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've seen that people are excited to try VR, but face confusion around new tools and interaction patterns. There is 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

Presented findings to Valve for their new Knuckle Controllers


We observed, interviewed, and gave tasks to our participants to understand how they learned and interacted in VR spaces.

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

Personas & Journey Maps

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.

Key findings

  • To be successful, VR experiences should quickly help people feel in control of their tools
  • We needed to appeal to the unique ways of learning for both personas
  • New VR users need a safe space to learn, but don’t want to “waste time” on “tutorials”



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

Participatory design

We worked with groups of both new and experienced users to come up with solutions. We found ways to help new users, while benefiting or not hurting experienced users.

Key findings

  • People want VR to feel life-like, but they love when it extends real-life capabilities
  • Both new and experienced users want an easy way to refer to instructions at any point

Concept Testing


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

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

We found that people responded best to tips and reference tools that helped them along the way, rather than having a full introduction demo. We pivoted to design three ways to help people while inside of a VR experience including a controller guide, tooltips, and cues for selecting in VR.

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.

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

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

Usability Testing

We tested a total of 8 different methods to help new VR users feel in control. 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 how 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 and for VR teams to use as a template.