VR in Heritage: A UX-driven Approach

We all had that one time, at least, where we wished we could fly to explore somewhere like never before.  How is this thought even triggered?

When we experience a space, we conceptually plot an exploratory path around the space.  Certain cues ignite sparks in our brains that trigger emotions such as curiosity and inquisition.  We immediately feel the need explore and verify any hypothesis we might have drafted in our minds.  We start moving around, unknowingly chasing our curious ventures.

We keep on exploring until the inevitable happens…we are stopped by a rail, perspex or any form of creative barrier you can imagine. A sense of disappointment is prompted by physical boundaries in the space.

Someone who designed, knowingly or not,  the experience within the space limits us from the creative freedom of movement that we might subconsciously dream of.  Some of us might feel the restriction and feel they wish to venture further but others might just feel that the experience is not complete.

In my other blog entry, I wrote about the importance of designing meaningful experiences for anyone visiting sites or trying out products or services.  User experiences are so valuable that they need be designed as good as first dates.

This project was also featured in a dedicated article on The Times of Malta and Lovin Malta earlier in July.

Experience Mapping

One of the best and critical tools in User Experience Design is Experience Mapping.  This is a structured approach that allows you to translate a user’s experience to a matrix that allows you to explore different perspectives, opportunities and pitfalls.

Suggestions and guidelines about how to build an experience map are provided in another entry.  For completeness to this entry, an experience map is a matrix where every column is a particular stage in the experience.  The rows would be notes/attributes that will help you investigate the experience better.  Examples of rows that I like to use are:

  1. Stage — Clearly state the stages that make up the entire experience. This must not be limited to the use of the app and should also include the steps before using the app (discovery etc.) and also after the use of the app (sharing etc.)
  2. Medium — Which medium/channel will enable the user to experience the stage? This might not necessarily be the software app but it could also be signs, adverts or other channels. On the other hand, it can also be a specific feature or page in your software.
  3. Experience Boosters — What can make your experience an amazing one at that stage?
  4. Experience Poopers — What can ruin your experience at that stage?
  5. Notes — I like to use this row to add notes and things to keep in mind at that stage of the experience to make sure you boost the experience rather than anything else.

Heritage

In this blog I’m using a case-study of St Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat, Malta.  This newly refurbished site is collaborating with St Martin’s Institute of Higher Education to include a Virtual Reality experience in the complex.  This case-study should be inspiring to anyone who wishes to include a VR experiences in an existing venue that could be a shop, restaurant or event an aeroplane.

The slides below explain the outline of the procedure that basically goes like this:

  • Imagine you are a potential user (it’s fine if you don’t have a specific target/persona).
  • Visit the site. Plan the visit including how to find the site and so on.
  • Go there! This is the fun part about UX Design…it takes to you to different places all the time. There’s nothing better than living the experience you are going to improve yourself.
  • Notice every detail of your experience such as the signs to get you there, purchasing tickets, going around the site and so on.
  • Note the key stages of your experience and map them as described above.
  • It is also helpful to map the journey pictorially as shown in the slides.

Following these processes will help you get started with designing meaningful experiences for your scenario.  This is however, simply scraping the surface.  There are more novel approaches such as the Design Sprint that will allow you and your team explore the context like never before and exploring opportunities as you go along…or simply realise quickly and early that your idea might not be the right one.

I will write more about my role in different industrial context and for now you may find an outline in this page that focuses on my practice areas.

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