Immersive Media

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What is Immersive Media?

Immersive media refers to digital technology that creates or enhances an environment, either to simulate the physical world or to create something completely new. This type of media offers a more intense and interactive experience than traditional media and engages users on various sensory levels. 

In this video, UX Design Consultant Frank Spillers talks about the difference between immersive media and more traditional media like film.

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Immersive Media vs. Traditional Media: What’s the Difference? 

Immersive media and traditional media differ in a variety of ways. For example, how it engages an audience and the kind of experiences it offers. Here are some key differences:

User Experience and Interaction

Traditional Media: This includes television, radio, newspapers, and standard non-interactive films and videos. The audience is typically a passive consumer of the content, with no control over the narrative or environment.

Immersive Media: Characterized by its interactive nature. Users can actively participate and influence the experience. For instance, in VR, users can explore a virtual world, interact with objects, and even alter the course of a narrative. AR adds digital elements to the real world, which allows users to perceive and interact with a blend of reality and digital enhancements.

Photo of a mobile phone displaying an AR app. It's overlaying information about the products of a supermarket over the supermarket environment,

AR overlays digital information onto the physical world to enhance real environments with computer-generated perceptual information.

Sensory Engagement

Traditional Media: Primarily engages with sight and sound. For example, watching a movie or listening to music involves these two senses, but doesn't typically extend beyond that.

Immersive Media: It engages multiple senses, often including sight, sound, and sometimes touch (through haptic feedback). The aim is to create a more lifelike experience and make the user feel as if they are part of the media environment.

Technology and Equipment

Traditional Media: Can be accessed through more common and less specialized devices like televisions, radios, or basic computers and smartphones.

Immersive Media: Requires specific technology such as VR headsets, AR glasses, or advanced computer systems to create and display the content.

Content and Narrative Structure

Traditional Media: Usually follows a linear narrative. Whether it's a book, a film, or a music album, the content is presented in a predetermined sequence with no user influence on its progression.

Immersive Media: Often nonlinear and allows users to choose their own paths or actions, which can lead to multiple outcomes. The narrative might change based on user interaction.

Purpose and Usage

Traditional Media: Primarily used for entertainment, information, and education, but in a more conventional and less interactive manner.

Immersive Media: Used not only for entertainment but also extensively for education, training (like simulations for medical or military training), and therapy (such as VR exposure therapy in psychology).

A photo that shows the UConn Health's AR-guided spine surgery. There are three surgeons in an operating theatre operating on a patient. Information and visuals on the spine is being overlayed over the real-world environment.

UConn Health's AR-guided spine surgery exemplifies the impact of immersive media in healthcare training and procedures. This approach provides surgeons with a 3D view of the spine through the skin during surgery, enhancing accuracy, control, and safety in spinal operations.

© UConn Health, Fair Use.

Ultimately, immersive media offers a more interactive, engaging, and multi-sensory experience compared to traditional media, which is generally more passive and limited in sensory engagement.

Different Types of Immersive Media

Immersive media is used in various fields, such as entertainment, Social VR, education, training, marketing, and healthcare, offering unique, engaging experiences that can’t be afforded by traditional media. 

Virtual Reality (VR): With VR headsets or Head Mounted Displays (HMDs), VR creates a simulated environment that can be interactively explored. Users can feel as if they are in a completely different world, with 360-degree views and the ability to move around.

A photo of a modern VR headset, the Meta Quest 2.

An example of a modern VR headset, the Meta Quest 2.

© Meta, Fair Use.

Augmented Reality (AR): This technology overlays digital information onto the real world. Through devices like smartphones or AR glasses, users can see digital images, information, or enhancements projected over what they see in the real world.

In this video, UX Design Consultant and Founder of Experience Dynamics, Frank Spillers, explores spatial cognition in AR.

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Mixed Reality (MR): MR allows for the creation of environments where physical and digital objects co-exist and that users can interact with in real-time.

360-Degree Videos: These are videos that capture a scene in every direction. They allow users to look around in every direction, often through a VR headset, giving the feeling of being 'inside' the video. 

Google Arts and Culture has a collection of videos that allow viewers to explore art, architecture, sculpture, natural history and more in 360 degrees. In this video, step into the Orion Nebula. 

