Designing ScotlandVR

ScotlandVR launched recently, with the full power of VisitScotland's PR team. It appeared on news websites, social media, blogs and even featured in a good few newspapers. It was also featured on Behance (my favourite one so far). And it's still building traction as we speak. It's fantastic and really exciting to know it's being seen. Especially after the sweat and tears that went into making the app. We worked on the app for roughly 6 months. However, that isn't 6 months straight. Me and Chris Ward, who were at the core of the development, were working on other things through out it. So time wasn't our friend.

In the beginning there was sort of an idea...

When we took on the brief, the idea was for it to be VR and to showcase locations around Scotland. That was it. As for how we were going to achieve this; it wasn't clear. We sketched and prototyped different ways in which this could be achieved. We realised that if it was going to be used with a cardboard headset, it was going to have to utilise the feature and be immersive. So we developed the idea of bringing these models into an established environment, which would allow the users to be immersed in the world around them, whilst discovering the models. That is when the 'pool' concept came in. A circular pool that sits infront of the user, like a hub; something static and familiar that the user would return to through out. This process would not have been possible without us trying and testing in Unity, extensively. For example, the concept would look good on paper but would just fall flat when it was prototyped. We also had a crazy idea of transporting people inside each model. So when they would look around, they would realise they were standing inside the small model they were also looking down at. For us, this was a pretty weird idea that looked awesome. However, it would have been too confusing for users and so we scrapped the idea pretty quickly.

Graphic Designer in a VR's world

It goes without saying, I had never worked on a VR app before. So designing the User interface in app, proved to be a whole new challenge. UI design in a 360 environment needs to be minimal/ near non- existent. You don't want people just bogged down with menu's in a 360 world. We also had to keep in mind the lack of controls that people have when in VR mode. On cardboard mode, there was only the button at the top right. The legibility was also a key factor in designing the layout and type treatment. This is where we developed the concept for the 'minority report wall' (which it was unofficially called throughout). This is where the content lived. The wall also had to be built in a way that allowed additional content to be added in the near future. We also decided to have a mobile version that would allow users to just use their fingers instead. This was the biggest challenge of them all. To make it seamlessly work with your fingers and to have all the gestures and movements work together, was very tricky. We also had to design separately for each mode, as they would not be perceived the same way. I personally feel it was worth while having the mobile mode but the app really shines when viewed in cardboard mode. This decision was made after user feedback from random people in the street. They all tried to interact with the app in different ways. The gyroscope feature was the most confusing for people. We also originally had a button in the corner, where you would click whilst hovering your reticule over something. This proved too difficult and fidgety. People wanted to directly click onto the thing they were interacting with on screen, so thats when we stripped the UI back even more.

Building in 3D without knowing how to

When I was briefed about the project, It was at a time where I had no idea how to use Cinema 4D or any 3d program's for that matter. So I was booked in for 2 weeks of 'learning 3D'. It's a slight daunting reality that you have such a big project ahead of you and it hinders on you learning Cinema4D. However, I could not have chosen a better way to learn it. Graeme Sutherland, the Motion Graphics team leader, did a crash course with me, which was a very quick succession of information, over the two weeks. Because of this, I now have it engrained into my head, the best and quickest ways of building 3D models. Learning the shortcuts from day one, is essential for jumping in the deep end. Having this knowledge was just the beginning of my 3D learning; Unity was another ball game entirely. Chris Ward was familiar with Unity, but he hadn't done something like this before. So it was a learning curve for both of us. We had to work as a close team, when implementing the models/ animations into Unity. This took a lot of hours preparing the geometry of each model and cleaning the C4D files of unused materials and effects. It was a team effort that I believe was the reason the app is looking the way it is. We discussed and brainstormed every tiny detail, until it was just right. This was also the case when working with XDesign; the company behind building the app. It was absolutely essential that our designs we sent to XDesign, would come out in the build, the way it was meant to. This was a good experience for learning the process and challenges of collaborating with an external company and understanding the process of how an app like this is built. There's a long process of user feedback and testing. Something that is very dominant in an app likethis. 

In the end we built our first VR app

Personally this project was a great experience. It helped me develop and expand my skills. I always aim to learn and take in new experiences, but this really let me know what I was capable of. It's not a route I want to solely go down; I couldn't see myself designing games/apps for the rest of my life. But what I can see, is designing with a new understanding of the most current platforms and technologies. VR might be a flash in the pan or it might become huge. Either way, I now have the skill set to work in that environment and to be able to say I can design/ build in 3D space, if the project requires it. I am always a graphic designer above all else. I don't agree with being one or the other. These program's and mediums, are simply just outlets for our stories and designs. I strongly think that having the knowledge of these tools, helps a lot in creative control. If you want to see your idea fully realised, do it yourself.