VR Interaction Patterns (Valve)

VR Interactions for New Users

Quick Facts

Roles: Interaction designer, visual designer, prototyper, project manager

My Tasks: Ideation, ideas for prototyping for VR, creating final deliverables, user research

Timeframe: 15 weeks - HCDE Capstone Project

Team: 2 teammates


I noticed that new users were excited to try VR, but faced confusion around the new tools and interaction patterns. I saw a great opportunity to help people from diverse backgrounds learn and enjoy VR. Our core goal was:

How can we help new users transition to using VR in a way that is natural, immersive, and draws on their existing knowledge of how things work?


Accepted to Convey UX 2017 as a project presentation

Won Best in Research out of over 30 teams at UW's HCDE capstone showcase



To understand how people learned and interacted in VR, we had six participants play several VR games with lots of interactions. We observed them interacting naturally for two games and had them think aloud and perform specific tasks for a final game.

We also performed a competitive analysis with a variety of VR and gaming devices and attended VR events to understand new user’s current expectations and frustrations.

Key findings

We discovered one of the most important thing for new VR users is to feel safe and in control of the experience with many other concerns stemming from this issue. Contributing factors included:

  • Few standard controls
  • A tendency to skip tutorials
  • Feeling stuck when they don’t know what to do
  • Getting tired moving hands and arms in unnatural ways


Interaction Guide

I wrote a set of guidelines to help VR content creators design for new users based on our research and examination of over 40 sources. In addition to analyzing the patterns and writing 18 guidelines; I studied hand gestures, developer guides, and existing patterns in 2D and 3D mediums.

UX + VR Guidelines


Tabitha wanted to go out and explore on her own as soon as possible while Michael wanted a little more prompting and step-by-step instructions. Our goal was to design something to help both personas take control of their experience while appealing to their unique ways of learning.



We had 6 people bodystorm how they would perform top features such as selecting, undoing, and exiting to understand what felt natural. I used this to focus our efforts and model our prototype.

Participatory design

We worked with groups of both new and experienced users to come up with solutions. We aimed to create something to make it easier for new users while benefiting or not hurting experienced users.

Concept Testing


I synthesized what we had learned into a storyboard to get feedback before creating the prototype. Some questions I aimed to understand were:

  • Minimum information needed for people to get started
  • Existing patterns in use
  • Which order to demo interactions

Rapid Prototyping

We were hoping to create a Unity prototype, but due to limited time we had to get creative. Instead, we decided to explore methods to rapidly test ideas, since there are currently so few prototyping tools for VR. My team helped select the content, and I designed a multi-media, Wizard of Oz prototype using:

  • Projection to create a sense of immersion
  • 3D paper panels and physical props
  • Vive controllers and a laser pointer for realistic interactions

I kept the prototype simple and desaturated to ensure users could focus on the interactions and workflow.

Usability Testing

We tested 3 different ways to help new VR users feel in control with a total of 8 different methods. These included adding a controller lookup, exploring tooltip use, and understanding selection methods.

The prototype worked well to test natural interaction patterns and we discovered that different methods can feel easier or more immersive, and the preferred method depended on the goals of the game.

Next Steps

We are planning on taking what we’ve learned and doing a second round of rapid prototyping to go more in depth. Once we understand the natural interaction patterns, we will create a VR prototype using Unity to understand the methods in context.