Interactive Media: This can include a range of media types that respond to user input, such as video games, interactive storytelling, or educational software. Platforms like Oculus Story Studio and the National Film Board of Canada have produced interactive documentaries where viewers can engage with the content in a non-linear fashion, often impacting the narrative based on their choices.

Extended Reality (XR) is an all-encompassing term that includes Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), as well as 360-degree videos and interactive media. It represents the spectrum of media that modify our perception of reality, from fully immersive VR environments to AR's real-world digital enhancements and MR's combination of both.

How to Apply UX Design to Immersive Media

Immersive media is unlikely to be successful without effective UX design. It determines not only how users interact with these technologies, but also how they perceive and emotionally connect with them. A well-crafted user experience can transform a novel technology into an intuitive, engaging, and memorable experience. It bridges the gap between the digital and physical worlds, which makes these advanced technologies accessible and enjoyable for a diverse audience.

The following UX design considerations will help to ensure a good user experience and a successful immersive media design. 

Understand the Audience

Thorough user research is fundamental. This includes understanding the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics of a target audience. For instance, gamers might prioritize responsiveness and immersion, while educational users might value clarity and interactivity.

The Oculus Rift's development is a prime example of the benefits of user research in immersive media. The design of the Oculus Rift emphasized features like a lightweight build and intuitive head-tracking controls to gain an understanding and meet the specific needs and preferences of VR users. These user-centric features ensured comfort and ease of use, which made the VR experience both accessible and immersive. This approach demonstrates how effective user research can directly influence the success of a product by aligning its design with the actual needs and desires of its target audience.

Check out Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter campaign launch video to learn more about the device and its story. 

Natural and Intuitive Interaction

Interactions that mimic real-world behavior are intuitive and thus, the most user-friendly. The design could involve gesture-based controls or voice commands, which make the experience as natural as possible.

The Valve Index's hand-tracking technology is an outstanding example of natural and intuitive interaction in immersive media. It employs advanced sensors to accurately track the movements and positions of the user's hands and fingers, allowing for more realistic and precise control within the virtual environment. This technology significantly enhances the user experience in VR, as it closely mirrors real-world hand movements, making interactions feel more natural and intuitive. This alignment with natural human behavior is crucial in immersive media, as it reduces the learning curve for new users and increases the overall sense of presence and immersion in the virtual world. The Valve Index's approach exemplifies how leveraging natural human movements can greatly improve the usability and accessibility of immersive technologies.

Comfort and Ergonomics

Designers should address physical comfort and safety, particularly for devices worn for extended periods. This includes considerations of weight, balance, and adjustable fittings.

The ergonomic design of the PlayStation VR (PSVR) is centered on user comfort and adaptability, and features an adjustable headband and a balanced weight to accommodate various head sizes. In its second iteration, PSVR 2, Sony further enhanced comfort with a lens adjustment feature and a slimmer design, despite adding new elements like an in-built motor for feedback. Additionally, a unique vent design was incorporated to prevent lens fog to ensure comfort during extended use. These design choices reflect Sony's focus on ergonomic improvement, aiming to provide a comfortable and immersive VR experience.

A photo of PlayStation VR 2, a VR headset and hand controllers.

PlayStation VR 2 design took user comfort further than in the previous version, incorporating features like adjustable headband and headset scope.

© Sony PlayStation, Fair Use.

Multisensory Engagement and Realism

Immersive media should utilize visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli to enhance realism. This can range from high-quality graphics to haptic feedback that mimics real-world sensations.

The VOID is a pioneering venture in immersive media—it offers multisensory VR experiences that go beyond sight and sound to include touch and even smell. The VOID blends virtual and physical elements to create hyper-realistic experiences by creating physical environments that users can interact with while wearing VR headsets. This integration enhances the overall sense of presence and immersion that makes users feel as if they are truly part of the virtual world. Elements like heat, cold, and scents are synchronized with the visual and audio components of the experience to deepen the level of engagement. This approach to immersive media demonstrates how multisensory stimulation can significantly enrich VR experiences to make them more compelling and realistic.

