Mixed Reality App Design: Best Practices 2

This article continues the breakdown of best design practices for an enterprise app on Microsoft HoloLens based on its most impressive publicly released product, Fragments. The first post of this article discussed two key areas of design: efficient user inputs and designing around technical limitations. This final second part will discuss the location awareness of your app, and interactions only possible in Mixed Reality.  

3. Impress With Location Awareness

Virtual people and objects interacting with your space

The first time you see a virtual person on your sofa casually talking is a definite WOW moment. Having people behaving realistically in an app is a considerable amount of work however, thus using vertical or horizontal surfaces (walls, tables, counters) creatively is a more effective way to impress users. A miniature map on a table, a bouncing ball off the wall, or a menu fixed onto a fridge can go a long way to impress.

Seeing a virtual person on your sofa for the first time is sure to leave an impression.

Anchor menus to physical space, it helps users remember

Menus, settings or “analytical tools” are best displayed in one spot in a physical environment, so the user knows where to return to them. If the graphics are well produced so the “digital data” really fits into the real world, these elements will feel real and provide an extra layer of immersion, as well as being easier to remember as a spatial association helps humans remember better.

A good way to make the app feel more “real” is to tie menus and settings with the physical space.

“Fragments” chooses one of the walls of your room as “information screen” where you conduct investigation activities. The graphics of the digital and real blend well, and the user remembers to access these screens in one specific place of the room. Considering a similar mechanic for an enterprise app, if no walls can be found in the area, information can be presented on a digital object such as a “standing whiteboard”, which the player could position in any way. True Mixed Reality content is tied together and aware of one’s environment.

Show stuff “through” walls, floors and ceilings

Another surprisingly effectively technique is to show objects that cannot be accessed through walls, floors or ceilings that a user cannot go through. These include: a window to the street outside, a closet the user cannot walk in, a view through ceiling at the stars, a view to the bottom of the ocean through a glass floor, or anything else that adds the feeling of additional space and mood to the scene. “Fragments” uses this in several occasions, and it works so well because you can really get close to the view, look at it through different angles, and it would look real.

4. Add Interactions Only Possible In Mixed Reality

“Different views” of the same environment

The most obvious improvements over present reality are situations which are very expensive to or which can only be produced digitally. In “Fragments”, you can view each space in a number of “view modes”: ultra-violet, infra-red, x-ray, thermal vision and audio. This lets you discover a lot of crime scene evidence invisible at first, such as figuring out how a safe was opened following the heat of the fingerprints; where certain sounds were coming from; what is inside an impenetrable chest; and so on.

One of the view modes, “thermal vision”, lets user see the environment by what emits heat.

For an enterprise app, it is easy to imagine showing the internal wiring, piping or components of a building, a vehicle, or a human body; or relevant real-time information displayed right by each piece of machinery such as current throughput, maintenance status, inventory of raw materials, and so on. The key value proposition of showing such information in Mixed Reality is that its spatial location has to be beneficial for the user.

Zoom in and rotate objects for additional learning

Finally, in cases where user has to gain a particular insight from 3D content, being able to extract the object from its environment, rotate it, and inspect it in detail can provide the crucial point of learning. This technique was repeatedly used in “Fragments” as the user discovered additional information by picking up and manipulating objects. Implementing some basic animations and interactions in one’s Mixed Reality app can make it faster and more intuitive to learn a given task. Sometimes interaction is not even necessary; simply walking around an object gives one a better idea for how to work with it.

Learning is faster in a digital world, as any object can be extracted from its environment, zoomed in on and manipulated directly.

The future of Mixed Reality has never looked more exciting. Microsoft HoloLens, released March 2016, is still the world’s leading Mixed Reality platform by most criteria. The freshly released Magic Leap One: Creator Edition (which we also reviewed) made many advances, especially in hardware and user interface, but is currently held back by the lack of content, and seems to be aimed more toward end consumers. Everything will change again in 2019 as Microsoft is expected to reveal the long-awaited HoloLens 2.

Operose is excited to play a role in the evolution of Mixed Reality ecosystem, building useful and efficient software that keeps up with the latest developments in hardware, software and enterprise customer needs. 

(This is the end of the article about designing an enterprise app for Mixed Reality such as Microsoft HoloLens. The first post of the series is here.)

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