Please give us an overview of your background, what inspired you to get into immersive tech, and your journey into the VR industry.
While in college, I majored in computer science and worked as a full-stack engineer intern at a company. Halfway through school, I realized my passion was in design, which led me to transition my major to UX & Product design. My journey into the VR industry began shortly after graduating college in 2016 when I attended a hackathon and had the opportunity to use the Oculus Rift and motion leap technology, creating an extraordinary immersive experience. This pivotal Moment XR sparked my obsession with virtual reality and its vast potential for learning and exploration.
Leveraging my background in design and a deep understanding of spatial relationships, I co-founded MomentXR, a company dedicated to making 3D designs more accessible for extended reality (XR) creators. In addition, we aimed to simplify and streamline the creative process for those working within the XR industry.
Eventually, I relocated to Barcelona to work for a pioneering virtual reality game studio called Mega Particles. The studio has been developing VR experiences since 2014 and has released an initial version of a game called Poker VR for the Gear VR platform. My role involved redesigning the game to incorporate hand tracking and 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) functionality, significantly enhancing the immersive qualities of the experience.
Aspiring to create mixed-reality art installations capable of transforming physical spaces using VR tools, I ventured into freelancing and artwork. My vision involved designing multi-user experiences allowing participants to explore these digital realms together. However, the onset of the pandemic derailed these plans, and I shifted my focus to remote collaboration solutions.
I joined a company called Arthur, which offered a virtual reality office platform designed for enterprise meetings and collaboration. As a designer, I spent nearly two years with Arthur, helping to develop and refine various features to create a seamless, fully digital office space. Our work attracted diverse clients, and we built some genuinely innovative features during my tenure.
Eventually, Inga from ShapesXR approached me, and I became one of their first beta testers. ShapesXR is a tool to address the fundamental challenge of designing within XR environments. The most effective way to design for XR is to create within the medium, and ShapesXR embodies this philosophy. As a result of my professional experience and the skills I gained at MomentXR, I was well-equipped to contribute to developing and refining ShapesXR’s innovative design tools.
What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while on any project?
Throughout my experiences working on various projects, including Shapes XR, I have faced numerous challenges that required perseverance and adaptability. One of the most significant challenges was gaining traction and securing investors for Moments XR, particularly when the VR industry was experiencing a downturn. People quickly claimed that VR was dead, making it difficult to generate interest and investment. This period was undeniably challenging and disheartening.
Another substantial challenge arose from the technical aspects of working with 3D environments in projects like Shapes XR. Compared to 2D backgrounds, 3D ones introduced many potential issues and complexities. Designing, programming, and implementing 3D elements such as interactions, animations, and user interfaces demanded higher technical expertise, often leading to unforeseen complications. Moreover, we all faced high-pressure situations when deadlines approached, problems seemed to multiply, and project progress appeared to falter. These circumstances caused us to question our decisions and the overall direction of our projects.
Despite these hurdles, it is essential to recognize that each project, including Shapes XR, presents unique challenges. Success depends on our ability to prioritize tasks effectively, determine which features or improvements to tackle next and remain persistent in the face of adversity. As we continue to develop and refine Shapes XR, we must focus on these strategies to advance and ultimately achieve our goals in the ever-evolving world of VR and beyond. By embracing these principles, we can overcome obstacles and create innovative, immersive experiences that push the boundaries of what is possible in virtual reality.
Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?
I’m happy to share more about the work my team and I have been focusing on, as well as the three new features we’ve recently launched:
Interactive Prototyping: We’ve developed a feature that allows users to create engaging and dynamic spaces within the virtual environment. We aim to make the design process more immersive and interactive, providing a richer user experience. Users can now build custom spaces with enhanced interactivity, which helps them showcase their projects and ideas more engagingly.
Figma Integration: We’ve also worked on seamless integration with Figma, a popular design tool. This allows users to import their Figma frames directly into our virtual reality platform and have their designs updated in real time. This integration streamlines the design process by reducing the need to switch between different tools and fosters better collaboration between team members. Moreover, any changes to the Figma frames are automatically reflected in the virtual reality environment, ensuring up-to-date designs.
Holo Notes: Inspired by the holograms in Star Wars, we developed a feature called “Holo Notes,” which allows users to record a virtualized version of themselves and leave it as a comment or note within the scene. We see this as an innovative method of asynchronous collaboration that helps team members communicate more effectively, even when they’re unavailable simultaneously. In addition, users can record a personalized holographic message, providing feedback, suggestions, or guidance, which other team members can access later; this helps streamline the collaboration process and enhances communication among distributed teams.
The idea for Holo Notes emerged while we were brainstorming ways to take advantage of the advanced capabilities of the Quest Pro, such as eye-tracking and space for dressed avatars. In addition, we realized that allowing users to record avatars and leave them as notes could create a more immersive and interactive collaboration experience.
We’re confident these new features can transform the design and collaboration process, particularly for distributed teams. We can revolutionize how professionals collaborate on projects in the virtual environment by providing enhanced interactivity, seamless integration with design tools, and innovative asynchronous communication methods.
What were some of the most considerable challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?
I have faced significant challenges. One of the most prominent challenges is the constant cycle of hype and disappointment. It was incredibly hot when I first entered the VR industry, and everyone was getting funded left and right. However, after a year, around the end of 2017, it was like we were dead. The hype had dissipated, and people had moved on to other emerging technologies, like Bitcoin and ICOs.
