or 3D Generalist rather than a designer or engineer. I will say the games industry does have good standards for this because they value art at a high level. It's pretty inconceivable to ask engineers for complex shader work or designers for character art, and you should use that industry as a reference if the conversation does come up.
“As a recent grad from an AR/VR program how would you go about expanding one's portfolio to be appealing to XR Jobs?”
I would suggest potentially looking at other individuals who are at the intersection of VR/AR who already have portfolios and jobs in the industry, then picking out parts you like most from there’s. That’s what I did!!
You’re welcome to start with mine: https://www.alexandriaheston.com/
“What is the state of UX jobs in XR as of now? (Comparing available jobs to the available and eligible talent. Saturated? Competitive?)”
Incredibly competitive and incredibly saturated. Mostly because I know so many individuals in UX who want to go into XR but don’t realize the industry isn’t ready for the budget of a full-time sole UX designer.
Most companies who can handle a full-time sole UX designer are what we in the tech industry would consider “FAANG” companies or what the games industry would consider “AAA” companies. They are those with an immense budget and most of them only hire within a selective network of industry vets. Other companies or “studios” and “startups” will want more of a visual design generalist who can wear the hat of a UI and UX designer, with the technical chops to integrate into their pipeline.
Most UX jobs require you to have some position already in the tech and/or games industry (depending on the position and studio) analogous to visual design, and an extensive portfolio of personal projects for AR/VR work.
“If you were hiring a UI Designer for AR, what questions would you ask the candidate?”
I’ll limit this to 5! Escalating in difficulty:
1. What is your favorite typeface?
2. What are the top three things you would put into a tutorial for a user?
3. From your perspective, when are good opportunities to use 2D UI and when are good opportunities to use 3D UI in an AR product?
4. How do you prevent the lighting (specifically very high and very low) within the environment from obscuring your UI?
5. What are the current standards for typography, text pt, and text location in height, width, and depth for an AR experience?
1. This is a “getting to know you” question. I love Proxima Nova. It is what this document is written in. I think it is a very approachable sans-serif and has a nice playful quality with its roundness.
1. I also enjoy Raleway when I’m feelin’ EXTRA 1920s. I mean: just look at these w’s they’re crazy!
2. w w w w w w w w w
2. This question is actually supposed to instigate more questions from the interviewee including: what is the app? What platform is it on? What inputs are we using? What is the content base? A successful tutorial should be able to show the users how to:
1. Use the input (voice, control + buttons, gesture)
2. Become familiar with the interaction design paradigm (spell casting, pinching, shouting ‘hey siri’)
3. Complete any necessary onboarding