These UX best practices are based on my own experience designing and conducting in-depth research and usability tests with target audiences on actual training simulations before launch. Regardless of the subject matter of your training simulation or whether the target audience is an XR novice or an XR expert, these foundational best practices will further enable you to create more effective and memorable training experiences.
The ultimate goal of training in XR is to train people on the content being taught — not on how to interact with the virtual environment or technology.
Know the target audience
As with any type of software development project, it is important to remember that we are not our target audience. We are more heavily experienced in XR, whereas the people in the target groups are mostly not going to be power users and are by majority new to XR experiences.
Interaction elements that we take for granted are going to be a high impact for most target audiences, so unlike us, they will be dealing with a high level of information overload.
- There is an awe factor that takes up much of a person’s focus.
- In addition to the awe factor, they are also expected to digest the information being communicated in the training sim.
As such, we need to ensure that the user experience is designed in such a way that they have control over the progression of the story and content since they need the extra time to digest everything they’re seeing and experiencing.
Don’t forget the goal of the experience
Before the design phase of an experience even starts, it’s important to decide what the goal of the experience will be. Is it to inform, bring awareness, or train someone in a new skill? Or is it to assess competency?
Having multiple goals is fine, but the sooner you know them the better you can enable the people to reach the objectives of the experience without a lot of expensive rework later.
Guidance and instruction
When providing the guidance and instruction for the content being covered, it’s important to make sure the trainees or students know the goal and understand how to accomplish it within the virtual environment.
- Give them clear calls to action throughout the experience, but especially when teaching them how to use the controllers and interact with the environment or objects in-world (interactions or onboarding tutorial).
- Give them a clear goal to focus on and complete.
- Restricting their choices to explore will reduce distractions and help them to maintain focus.
- Give them control over when to move on to the next task, goal or location.
- Provide clear wayfinding to the next task, goal or location.
For tutorials and training…
Have the trainee move in a linear path.
- Provide the goal.
- Enable them to complete the goal successfully.
- Upon successful completion, give them the options … (a) Proceed to next goal (b) Try again.
- Repeat from step one, if applicable.
For competency assessment…
- Provide a clear objective.
- Offer memory cues for controller interactions while avoiding giving away the “correct” answers to the competency assessment.
- Give them a way to indicate they have completed the objective.
- Provide an assessment review of success or failure.
- Give the options to … (a) Try again (b) Proceed to next objective, if applicable.
Ensure that behavioral patterns of interface, interactions and general task flow are consistent throughout the experience.
- e.g. The way a person indicates they have completed a portion of a competency assessment should be consistent throughout.
- If there is a change in a behavioral pattern, make it clear, and make sure it’s for a good reason.
UX-industry standard best practice is to always accompany a symbol with a label to ensure that it is conveying the right message.
- Symbols without labels are good for puzzle games or for exploring new virtual worlds. However, this is not an effective form of communication for training or productivity solutions.
When dealing with in-world 2D UI elements, standard UX best practices, interaction patterns and design principles still apply.
Scorecard review or competency assessment results…
- Give appropriate time to review the results.
- Allow the person to have control over the progression of the review.
- Provide a view of the element being graded to enable better understanding of the failure or success.
Due to the current technological limitations of interactions, it can be difficult to pick up or manipulate small objects, or perform tasks with precision.
- Provide a larger target area for smaller objects or explore methods of magnetism, stickiness or closest link algorithms to enable easier interaction. This should be used with care since it could be annoying if implemented poorly.
Due to potential limitations in physical real-world environments where training could occur, try to avoid making the play area for the required tasks larger than necessary.
When establishing the initial information architecture, design to scale up over time where possible while still ensuring the structure is simple and clear at all stages. It is possible that multiple modules may be added to a training sim as time goes by and more subject matter is included.
The information structure is vital to helping people find the content they need when they need it.
- Be sure to keep the information structure consistent across the entire sim.
- Avoid moving, or rotating the order of menu or navigation items.
Keep the objectives of the scenarios simple, and focused.
- Separate out scenarios into modules.
- e.g. Inspecting and marking deficiencies on equipment should be a separate module from assessing competency for safely using the equipment to perform a task.
Any time a new element or enhancement — even minor — is added, revisit the IA and overall structure to ensure it still makes sense in light of the addition.
Breaks from real-world behaviors
Avoid creating training or testing situations that would require the user to perform an action that would endanger them or would be counter-intuitive to the training if performed in real life.
- e.g. For the sake of marking deficiencies on equipment during safety training, do not design the scenario in such a way that requires the user to break your own safety rules in order to successfully identify all of the hazards and pass the test.
Examples to try
Oculus First Steps
This onboarding experience is available for free on all of their headsets, and is an excellent example of designing training across multiple controllers and platforms. They provide focused environments for you to accomplish the objectives set forth, while still maintaining a level of magic and wonder.
Lowe’s Holoroom VR Training
Each program is inspired to improve self confidence in the use of various tools and in starting your own DIY projects. They are only in a few stores during their pilot phase, and I haven’t been able to try them for myself yet. However, this is a good look into where XR training can take us in the future.
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I’m an Immersive Tech UX Design Professional with over 22 years of experience designing for kiosks, websites, mobile apps and desktop software for many well-known and not-so-well-known companies.
I’m not speaking on behalf of or representing any company. These are my personal thoughts, experiences and opinions.