Rectangles, Rectangles Rectangles. Our entire media lives have occurred within screens, parchments and text columns shaped liked rectangles (except for audio). VR and AR now represent the first-ever departure from that centuries-old format.

“It’s literally the first time in X-hundred or thousand years where the primary input mechanism between you and the information will not be a rectangle,” said Facebook VR Product Design Manager Charlie Sutton at a recent MindTheProduct event (full video embedded below).

This represents an opportunity but it’s also a considerable design challenge says Sutton, given that we’re hard wired to think in rectangles. His advice: Don’t think too much about the format…think instead about the end goal of designing visceral and immersive experiences.

Sutton gives a personal example: When working on mobile hardware design a decade ago, there were countless hours of debate and design work dedicated to the question of having a stylus or not. That now seems silly because of the cognitive intuition that touch screens allow.

That same cognitive intuition represents a massive opportunity in VR and AR. One of our most basic urges as humans is to have agency (a fancy word for control), he says. It’s about being able to manipulate the inputs to our visceral senses, similar to what happens in lucid dreaming.

Because VR can take over our visual cortex and feel so real, the opportunity is to design experiences that give users agency in those environments. That’s the end goal that should drive design principles, rather than getting caught up in formats or hardware (like the stylus).

“It’s not so much about pixels or speed or computational power,” said Sutton. “I encourage you to look at the full gamut of media-evoked reality, from photos to simple [VR] to fully immersive [VR], and think of what would you do express the design principle of agency to its maximum.”

Sharing many of the themes from our recent analysis of “native thinking” in AR & VR, you can see his full talk below.

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Disclosure: ARtillry has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.

Header Image Credit: Google Poly