I’d be lying if I said that virtual reality was anywhere near approaching my specialty, but having had some enlightening conversations with a few sorts heavily involved in the industry of late, I’ve taken a keen interest in how it may change, evolve or even radicalise web design.
A quick Wikipedia search informs us that virtual reality can be referred to as “immersive multimedia that simulates physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds and lets the user interact in that world”. Perfect for gamers then, and thus far perhaps only truly adopted by those living in the matrix of world Oculus Rift and the like, but perhaps all that is about to change?
If you haven’t heard of janusVR (worth a YouTube search), you may be surprised to hear that a group of developers have already created a 3D web browser. Within this computer game-like environment, one can strap on a headset and take a virtual walk through the corridors of the internet, interacting with pages in a “more immersive” way than ever before. You can bump into other (Michelin man styled) users and even collaborate in object editing, kind of like a mashup between World of Warcraft, Simcity and Google Docs.
Digital experiences like these are all good and well amongst the game-centric of us with the luxury of devices like Oculus Rift and Sony’s Morpheus, but to the rest of us, I believe they are still very raw and for the moment impractical especially given the rising percentage of users browsing with mobile devices on the go. Sitting on a train with a headset poses all kinds of risks that I’m sure you can imagine for yourselves.
Currently more accessible sources of virtual reality come in the shape of Google Cardboard and other similar headsets that allow you to drop in a smart phone and get busy wandering around a digital environments, and I believe there is scope for this to become a very powerful sales tool in the right context.
A slightly different approach is the Ray Ban virtual mirror, an example well worth checking out. You can get pretty close to trying on a pair of glasses using your computer’s camera, and you don’t even need a headset.
Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for an astronomical sum of money, which leads me to believe that there will also be huge scope for virtual social interaction like never before. Imagine that you’re no longer video chatting to someone via screen, you’re actually sat in the same room together. Imagine having a doctor’s appointment in virtual reality, or even buying clothes. You can look the model up and down, walk around them, adjust their height and weight interactively.
With headsets inevitably becoming more cost effective and accessible, it is likely that virtual reality will become more popular with users, therefore web designers and developers will have to start creating websites and digital experiences that are not only responsive across multiple screen devices, but also that work in 3D environments. Four or five years ago a responsive website was a nice-to-have, four or five years from now, a virtual experience may well be a must have. Browsers like janusVR will be bought, copied and improved by the digital giants and those in the web design industry will adapt and diversify accordingly.
Virtual reality’s ability to impact web design will come down to the demand from users but, ultimately I won’t be shocked if we’re designing, writing code and building CMSs for VR in the not so distant future.