Redesigning search and folders for VR

Last month we examined several concepts on how users can create shortcuts to the most often used websites in VR. This month we are focusing on the second usage of bookmarks – save content for later or making it easy to find content later on. In a previous blog post, I talk about how challenging writing in VR is and how this would push users to create more bookmarks in VR than on a regular browser. Thus the task we tackle with this prototype is particularly challenging. Imagine saving hundreds of VR website – you will either need a way to organize all bookmarks in a way that makes them easily discoverable or come up with an efficient way to search in VR. 

Luckily, VR has the potential to offer a better search experience than regular browsers as it is a highly visual platform. Depth empowers designers to use more complex visual metaphors than on flat screens. As 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual, our team believes that VR can offer a more efficient visual way of searching and organizing information than a search bar and folders.

This is the reason why the goal of the brainstorming was to come up with visual prototypes. here is a summary of each idea, benefits, and challenges. I’ll start with the most basic once (non-diegetic) and go to the most complex once (diegetic).    

Welcome to the Matrix

The first thing that came to mind was cover flow –  an animated, three-dimensional graphical user interface element. The technology was introduced by Apple in iTunes 7.0 and quite popular for mobile devices ever since. 

coverflow

In VR cover flow could be extended even further. What comes to mind is a scene from the Matrix – the one when Neo is choosing a weapon. It would look cool but if think about it from a functional standpoint –  you will need to scroll through all links to find the one you are looking for. 

Matrix Weapons Guns Lots of Guns NEO - Mr. Sagar Bedi - Imgur

Some VR apps have already tried such an implementation in VR. As I tried it, it seemed that a stack of screens layered one above the other does not take optimal advantage of the space.

 

Gesture Search

As I mentioned earlier, writing in VR is everything but comfortable and fast, so when designing a VR search we were looking for a different way to type words. The inspiration came from one of my favorite VR application – Quill brush.  In Quill you can draw words thus we can use a similar technique to handwrite words and search for them. here is an example of writing with Quill brush:

capture00017

The challenge, in this case, is to work out an algorithm that would recognize different handwriting styles.

Voice recognition

A build-up of the previous idea is using speech recognition for search instead of writing the words. This scenario seems to be the most efficient and simple one. It is worth exploring but the goal for this prototype was to try a more visual idea, that is why we decide to postpone a voice-search prototype.

The Milky way galaxy

What could be more visual than a galaxy of bookmarks? As true science-fiction fans, it was clear that at some point we would turn for inspiration towards our favorite TV shows, movies, and books. Inspired by the ever classic Star Trek series the next idea was to design the bookmarks folders in the form of a galaxy where each star represented a topic, containing all the relevant sub-topics and bookmarks organized around it in the form of planets/moons. Imagine something similar to the temporal observatory in Star Trek: Enterprise.

startreck

Here is a sketch I created with blocks to get a better idea of how such a prototype would feel in VR. Take a look:

Bookmarks Library in VR

Link: https://poly.google.com/view/67u4GXr8iTX/embed

The benefit of this prototype is that it is very visual which would make it easy for the users to navigate and find any bookmarks. The challenge is how to organize the interactions with the plants so that they feel intuitive and simple. It makes the most sense that the users use gestures like the guys in the image above. But currently, the gestures in VR are limited by the controllers. With this prototype, the users should be able to drag a galaxy closer, enlarge/ shrink it, open a bookmark, and add a new bookmark. Based on our experience with prototyping VR news media website, using gestures to scale up / down or rotate in VR is quite hard so it might not be the best option for interacting with the galaxy.  Spoiler alert – this concept is one of our favorite ideas so this is what we will develop it in our next prototypes.

A Bookmarks table

The next idea was inspired by the UI of “Sea of Thieves” upcoming game by Microsoft Studios. The particular UI element I am referring to is a huge table-map located on the lower deck of the ship. It’s a great diegetic UI element – each character has to physically go to the table-map in order to see the ship location.

This concept allows us to create a VR table with a mind map where a user will be able to drag and drop new bookmarks. The benefit of this prototype is that in VR the size of the table could be large, thus gather many bookmarks. Again, the most challenging part of the concept is how to design the interactions so that they feel natural. For example, this prototype would be a great fit for the Leap motion technology because the table could be placed right in front of the user, making it easy for them to interact with the UI via touch.

Sea of thieves UI

A whole city

Do you know how Sherlock Holmes creates a mind palace to store information? Why not using the same concept to store bookmarks in VR? For example, a user could have a room or even a whole city to attach bookmarks to. The benefit of this prototype is that it is the most immersive one – the bookmarks menu would be a personalized 3D space. Unfortunately, it also makes bookmarking a website quite slow as the user would need to go through the room, find a spot for the bookmark, and make sure to create a strong association with this spot/ place.   

mindmaps2

Bookshelf/ Bookcase

Our last idea was less wild and more efficient than mind palace one. The concept is that each bookmark will be represented by a book on a shelf. The books could be organized in sections, by date, by meta keywords – the way that feels most logical for the user. The title of the books could be an url or a title of an article. The big issue with this idea is that the low resolution in VR makes reading small fonts almost impossible. Thus, a bookshelf with many bookmarks would not work well with the available technology. That is why we decided to drop the idea and revisit it later once the technology matures to support a better resolution.

bookshelf image

There you go, these are some of the cool ideas we came up with for search and classification of VR bookmarks. The one that excited us the most and we will explore in our next UX prototype is the bookmarks galaxy. In an upcoming blog post, I will share more about our experience in the meantime share which one is your favorite. If you have any other ideas share in the comments below or ping me on twitter!

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