This video demonstrates The VOID’s potential.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

Designers must ensure that immersive experiences cater to a broad range of abilities. This involves adaptable control schemes and content that is accessible to users with various disabilities.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller by Microsoft is a groundbreaking example of accessibility and inclusion in the gaming and immersive media industry. Specifically designed to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility, the controller features a highly customizable interface with large programmable buttons and connects to a range of external devices like switches, buttons, mounts, and joysticks. This flexibility allows it to be adapted to a wide variety of physical needs to ensure that more people can enjoy gaming regardless of their mobility or dexterity. Xbox collaborated with organizations like The AbleGamers Charity, SpecialEffect, and Warfighter Engaged for the development of the Xbox Adaptive Controller. This highlights Microsoft's commitment to making gaming and immersive experiences more inclusive. The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a significant step forward in ensuring that everyone, regardless of physical ability, can participate in the immersive world of gaming.

Learn more about the Xbox Adaptive Controller in this video.

Emotional Connection Through Narrative

Use storytelling to create a deeper emotional connection. This can be achieved through immersive narratives that allow users to be part of the story.

Dear Angelica by Oculus Story Studio is a poignant example of how storytelling in immersive media can forge deep emotional connections. This VR experience combines hand-drawn artistry with immersive 3D technology and allows users to step into a visually stunning narrative world. The story, told from a daughter's perspective about her relationship with her actress mother, utilizes the immersive nature of VR to envelop the viewer in a personal, emotionally resonant journey. This blend of innovative VR technology with a heartfelt narrative exemplifies the power of immersive media to create deeply affecting storytelling experiences, and ultimately demonstrates VR's unique ability to connect with users on an emotional level.

Watch the trailer for Dear Angelica in the next video.

Spatial Awareness in AR and MR

In XR, it’s essential to understand the physical environment and integrate with it. This includes using spatial data to overlay digital information accurately onto the real world.

Pokémon GO's use of AR technology exemplifies spatial awareness in immersive media. By overlaying virtual Pokémon characters onto real-world environments through players' smartphone cameras, the game creates an engaging mixed reality experience. It uses GPS to map virtual elements in real locations, which encourages players to explore their physical surroundings to find Pokémon. This integration of digital and physical worlds is a key aspect of spatial awareness in AR and makes the game a leading example of how AR can blend virtual experiences seamlessly with the real world.

Photo of a person's hand holding a mobile phone. They're playing Pokémon GO. Around them are several other players. They look like they're in a park.

Pokémon GO's AR technology skillfully merges digital Pokémon with real-world environments to showcase how AR enhances spatial awareness through the blend of virtual and physical realms.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Technical and Performance Considerations

Designers should stay up-to-date with technological advancements, such as increasing network speeds or processing capabilities, to enhance the smoothness and responsiveness of the experience.

The advent of 5G technology is set to significantly impact AR and VR technologies, particularly in terms of technical performance and user experience. 5G's higher bandwidth and lower latency enable more data to be transmitted at faster speeds, which reduces the lag that can disrupt immersive experiences. This improvement in speed and responsiveness is crucial for AR and VR applications, which require real-time processing of complex visual and sensory data to maintain immersion. Additionally, 5G facilitates more sophisticated AR and VR experiences, and supports higher-resolution graphics and more complex interactive environments..

Safety and Ethical Practices

Both physical safety and ethical implications are crucial for immersive media. Designers must consider user privacy, the psychological impact of immersive environments and other factors.

Ubisoft's VR escape games demonstrate effective safety and ethical practices in immersive media by ensuring a secure and comfortable environment for players. Escape games are created and optimized for venues like VR arcades and escape rooms. They employ physical space mapping to match the virtual environment, which minimizes the risk of collisions or accidents. This is crucial in VR where users are visually cut off from the real world. The design of these rooms typically includes safeguards like ample space for movement, clear instructions for safe navigation, and mechanisms to prevent users from inadvertently leaving the designated safe area. Such measures are essential to maintain physical safety while providing an engaging and immersive virtual experience.

A photo of two VR uses with headsets on and using controllers inside a warehouse-looking room.

Ubisoft escape games are specifically designed for VR venues like arcades, theme parks and escape rooms.

© Ubisoft, Fair Use.

Iterative Design and User Feedback

Immersive media requires an iterative design process to incorporate user feedback and to refine and improve the experience continually. 

