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Differences in user experience comparing virtual reality and screen-based interactions

Martin and Rasmus are two students who completed their master’s theses with us at ESSIQ. They studied for master’s degrees in interaction at Chalmers University of Technology, where Martin previously earned a bachelor’s degree in Technical Design (TD), and Rasmus in IT. They worked primarily with design, user experiences, interaction and interface in their studies, leading to master’s degrees, in which they studied the differences in user experiences when interacting in VR compared with screen-based systems.

Aim and purpose
VR is a technology that is becoming increasingly popular, but the development of modern VR systems is relatively new – the latest tech is no more than five to seven years old. Because VR is still new, there are few studies and examples of products that indicate where or whether it’s worth investing in VR technology for an individual company. There is a lack of knowledge on how VR impacts user experiences compared to screen-based systems – knowledge that would be good to be able to base decisions and investments on, when companies are deciding the systems in which to develop new products. This is particularly interesting for industries that today attempt to visualize reality using digital methods. One such industry is prefabricated homes, where the customer has the option of personal design choices and visualizing these using digital tools before the house is built. The aim of the master’s thesis work was to therefore investigate the differences in user experiences when comparing a VR system and a screen-based system, both allowing the user to make design choices in a household environment.

As there wasn’t a suitable VR system to compare with, Martin and Rasmus designed their own system as part of the project process. They found an additional issue, in that VR is relatively new. There are not many accepted guidelines to follow when designing a VR system to be extremely user-friendly and provide a good user experience. Therefore, one of the project’s objectives was to create such guidelines.

The process largely consisted of designing a VR system, then implementing and testing it. Halfway through the project, a test was carried out to investigate the user-friendliness, both to improve the system and also to be able to create guidelines as a result. The final test consisted of comparing the VR system with as similar a screen-based interface as possible. Analysis of the data from both the tests gave them seven guidelines for VR design and six system dimensions within which VR differs from screen-based systems.

The majority of the work was carried out at ESSIQ Väst, where Martin and Rasmus developed a VR prototype, with the help of Unreal Engine 4. Together with us, they carried out both large and small tests to be able to iterate on the VR system multiple times during the work. Besides the design and implementation of the functionality in the VR system, the work also consisted of planning tests, collecting data and analyzing it. Contact with independent companies in the housing industry generated valuable information on the process of buying a house. They were also able to get permission to use a computer model of a house in the developed VR system.

Analysis of the data from both the tests carried out found seven guidelines for VR design and six system dimensions within which VR differs from screen-based systems. Even if the VR system is only viewed as a prototype, the concept has potential as a commercial product, and its design is a good example of what such a product might look like.