Designing context-appropriate interactions for virtual reality

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
International Design Business Management
This thesis explores the concept of presence in virtual reality. A high degree of presence has been shown to be essential in eliciting realistic emotions and responses in virtual reality, which in turn makes virtual reality a useful tool for studying human behavior in contexts such as design, psychology, user research, and more. For instance, researchers have been using virtual reality as a cost-effective method of prototyping products and environments in cases where immersing the user in a similar context in the real world would be cost-prohibitive, dangerous, or simply unpractical or impossible. Examples of this include allowing would-be patients to experience a yet-to-be-designed hospital room, co-designing device interfaces in collaboration with one’s target audience, designing the interiors of stores and monitoring which items catch people’s attention, or studying how people navigate through an airport terminal that would otherwise be off-limits to designers. By observing how people respond to these virtual product and environments, practitioners can better understand how their design choices will play out in the real world before any physical production begins, allowing them to make changes that would otherwise be costly later on in the design process. Unfortunately, presence is also highly susceptible to being broken - especially when interacting with the real world. In fact, research has shown that the most common cause for breaks in presence while in virtual reality is interference from the outside world. This presents a challenge for researchers and practitioners hoping to use virtual reality with their users, as their experiment designs often involve immersed users interacting with external users. For instance, in the context of a design study, an external moderator may want to ask the immersed user to perform certain actions or to describe their subjective experience of the contents of the virtual environment. These kinds of interactions, while necessary components of such studies, are highly likely to interrupt the immersed user’s sense of presence, which in turn reduces the virtual environment’s ability to provoke realistic behavior, thus reducing the effectiveness of the entire experiment. Fortunately, it seems that this may be avoidable; several researchers have presented preliminary examples of how integrating interactions into the context of a virtual environment can help prevent these breaks in presence. This thesis aims to expand on these studies. Here, we discuss contexts where users in the real world would want to interact with users immersed in virtual reality, and how such interactions might be designed to avoid disturbing the immersed user’s sense of presence. We describe an experiment we conducted in order to test out various methods of communication and collaboration between immersed and external users to that end. Based on our results, we make design suggestions for researchers hoping to use virtual reality in their own experiments, with a focus on domains such as user experience research, design work, and psychology.
Thesis advisor
Lehtonen, Miikka
design, virtual reality, asymmetric virtual reality, collaboration
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