Designing for the HoloLens

The explosion of personalization in personal technology indicates that things are becoming more and more about the user’s vision. Human beings are always making things because it is in our nature to create what we envision.

To that end, it is no wonder that Microsoft’s HoloLens is picking up a great deal of traction. It is a piece of technology that lets users make things — holograms — out of thin air, and place them within our world. A 3-D space is now our new canvas.

So here are a few things to remember when designing for this new 3-D canvas.

1. Make sure the experience that you are creating is suitable for the brand and, more importantly, that what you are creating in the HoloLens solves business needs

“Creative leadership is also about anticipating needs, and the confidence to rely on intuition to complement market and consumer understanding.” — Avi Dan, Forbes1

HoloLens Design

I’ve seen so many instances where people create experiences that do not work because they did not solve or market anything. A design execution can be “cool” or visually appealing, but it is more important that the execution solve a business need. Volvo is a great example of how the HoloLens technology: 1. Is serving and augmenting the brand in terms of emphasizing its valuing of human safety. 2. Is a practical tool that helps engineers build safer transportation systems. It is a perfect marriage. For more on Volvo’s HoloLens experience, see this video

2. Make sure you understand and respect the 3-D space.

“Today, for most of us productivity is defined in 2-D, email, document, spreadsheets and slides. We think in 2D. We grew up in 2-D …[however] the next generation is growing up with 3-D.” -Terry Myerson2

HoloLens Design

It is a prudent idea to become familiar with the 3-D space. This means acquiring an understanding of how various elements in that space interact, how they juxtapose with each other, and how they fit together within that space. Negative space should be valued too because in 3-D space all elements are considered design elements;  left ignored you risk ending up with a mishmash of assets in one space.

File types are another 3-D variable to consider. There are certain file-types that the HoloLens accepts — usually .obj files — so knowing the difference can save time. Also, you will need to understand how 3-D meshes work. The mesh is the skeleton of the 3-D asset. It's made up of polygons, and the more you have the more complicated the piece is. With meshes, some 3-D file types are better than others with respect to their purpose and construction.

3. Be an art director when designing.

“To [Steve] Jobs, design was never for its own sake, but for something greater — the shaping of experiences.” - Forbes1

Colorful zoomed eye

Consider the assets as artwork rather than just 3-D pieces. If you don’t, your final output will look visually fragmented or it will take on an art direction (aka a look and feel) that just doesn’t seem to fit into the bigger scheme of things. If you are going to design in this space, you need to respect the art or it will come back to haunt you later.

One way to avoid this is to try to imagine what the final output should look like. Art directors always keep the final product in mind when dictating design. If you can imagine the final output, then you have a visual goal that you can attain. In this manner, all your 3-D assets will look good together as a holistic piece.

4. Understand the user and the user experience.

“In the future, I think the key is making the ability of the technology, with the ability of the person. So everyone can participate.” — Nathan, Lead Designer.

Holographic personalization menu

It is important to be user-centric. You need to make sure that what you are going to create can be used by the user effortlessly. I recommend thinking of the word “effortlessly” when designing for the HoloLens because holographic a new space. No one is sitting here telling you how to use it. It needs to be easily understood. Consider the iPhone. When first introduced, there was no confusion as to how to use it, even though it was a revolutionary product. It was so intuitive that everyone was able to use it, even children. This should be the same for the HoloLens, users should be able to put it on and use your app, and your app better coincide with the usability and UX of the HoloLens.

5. Excel at rapid prototyping.

Holographic car generation

Holographic design was a new territory for us at Oshyn, so there was a natural risk of creating something that might not work. Rather than gambling with resources, we decided to prototype, because it was would be a shame to build something, only to find out later that it did not work.

Know the file types that are accepted by HoloLens. Flush out the concept beforehand, and figure out the interactions before you start building for them. Test. Build. Test again. You need to design, think, figure things out, build out parts of it, or at least the main construct, test out the build, then continue to build in and then outward. But always, always plan. Do not build as you go. Plan, design, build, test. Repeat.

6. Submitting the app to the Windows store.

Windows store app representation

Make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Microsoft is stringent about what they accept into their app store. Read its guidelines beforehand as to what file types and sizes are accepted. The KB on the file sizes is smaller than what you would expect.

Final Thoughts

As far as comparable design projects, the build for the HoloLens operated pretty organically in comparison to what was out there. I want to stress that it is important to focus not just on proper operation, but on an experience that feels right as well. This means that the experience should be fluid and seamless for the user.

There is user engagement with every mechanical aspect of your 3D design. You know the operation of it all doesn’t work well together if the user feels like there is friction between you and the mechanical thing you're operating. So through prototyping, and following some of these suggestions, you might have an opportunity to build sensitivity towards that thing you are creating, and throughout the build you’ll know when it doesn’t feel right when you are operating it. In this sense, the best designer here will know how to empathize with his or her user.

So, now that you have some insight into the HoloLens and what it takes to create something for this new platform, what are you going to make?