User onboarding in VR

Imagine opening your eyes to find yourself behind the controls of an aircraft, with no clue as to what any of the lights, buttons, and switches mean or do. Yet there they are, blinking, waiting to respond to your inputs even though you do not know what is expected of you. Now imagine another scenario – some might be more familiar with this already – you have spent months, maybe even a year or two, building an innovative product in a Virtual Reality (VR) system. You have pushed the product from the idea and concept phase to design and development, now you would like to place the prototype in front of a user for your first phase of testing and they ask “How do I use it?”

The question now is what approach do you take to put your users in a position where they are comfortable enough operating the product on their own. Remember being behind the cockpit of an aircraft? To some extent, this is how a user feels when presented with a new product, or when opening up an app for the first time. When it comes to other systems and softwares, the design patterns are well established, and we know they’re good because they have been tested multiple times and in various ways. On the other hand, in Augmented Reality (AR) or VR systems – whether it is an educational software, a serious game, or a video game – there are fewer design patterns for user onboarding, though they are constantly being updated.

What is User Onboarding?

You can consider user onboarding as a designed series of instructions and interaction systems for actively guiding users and improving their success in utilising the product. Users are provided and will acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and actions in order to be effective users of the product. User onboarding could be a system that is as simple as a video or visual graphic explanation, or as complex as a series of guided tasks that a user is going to follow and mark completed. As long as the system is leading the user on a journey to the moment when they realise they “get it” and want to continue with the product, the process can be seen as a success.

Overall, user onboarding is a way of building confidence in users, and aiding them to gain a sense of what they will need to do in order to get what they need from the product.

Examples and Usages

It is positively essential to give your users the right onboarding experience for your product, because we all know first impressions are vital. Especially when it comes to software. Almost a quarter of general users abandon a product or app after an initial use. While there may be a number of explanations to illuminate the reasoning, it is highly likely that the user was not immediately convinced that they could use and navigate the product with ease.

Unless your product is sitting in a particularly niche market, there are plenty of alternatives for potential users to find instead of working out your product themselves. If their first experience was not a pleasant one, winning back a user is a tough undertaking. To mitigate the abandonment rate, user onboarding should not be an afterthought and needs to be integrated quite early into the development of a product. To better take advantage of the iterative process at each stage of development.

There are plenty of ways to approach user onboarding, and the more successful products may employ two or more combinations of the following examples of what makes for great user onboarding:

Simple, Visual Instructions: Using text to instruct your users can be a trial and error situation, as steps can be misconstrued or misunderstood. Instead of using an instructional text as convoluted as “Please, press the third button (Y) on the left controller twice.” it may be best to show a still image or an animated GIF. Better yet would be to accompany the images with a tooltip to read if needed.

Videos: Creating and developing an instructional step by step VR guide can be a lot of work, and can be subject to change. In some cases making a video that can be shown in VR is a lot faster and easier to digest for the user.

Limit Mistakes: The fantastic thing about VR is that the environment is completely virtual, meaning the user is in a safe environment to get things wrong. Although this does not mean that the user should have full access to all the controls immediately as they will get lost and make mistakes.

Seize Attention: It is important to grab the users attention if you require them to take an action to progress through the onboarding steps. If you need the user to press the third button on the left controller twice; make the left controller vibrate, show a GIF or video, highlight the button and show a tooltip above the controller to explain what you want from the user. With all these in place, you can safely say the user will not miss that button.

Find a purpose: Your users will find the onboarding process easier to digest when there is a sense of purpose. They will not want to just complete mundane tasks that showcase features of your product. Learning to make an icecream cone is a lot more intriguing than learning how ‘this feature can allow you to create an ice-cream cone’.

Stick to the basics: The onboarding process does not need to cover all of the features of the product. The essentials should be enough that they will allow the user to get comfortable and want to explore more of what the product has to offer.

Final Thoughts

It is always a good idea to invest some time, early in development, into creating a suitable onboarding experience for your users. A great user onboarding experience will help your users understand your product efficiently, and retain their attention and willingness to return.

Do you want to know more about how virtual reality on-boarding can help retain audience use? Drop us an email at, or give us a call on +44 (0)207 148 0526

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