Design Considerations for Immersive 360° Video Experiences
Spark recently completed usability testing on two different 360° video experiences: Carnival Cruises’ 360 Vacation and Converse’s Ready for More On the Roofs. We wanted to know how viewers interacted with these immersive, game-like experiences. How easy was it for them to navigate and move through the experience? What confused them? What delighted them? What expectations did they bring into the experience with them? And how did these expectations align or vary between desktop and mobile?
Here’s what we learned…
No one has direct experience with VR (yet), but awareness is high & expectations are growing.
Regardless of age and income, our test participants were fascinated by these two websites, defining and classifying them as a virtual reality experience even though they required no head gear. Interestingly, none of our participants had used a VR device or even experienced a 360 video website before this particular test. And yet, all of them easily engaged with the Carnival and Converse websites. These immersive video experiences compelled users to start exploring and participating in the experience very quickly and the longer users stayed in the experience, the more they wanted to control the experience in order to complete their exploration task. However, in some cases, user expectations exceeded the capabilities of the experience.
Inside the Carnival Cruise ship, users were able to explore the available rooms in any sequence. When viewing the 360 room scenes, users expected to be able to move in and out of the video like you would in a first-person video game and be able to walk from one room to another, but this wasn’t possible. Instead, Carnival provided an illustrated ship map and little pin icons within the videos which allowed users to navigate to different rooms on the ship. Converse avoided this problem by creating explicit gestural interactions that controlled each stage of the experience as the user went from the bottom of a skyscraper to the top in a linear progression.
For UX Designers, content strategy and navigation design will still play as important a role in immersive experience design as traditional web design. Designers will need to consider whether the experience is linear or free form and structure interactions, sections of the website or “chapters”, and navigation in a way that produces a logical and natural method of movement through the environment. In addition, the design must guide and communicate the interface parameters and limitations so the user establishes the right expectations for using and interacting with the experience. These immersive experiences will require designers to think like both an interaction designer and a film director as the line between mediums continues to blur.
Stand-alone microsites are outdated and ineffective.
Your customers need more.
Neither Carnival Cruise or Converse designed an experience that quenched the viewer’s desire to know more about the product. Carnival test participants wanted to know more about the types of cabins, pricing, dates and destination options. Converse test participants caught glimpses of the shoes but wanted to see more. They looked out across the city and wanted to know where they were. Yet neither experience provided adequate content or linkage to other websites, and prospective customer’s questions were left unanswered at moments in the experience when they were highly engaged with the product the brand was trying to sell.
These immersive microsites need to consider the customer’s total journey and designers must consider the overall content strategy to ensure that a viewer’s peaking interest and related questions can be answered, whether that content is integrated into the video experience itself or if links are provided to other destinations.
Immersive video produces moments of extreme awe and delight.
360° video is still relatively new for web users and, because of that, the emotional experience these experiences command far surpasses that of a traditional website. Customers will experience boredom just like we do as designers. Right now there is a opportunity for experiences that border the line with virtual reality and augmented reality to create a lasting impression with customers. Expansive imagery can overwhelm the senses and instill awe in the viewer. Our participants were delighted by Carnival’s gorgeous sunset and calm waves, while our youthful Converse participants were wow-ed by cityscapes viewed from the height of a skyscraper and daring views over the edge of a building that they could not normally experience.
Designers should look for opportunities to connect with customers through inspiring imagery, even if that landscape isn’t the product that is ultimately going to be purchased.
More experience considerations for immersive content…
Storytelling is key to the success of a linear experience. If the experience requires the user’s participation, the tasks and objectives need to be teased so that users can connect their actions with a storyline. Converse participants knew they had to climb a skyscraper but didn’t know why they were hacking into a billboard mid-climb. Designers should consider what experiential components viewers need to stay oriented within the story. Users shouldn’t be left thinking “Why am I doing this?” or “What is happening?” – unless the experience strategy initially set out to elicit this reaction.
Immersive experiences rely on more complex controls than a pure tap or click, and explicit instructions help educate quickly. While many mobile apps implement hidden gestures, these campaign microsite invite single use – not repeat visits – so designers have one chance to get their target audience to experience the site in full. Carnival Cruise provided instructions on the first screen but users would forget what to do on subsequent screens. Participants often tried interactions that were not supported or failed to use available interactions and missed out on experiencing all of the video content. Converse, on the other hand, displayed short, textual prompts combined with visual cues for gestural controls. These were very effective at getting the desired interaction from users and ensured that users experienced the content in full while staying on task.
Sound can impress or alienate your audience. Special care needs to be taken in selecting the appropriate soundtrack for your experience, or you risk annoying your highly engaged audience.
Performance has a direct effect on the user’s confidence. Users want perfect, hi-def video and notice grainy and low quality video. If videos fail to load, users get fearful of clicking and become reluctant to continue with the experience. Designers need to consult with developers and video producers to understand the best way to segment the experience and load videos in order to optimize performance.
A QUICK NOTE
We conducted this research in 2016. Our research findings are limited by the number of participants, their context, the site content and task(s) selected for the study.
- user testing
In the past year, the internet of things has exploded. As more customer experiences transcend the screen, design agencies will be challenged to think beyond the interface and consider the impact of "Zero UI" on the customer's experience.