When Everything is Magic Nothing is Magic, and Everything is Terrifying

Article Written by Kris Morgan

This article is part of our series on VR. Start at the beginning.

VR is a canvas of endless possibility. But, if you design apps—now self-contained worlds—without any constraints, there will be no rhyme or reason in the design decisions that follow. If we’re applying our design magic haphazardly, it might be terrifying, confusing, or boring.

VR worlds need constraints

As flat rectangles, apps had a lot of limitations. Many of those are gone now. So it’s on us to decide where the new boundaries should be, and implement them.

A case-in-point: the real world is governed by consistent forces—time, matter, physics, and so on. Without these, who knows what reality would even resemble? Instead of feeling like a limitation, these constraints make our interactions with the world more meaningful: flying is remarkable because of gravity.

In user experience design, constraints help reveal user affordances. They enable understanding, confidence, and creativity. They tell us when something is wrong. And when something very occasionally breaks an assumed constraint, it can feel like true magic.

Be intentional about your magic

A floating chair in the middle of a room could be explained by sorcery, hover technology, or perhaps an angry ghost. The true answer will inform reality—so which is it? If you don’t decide which forces are governing your app, you’ll lose your basis for creating anything extraordinary. You’ll instead create confusion and frustration. And worse yet, what north star then will guide every other design decision?

But, if you design and then present the systems governing your worlds self-consistently—albeit within their own notion of logic—you’ll help your users to feel empowered and even powerful.

What's next?

Once you understand the need for constraints, you have to decide what they are. This sounds like it could be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, we recommend shaping your worlds through telling a simple story.

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