One of the most significant difficulties I’ve faced is dealing with people’s perception of VR, which can be influenced by uninformed hype cycles. For example, some believe that VR is dead, while others claim it’s the future. However, VR is a long-term play, and it’s not a matter of if it will succeed but rather when it succeeds.
Despite these challenges, I remain optimistic about the future of VR. Over the years, the industry has made remarkable progress, with headsets becoming lighter, cheaper, and better. I remember when we had to carry around a giant gaming laptop and multiple sensors, and now we’ve come so far that we can hardly believe it.
However, we still have to battle against people’s uninformed perceptions of VR. The industry keeps chugging forward, but the hype cycles can make it challenging to get people to understand the true potential of VR. Nevertheless, as someone in the industry for several years, I am confident that VR will stay and improve in the coming years.
What’s your vision for the future of VR?
I’m so excited about spatial computing! It’s the future of computers and will eventually replace our phones, laptops, and desktops. It’s going to change the way we interact with technology and the way we interact with computers. It’s like a whole new world!
Think about how computers have evolved. From giant boxes to terminals to touch computing and mobile computing. Now, spatial computing is the ultimate next step, where interacting with the computer is the same as interacting with the world. It’s amazing!
Spatial computing will have a massive impact on how we live and work. Imagine a world where everyone has a VR headset or AR glasses. It will completely transform how we consume content, communicate with others, and interact with our environment. It’s going to be a game-changer.
In just ten years, spatial computing will be everywhere. Our children will wonder why we ever used screens when we could have them be there in 3D. It will be a completely spatial way of consuming content and interacting with technology, where the virtual and physical seamlessly blend.
I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of spatial computing. It will transform our lives and work in ways we can’t even imagine. I’m so excited to see where this technology will take us, and I can’t wait to be a part of the journey toward a more spatial computing future.
What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why
As someone who is deeply invested in the VR industry, one of the critical areas that need improvement is UX design. We must focus on making VR experiences more accessible and user-friendly so people can genuinely enjoy and benefit from them. This is something that Shapes XR, the company I work for, is committed to achieving.
The challenge with designing for VR is that it’s a relatively new field, and we still need to establish best practices. As a result, we need to rely heavily on testing and prototyping to figure out what works and what doesn’t. But that also makes it exciting – we can meaningfully shape how people interact with virtual environments.
Of course, hardware is also a critical part of the VR equation. We need to continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible regarding resolution, latency, and other factors that impact the overall experience. But ultimately, I believe that UX design is the key to unlocking the full potential of VR. By making VR more intuitive, accessible, and enjoyable, we can help more people see this technology’s value and incorporate it into their lives meaningfully.
What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?
Privacy and ethics are of utmost importance in the realm of virtual reality. VR involves collecting and analyzing large amounts of biometric data, making establishing better privacy standards and ethical practices imperative.
The conversation about privacy should have occurred much earlier, and it’s essential to have it again as we switch computing platforms. Moreover, as we continue to develop technology, it’s crucial to consider the implications of its impact on privacy and ethical practices.
The Quest Pro is an excellent example of progress in this area. From a consumer’s perspective, it’s highly privacy-focused, with no access to data such as eye tracking or face tracking, and the streaming content in one’s room isn’t shared. However, I would like more camera data access to enhance designs as a developer. For example, in interior design, if we had access to the camera feed, we could extract color data from the real world, allowing us to use a color dropper tool to select colors.
In contrast, Quest 2 also lacks access to the camera feed, which makes sense from Meta’s perspective. As a developer, having access to such data could be beneficial, but as a consumer, it’s understandable that Meta made this decision.
Overall, we must take privacy and ethics seriously in VR. It’s our responsibility to build things more ethically, protect user data, and establish better privacy standards. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see progress being made, and it’s essential to continue discussing these issues to improve our understanding of the implications of technology on privacy and ethical practices.
What advice do you have for people (entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and students) looking to enter the XR industry? And how can they best position themselves for success?
As someone in the XR industry for some time, I advise entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and students looking to enter this field to start making things. The industry is still in its early stages, so anything you create will be unique and have the potential to stand out. Post your work as much as possible and try to build a following, but don’t let setbacks discourage you. The more you create, the better you will become and the more confident you will make decisions.
Collaborating with others is also essential to success in the XR industry. Working with a team will help you learn from other’s experiences and perspectives, which can be invaluable in such a dynamic and rapidly evolving field. Don’t be afraid to fail because it’s through failure that you learn and improve. And most importantly, keep trying and experimenting, especially after the challenges presented by the pandemic. The only way to fail is not to try, so keep making, sharing, and learning from your experiences.
Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?
I’ve been lucky to have a few important mentors in my career. One of them is Hamza Siddiqui, the company founder behind Poker VR. He’s always seen my potential and pushed me to improve and make cool things.
Lesley Klassen from Flipside XR is another mentor who has been influential in my career. We have similar ways of thinking about spatial design, and I always enjoy conversing with him.
Jonathan Gagne from Masterpiece VR is someone I’ve spoken to on and off, and he has inspired me greatly. One thing he said that stuck with me is that the goal is to be a little better each day.
While I wouldn’t necessarily call these people my mentors, they have inspired me, and I’ve had natural conversations with them. So that’s the underlying keyword here: inspiration.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?
Find Michael on LinkedIn, Twitter and learn more about his company, Shapes
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