Just a brief piece, based on a number of online and e-mail conversations I’ve been having over the past quite a few months. Also based on the recent publishing of that video from Channel 4’s Equinox TV programme of 1992 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=k7uI7iwry9o&feature=emb_logo). Feedback on that has been quite positive (in the main), with comments focusing on the fact that a lot of what I said during the interviews still holds true today. Some support, I guess, to show that there’s substance to my harping on all the time back to the 1990s to show that folks in the XR sector today have short memories, or haven’t done their research!
People often approach me asking how I tackle the process of „selling“ VR to clients and sponsors. Well, firstly, I need to point out that I’ve only been a (reluctant) academic for 50% of my time in XR; the other 50% involved trying to keep a small VR company going, which was a rollercoaster of emotions and success/failure stories, I can tell you. But there were two things we were good at back then that I’ve carried through for the remainder of my career in XR. They are … (a) being totally upfront and honest with the client. No hype, no bullshit, no „VR can do everything you want“, and (b) putting the human and organisational users first and foremost.
In 1996 I developed a model of „selling practices“ in VR, based on some of the things I had witnessed with other companies (typically newcomers and start-ups in the VR arena), and at early VR conferences and exhibitions. The end of the 1990s saw VR crash in quite a big way, but not before I had managed to use the model as a way of illustrating the selling process – and its failures – in VR in series of strategic recommendations for a market study conducted on behalf of the United Kingdom Government (during a short-lived an initiative known as the UK VR Forum). Together with an accomplished Professor of Economics and Management of Innovation at Manchester’s Business School, Peter Swann, we set out to develop that model further. We were able to produce a stable simulation of the key parts of my model and managed to draw out some preliminary policy implications for a code of good selling practice for virtual environments. Time nor space allows a detailed coverage of that work, but the key reference was published in the 2002 Handbook of Virtual Environments, published by CRC Press.
So, fast forward to 2020. We built upon the experience of the early days captured in that book chapter. We’re still here. We’re still winning contracts and providing folks with independent, reasoned advice. We’re still trying to raise awareness of the pros and cons of XR. Personally, seeing the hype and false claims and superficial successes reported on LinkedIn – and elsewhere – shouldn’t surprise (or anger!) me as much as they do. But we’ve seen at least three „waves“ of hype-ridden publicity and selling in the development of the XR community since the early 1990s and it shows no sign of stopping, I’m sad to say.
So, for what it’s worth (and I could probably write a paper on each of these!!), here are my DON’Ts for the XR community …
(1) Do not ignore the requirements (and knowledge, skills and attitudes) and „context of use“ of the target user population(s), together with the needs of the organisational sponsor. Have a read of ISO9241 Part 210 – Ergonomics of Human-System Interaction – a damned good human-centred design standard to follow and one we’ve adhered to for many years. Ignoring these issues continues to be a CRITICAL mistake in our field.
(2) Do not exclude end users from early and iterative reviews (including – at least – usability testing sessions) of the evolving design solution. Again, see ISO9241 Part 210.
(3) Do not blindly believe the hype and marketing claims, typically (but not exclusively) published online, or offered at XR events and exhibitions, especially when related to the capabilities of interactive or so-called “immersive” hardware technologies.
(4) Do not blindly believe that VR/AR alone can solve one’s visualisation, training or other requirements. Always consider other interactive alternatives or blended simulation solutions and do not implement XR for the sake of it, or for a cheap publicity gimmick. We have turned potential clients away for this very reason. They want the PR XR brings, not the value-added functionality.
(5) Following on from the „blended“ comment in (5), do not omit to identify those elements of the real world that VR/AR cannot yet simulate effectively – from a human performance and overall system cost perspective – and which may need integration with the simulated system elements to deliver a successful outcome.
(6) Do not blindly believe the claim of many XR proponents that so-called “immersion” can ONLY be delivered using headset or wearable technologies; this is NOT the case.
(7) Do not develop solutions that are not “technology agnostic” – i.e. cannot be re-tailored quickly and cheaply should a particular hardware type or software package disappear from the market. Non-agnostic solutions are unlikely to be future-proof and may need considerable and costly remedial effort to remain sustainable.
(8) Do not develop solutions without first undertaking early proof of principle/early concept demonstrators as a means of avoiding unnecessarily large and very high risk investments on the part of potential adopters.
ISO (International Standards Organisation) (2010). BS EN ISO 9241-210 – Ergonomics of human-system interaction; Part 210: Human-centred design for interactive systems. BSI Group, UK.
Stone, R.J. (1996), “A Study of the Virtual Reality Market”; Summary document prepared for the Department of Trade and Industry Communications and Information Industries Directorate, London, HMSO.
Swann, G.M.P. & Stone, R.J. (2002). “Virtually a Market? Selling Practice and the Diffusion of Virtual Reality”; Chapter 28 in “Virtual Environments Handbook” (Ed.: Kay M. Stanney); Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.