Daydream Team Presentation Notes: Design Process 2

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Daydream Team Presentation Notes: Design Process 2
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The Daydream Team VR Development Process


Photo courtesy: Google Daydream.
Photo courtesy: Google Daydream


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This is the second of a series of notes I’ve compiled exploring the Virtual Reality (VR) application design and development process, specifically focusing on a process developed by the Google Daydream VR app team.

In the second segment of the VR Design Process talkMichael Ishigaki, AR/VR Design Manager at Google, talks about the iterative, production-oriented VR design and development process his team used to develop the VR Daydream Home app.

In the third and final segment of this series, I'll cover Anshuman Kumar's presentation on Building a VR Design Team. I'll be publishing some of my research findings via my website. In-depth research findings, presentation takeaways, along with reference and resource listings will be exclusively available via Patreon.

Design Process 2: Iterative, Production-Oriented Design (22:57)

Using a more robust development process that Day Dream Labs teams, Michael's teams' goal and process is to take product sketches and concepts produced by Rob Jagnow's rapid exploratory process team and produce polished VR applications ready for production use.

VR is a Unique Environment (23:07)

To begin, user behavior is VR is different as compared to non-immersive, 2D environments. For example, smartphone are auxiliary devices with user apps that are designed for frequent access and short sessions. Conversely, VR app users average 30 minutes or more of use. As VR is immersive in nature, use cases are different as compared to 2D applications.

How does a development team develop a finished product from exploratory VR conceptual sketches to product launch?

Many New Skills and Considerations for a VR Development Team

Developing a VR application involves additional design considerations that are not normally associated with designing legacy 2D applications:

  • User research, physical and phycological behavior, expectations, eye and head travel, virtual vs. real-world tracking, simulator sickness, new user tours
  • Technical Art, 3D modeling and visual style, obstructions, cross-scene journeys, animation, locomotion, motion design, depth, scale, materials, Lighting, shading, rigging
  • Acoustics, 3D sound design, Performance design, environment design, character design.

Our VR development team soon learned that their legacy design applications like photoshop and sketch, along with their development process, would not create useable VR artifacts once imported into a VR environment.


Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016
Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016


There were issues with scale, the design appeared to be flat, object captioning was an issue, and the overall result of our 2D designs in VR were underwhelming.

The new VR design considerations were much more impactful than we had previously thought. As a result, we developed a new process that would get the team working in VR as soon as possible.

How do we get into VR as soon as possible? (25:27)

The solution to this challenge was to develop a new VR application development process with a focus of moving application development into a VR environment as soon as possible.

The Daydream Home Design Process Flow (25:40)


Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016
Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016


The Daydream Home application development team iteratively developed their new VR process with user interaction design driving the four other VR design areas. The VR design process will differ for other VR applications depending on what user design aspects (interaction, environment, visual, sound, etc.) are primarily driving the VR application.

One of the realizations achieved while using the new VR development process is that designs could best be evaluated once they have been prototyped in VR.

Beginning the Google Home VR Design Process (26:35)

To begin the first iteration of VR interaction design for the Google VR Daydream Home application, developers considered the information architecture aspect of the product design.


Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016
Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016


Iteration 1. Understanding our Users (26:38)

Knowing the users and use cases we were designing for, we begin the VR information architecture design process much in the same way that a Web or mobile application design process would begin. This process provides the framework to ensure our users goals and objectives will be achieved end-to-end.

Iteration 2. Hand Sketching (26:54)

Hand-sketching VR user interface designs is the only 2D process the Daydream team uses as part of their VR application development process. Creating hand sketches of the user interface provided a greater overall return on time invested, as compared to using UI mockup software applications like Photoshop.


Daydream 12.png
Graphic courtesy: Daydream


Iteration 3. Volumetric Layout (27:20)

We launch our favorite gaming engine and begin laying out our favorite hand sketches. During this step of the design process, we get an idea of how our idea will layout spatially.


Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016
Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016


With a very rough layout in VR, we start laying out UI objects like text, images, and interactive elements. We're careful too keep viewing our UI design in VR to stay on top of scale relative to the viewing area. 

Iteration 4. Increate Legibility and Decrease Size of UI (28:53)

As we refine our UI design, we reduce the size of our UI and increase legibility.


Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016
Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016

We orient the UI design around a cylindrical layout, this helped to keep text legible and helped to resolve the issue of limited VR field of view. 

Iteration 5. Add High-Fidelity Filler Content (29:17)


Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016
Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016

Things are looking pretty good at this stage of development, so it's time to address design issues that can best be resolved with user testing.

Iteration 6. User Research and Testing (29:25)

While the team begins User studies, our environment designer begins his work in parallel.  Some of the questions we wil resolve during our User research include: 

  • Will Users understand what the Discovery windows are for?
  • Will they know what application each of the app icons represents?
  • How do they think they can scroll the app icons using the controller?

As we gain insight into our UI design from our User research and testing, our Environment Designer provides us with a first draft of our UI.

 We incorporate the environmental draft into our UI as quickly as possible. We then progress with 3D modeling, looking for opportunities to create a sense of User delight within the current UI and environment.


Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016
Graphic courtesy: Google I/O 2016

We work to make our Discovery Posters a viewport into a new world. After experience different design ideas, we hit upon a solution that meets the needs of our Users and our design intentions. 

We continue to make improvements in all of the elements of our design as we progress.

Iteration 7. Motion Design (32:45)

We engage our Motion Designer to tie our UI with animation around a common theme. We continue to refine and develop all aspects of our 3D design, including texture, lighting, materials and animation.

As the motion design begins to bring the product to life, we engage our Sound Designer.

Iteration 8. Sound Design (33:20)

We chose to engage our Sound Designer toward the end of our motion design stage, so we could have accurate timing for our sound design to engage.

To learn more about sound design, see the Spatial Audio and Immersion presentation talk

Iteration 9. Refine the Design (33:40)

 This VR First process approach enabled the team to progress quickly. The process was collaborative and integrated all of the skill sets and capabilities of our developers as we progressed through development iterations.


Daydream 10.png
Graphic courtesy: Daydream


By making progress across multiple fronts per iteration,  we were able to progress toward refinement, without getting stuck.

While our process workflow will not be applicable to all VR application development projects, we hope that this process will provide a useful framework for VR application design teams.

Thoughts and Takeaways on this Second Presentation Segment

In reviewing feedback on this talk, those aware of VR development history pointed out that some of the Daydream’s team best practices are based on foundational work pioneered by early VR application and haptic device design developers, like Jaron Lanier and Thomas G. Zimmerman. 

One significant takeaway of this segment of the talk was to initiate VR application design process in a virtual reality environment as soon as possible. Designing a 3D application using a 2D approach simply does not translate well and completely omits some key design aspects of virtual reality.

As for hand-sketching designs using pencil and paper, I’ll venture a guess and say that there are VR application design teams that have migrated the hand-sketch pencil and paper approach to a VR environment, as well. As I progress with my research, I’ll be on the lookout for VR development teams that do the majority of the VR application development in a VR environment.