Illustration by Nayane de Souza Hablitzel

With every week that passes I get more and more excited about the possibilities new innovations in virtual reality (VR) provide. At the same time, what we really need now are use cases – cases where VR makes sense and provides value. During my time as a creative resident at Adobe, I had the opportunity to work on a project related to “the future of work.” I was tasked with thinking about what work will look like in the future, specifically in the next 5-10 years.

My key takeaway: when looking at the way we work and will work in the future, there is a lot of potential to use VR for certain tasks. This became increasingly obvious in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the lockdown took place in most countries. We are living now in a world where remote work is officially here, bringing tons of advantages (and potential disadvantages) with it.

I wanted to understand the main pain points of remote work to find good use cases for VR. After my initial research, I came up with these main pain-points:

  • It can be difficult to concentrate when working from home.
  • There can be many distractions during work.
  • It can be difficult not having a dedicated workspace.
  • It can be difficult to collaborate on projects.
  • It can be difficult to do remote workshops.
  • It can be difficult to have ideation sessions online.

What became clear after the research is that people have problems with concentration; it’s difficult for many people to focus in places they don’t call their usual workspace. Secondly, people need better ways to collaborate, especially during workshops, ideation sessions, or even normal meetings.

The best way to integrate VR into our workflows is to use it for these two areas. This means only using VR for specific dedicated tasks, but not throughout the whole workday. I am convinced that the future of work will be all about collaboration and concentration! So I got to work prototyping a VR prototype that would enable just that.

The power of prototyping for VR ideation

In this post, I will guide you through my project and how I prototyped this project. I am a designer, not a developer. My goal is always to come up with a great solution, a great design that I can test, and to build a prototype without coding something myself.

Prototyping was extremely important in this project. It helped to validate ideas quickly, do user testing, and adjust the design. Starting a virtual reality project means using the right methods and tools which helped to design the experience. Here are my three quick tips on how to get started in VR by using the right tools and methods.

3 tips for designing in VR

The best recommendation for all digital designs is probably: Try it out! You shouldn’t design for VR without building a prototype that can be tried in a headset itself.

1. Start with pen and paper

Virtual reality is just the medium, and regardless of whatever medium, you should always make sure to start with the product design basics:

  • Who am I designing for?
  • What is the problem I am trying to solve?
  • Where and what context will this be used in?
  • Why are we doing this?

Think about the goals you want the user to achieve and perhaps even formulate a little elevator pitch for your experience.

A storyboard drawn in pen for a virtual reality prototype.

Describe the scenes needed as a storyboard and scribble up some possible assets and UI alternatives. There are also grid templates available that can help you draw up a scene as a 360° panorama.

2. Asset creation

Creating the assets for a VR prototype in Adobe XD.

After finishing the sketches, you can head right into Adobe XD where you can create the assets for your design. Start by creating different artboards for different scenes. The design process for VR is very similar to the usual process for digital designs for apps and websites; but, what is very important to keep in mind is that the navigation is a key element of this experience.

For the topic of my VR prototype, collaboration and concentration, I focused on different elements that you can move around in a virtual space, allowing you to personalize your whole workspace. For the concentration workspace, the idea was that the user can change it  to meet their needs with all necessary information and tools. For example, that might be notes from a meeting, sketches or even first design ideas.

To do this, I created a curved virtual working space in front of the user at a 90° angle. It was super important for me to test whether this angle actually worked, presenting the right amount of information without overwhelming the user.

A VR prototyped in Adobe XD uses the Draft XR plugin to test viewing angles.
My VR prototype, created in Adobe XD with the Draft XR plugin, focuses on collaborating with others during meetings and workshops in virtual reality.

3. Prototyping your VR experience with the Draft XR plugin

Draft XR is a free plugin for Adobe XD that allows you to create a realistic VR prototype, and it was an immense help during this project. Using it, you can quickly test your ideas and iterate on your designs.

Prototyping with VR tools requires some basic coding skills and takes much more time. The most valuable thing you can do, as a designer prototyping VR experiences, is to be able to put a VR headset on and test your designs out, right in Adobe XD.

A VR prototype demonstrates how the user can create a personalized virtual workspace.
In this VR prototype, the user can complete a task in the virtual reality space with no distractions while accessing all the resources they need.

For designers, VR is a game-changer

For us designers, it’s important to keep up to date, experiment with tools, and prototype our ideas to be able to consult the client in the best way and come up with the best solutions for the problems the future will throw at us. The new dimension and immersiveness of VR opens up so many new ways to design experiences.

I think it’s super important to stress that ideating does not require any fancy tools or coding skills. Utilizing prototyping software to test your ideas early in the process with real users is incredibly valuable. My forever favorite quote, from Tom and David Kelley, says it best, ““If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.”
Read my full case study of working with the Draft XR plugin in Adobe XD.