Beat Saber is a popular VR rhythm game and a prime example of how iterative design and user feedback can shape the development of immersive media. Initially released with a set of core features, the game has continually evolved based on community input. Players have been instrumental in highlighting aspects they enjoy, as well as identifying areas for improvement. This feedback has led to numerous updates, including new songs, enhanced gameplay mechanics, and user interface improvements. The developers have also embraced the modding community to integrate popular modifications to enrich the game's content and user experience. This iterative process, driven by active community engagement, ensures that Beat Saber remains fresh, relevant, and aligned with its users' preferences. This example showcases the dynamic and evolving nature of game development in the realm of immersive media.

If designers integrate these elements, they can create immersive media experiences that are not only technologically advanced but also deeply resonant with users. The focus on user-centric design, coupled with a commitment to innovation and inclusivity, is what elevates immersive media from a niche technology to a widely accessible and transformative medium.

Learn More about Immersive Media

Go deeper into immersive media and how to design user-friendly experiences in our courses,  UX Design for Augmented Reality and UX Design for Virtual Reality

Read XR Today’s article, What is Immersive Media: An Introduction.

Check out some more immersive media examples in this LinkedIn article, What is immersive media? | 6 Examples from different industries.

Discover the impact of immersive media in this World Economic Forum report, Immersive Media Technologies: The Acceleration of Augmented and Virtual Reality in the Wake of COVID-19.

Questions about Immersive Media

What is immersive media and how does it differ from traditional media?

Immersive media refers to technology that replicates or enhances reality through digital or simulated experiences. Unlike traditional media, which is typically two-dimensional and non-interactive, immersive media encompasses Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), creating a multi-sensory experience. This allows for a more engaging and interactive form of media consumption, where the user can interact with and manipulate their environment.

Learn more about immersive media in our courses, UX Design for Augmented Reality and UX Design for Virtual Reality. Watch the trailers below.

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What are some highly cited scientific research about immersive media? 

Here are four highly cited resources on immersive media:

Rizzo, A. S., & Koenig, S. T. (2019). Virtual Reality for Psychological and Neurocognitive Interventions. Springer New York. 

Slater, M., & V., M. (2016). Enhancing Our Lives with Immersive Virtual Reality. Frontiers in Robotics and AI, 3, 236866. 

Radu, I. (2014). Augmented reality in education: A meta-review and cross-media analysis. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 18, 1533–1543.

Costanza, E., Kunz, A., & Fjeld, M. (2009). Mixed reality: A survey. In D. Lalanne & J. Kohlas (Eds.), Human Machine Interaction (Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 5440). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

What are some common applications of immersive media in design?

Common applications of immersive media in design include virtual product demonstrations, architectural visualization, and interactive 3D modeling. Designers are using VR and AR to create immersive prototypes, allowing clients and stakeholders to experience a design in a simulated environment. In educational settings, immersive media facilitates experiential learning through virtual simulations.

Learn more about immersive media and its applications in our courses,  UX Design for Augmented Reality and UX Design for Virtual Reality.

What are some recommended books that cover immersive media well?

Here are five recommended books that cover immersive media:

Bailenson, J. (2018). Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do. W. W. Norton & Company.

Schmalstieg, D., & Hollerer, T. (2016). Augmented Reality: Principles and Practice. Addison-Wesley Professional. 

Jerald, J. (2015). The VR Book: Human-Centered Design for Virtual Reality. ACM Books. 

Parisi, T. (2015). Learning Virtual Reality: Developing Immersive Experiences and Applications for Desktop, Web, and Mobile. O'Reilly Media. 

Papagiannis, H. (2017). Augmented Human: How Technology Is Shaping the New Reality. O'Reilly Media.

How does UI/UX design for immersive media differ from traditional screen-based design?

UI/UX design for immersive media differs significantly from traditional screen-based design in its approach to user interaction and spatial design. Immersive media requires designing for a 3D space, focusing on user engagement in a virtual or augmented world. This includes considerations for natural user movements, spatial awareness, and interactive elements that go beyond the flat, 2D constraints of traditional screen interfaces.

Read up on the UX design process in VR in this article, The Journey of the UX Design Process in Virtual Reality.

Learn more about UX design for immersive media in our courses,  UX Design for Augmented Reality and UX Design for Virtual Reality

What tools and software are commonly used for designing immersive media experiences?

Common tools and software for designing immersive media experiences include Unity and Unreal Engine to create VR and AR environments. These platforms provide comprehensive tools for 3D modeling, animation, and interaction design. Other tools like Blender for 3D modeling and Adobe After Effects for animations are also widely used.

Learn more about immersive media in our courses,  UX Design for Augmented Reality and UX Design for Virtual Reality.

How important is understanding 3D modeling in immersive media design?

Understanding 3D modeling is greatly beneficial in immersive media design as it's the foundation for creating realistic and interactive environments in VR and AR. While proficiency in 3D modeling isn’t a requirement for those who want to design immersive media experiences, it does help designers construct detailed virtual worlds and ensures that the elements within these environments are both visually compelling and functionally interactive.

Learn more about 3D modeling in this article, What is 3D Modelling?

How is user research conducted for immersive media applications?

User research for immersive media applications often involves immersive user testing, where users interact with VR or AR environments. Feedback is collected through observations and interviews, focusing on user behavior, interaction patterns, and overall experience. This research is crucial for understanding how users navigate and respond to immersive environments.

Learn more user research for immersive media in our courses,  UX Design for Augmented Reality and UX Design for Virtual Reality.

What methods are used for usability testing in VR/AR environments?

Usability testing in VR/AR environments involves observing users as they interact with the virtual world with task-based tests, questionnaires or interviews to gather feedback. Eye-tracking and biometrics can also be used to gain insights into user engagement and comfort within the immersive experience.

Learn more about usability testing in this article, What is Usability Testing.

How is immersive media being utilized in various industries?

Immersive media is being utilized across various industries, from healthcare for surgical simulations and patient education to real estate for virtual property tours. In education, it's used for interactive learning experiences, while in retail, AR apps allow customers to visualize products in real-time. The entertainment industry also heavily employs VR and AR for gaming and interactive storytelling.

Learn more about immersive media applications in this LinkedIn article, What is immersive media? | 6 Examples from different industries.

What is the future scope of immersive media in design?

The future scope of immersive media in design includes broader adoption across industries, with an emphasis on creating more intuitive and natural user interfaces. Future developments may focus on reducing the gap between the digital and physical world, making immersive experiences more seamless and integrated into everyday life.

Read this Forbes article to learn more about the future of immersive media, Immersive Experience: The Definition, The Technology And The Future.

How can a designer transition from traditional design to immersive media design?

A designer can transition from traditional design to immersive media design by gaining skills in UX design, 3D modeling, learning to use VR/AR development tools like Unity or Unreal Engine, and understanding the principles of user interaction in three-dimensional spaces. Continuous learning and practical experimentation with immersive technologies is key to making this transition successfully.

Learn more about immersive media in our courses,  UX Design for Augmented Reality and UX Design for Virtual Reality.

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Literature on Immersive Media

Here’s the entire UX literature on Immersive Media by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Immersive Media

Take a deep dive into Immersive Media with our course UX Design for Virtual Reality .

Virtual reality is a multidimensional universe that invites you to bring stories to life, transform digital interactions, educate with impact and create user-centric and unforgettable experiences. This course equips you with the skills and knowledge to embrace the possibilities and navigate the challenges of virtual reality.

UX Design for Virtual Reality is taught by UX expert Frank Spillers, CEO and founder of the renowned UX consultancy Experience Dynamics. Frank is an expert in the field of VR and AR, and has 22 years of UX experience with Fortune 500 clients including Nike, Intel, Microsoft, HP, and Capital One.

In UX Design for Virtual Reality, you’ll learn how to create your own successful VR experience through UX design. Informed by technological developments, UX design principles and VR best practices, explore the entire VR design process, from concept to implementation. Apply your newfound skills and knowledge immediately though practical and enjoyable exercises.  

In lesson 1, you’ll immerse yourself in the origins and future potential of VR and you’ll learn how the core principles of UX design apply to VR. 

In lesson 2, you’ll learn about user research methods, custom-tailored for the intricacies of VR.

In lesson 3, you’ll investigate immersion and presence and explore narrative, motion and sounds as design tools. 

In lesson 4, you’ll delve into interface and interaction design to create your own user-friendly, compelling and comfortable VR experiences.

In lesson 5, you’ll gain insights into prototyping, testing, implementing VR experiences, and conducting thorough evaluations.

After each lesson you’ll have the chance to put what you’ve learned into practice with a practical portfolio exercise. Once you’ve completed the course, you’ll have a case study to add to your UX portfolio. This case study will be pivotal in your transition from 2D designer to 3D designer. 

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