The Future of Design In Virtual Reality

by . January 9th, 2016

The Oculus Rift is finally available for consumer pre-order. You know what that means.


We can finally do virtually anything.

Virtual reality promises something more, something better. Put on headgear and a series of machines connected to your senses take you away from the miseries of the real world into an altered state of consciousness. All of it happening entirely in your own mind.

But before we put on our Nerve Gears Oculus Rift and start fighting monsters playing games, I think we need to discuss the consequences of virtual reality and its possible applications in the creative side of… well, “creation”.


Photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin

Reject your reality and substitute your own.

The virtual reality concept itself isn’t new. From antiquity we’ve seen artists and writers create their own reality, each with a well-established history and perhaps an even grander scope than what is real. It was in 1938 however when Antonin Artaud discussed the nature of characters and objects in theater as illusions and coined the term “la réalité virtuelle“.

Virtual reality as a scientific plausibility was explored in the 30s, starting with the definitive model of the concept in the short story Pygmalion’s Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum.

From there, subsequent stories about substituting the misery of reality with a virtual utopia emerged. Stories such as Killobyte, which presented a paralyzed cop trapped in a game by a hacker, and Snow Crash, which popularized the term “avatar” to describe one’s real world counterpart, further shaped the concept into the recognizable idea we know today.


Virtual reality as an actual scientific reality (pun intended) gained traction during the nineties, with the technology integrated with arcade machines to immerse the players in a digital, three-dimensional environment. The limitations of the current technology then however, halted the development of virtual reality to only the hardcore enthusiasts. The emergence of the internet proved to be the last nail in the coffin.

In 2010, Palmer Luckey designed the first prototype of what would become the Oculus Rift. The Oculus then was a cumbersome headgear built upon a shell of another virtual reality headset. It only displayed 2D images but has a ninety degree field of vision.

Half a decade after that, we have this.

As a designer, acclimatizing yourself to design using virtual reality may seem quite a feat. For a long time, we were used to designing using the mechanical movements of a mouse translated into the two dimensional and sometimes faux three dimensional computer screens. And here we see this new technology that merges the capabilities of a computer software with the natural movement of a human body. It is a no-brainer then that this is the future of design.

But I invite you to look back to the core definition of virtual reality—an alternate state of consciousness.

I know what you’re thinking. Drugs.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that people become more creative after drinking liquor or taking drugs. This is only popularized by the stereotype of creatives as users and abusers of substances. Little scientific evidence support the idea that drug use actually increase creativity. The continuous  surge of dopamine in the brain brought by these substances would inevitably create a resistance, making one lose the experience associated with inspiration.


Under The Influence by Bryan Lewis Saunders

Substances do not actually make you more creative. In an interview with Vice, neurologist Dr. Alain Dagher said that drugs can not only make you creative because of disinhibition, but they “make conceptual links in your brain between things that you may not normally link.” He also goes on to explain, “part of creativity is being original. So drugs like cocaine, and perhaps heroin, have that ability to make you have original thoughts.”

If we take this concept of drugs as the disinhibitor of creativity and apply it to the current virtual reality technology, we would create an immersive environment that could put us “in the zone”.

In psychology, we call it “flow”.


Photo credit: Ed Yourdon

According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the Hungarian psychologist who coined the term, flow is a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

In simple terms, it is the peak state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best. Concentration becomes focused that everything else dissolves in the background and time seemingly slows down.

Building from Csíkszentmihályi, the Director of Research for the Flow Genome Project Steven Kotler studied and compiled 17 triggers for flow, including pattern recognition and risk-taking, immediate feedback on performance, and the rich environment with lots of novelty, unpredictability, and complexity.


With the ability to immerse ourselves and stimulate our imagination through this triggers, we can use virtual reality technology to induce the state of flow whenever we want.

Imagine strapping on a headset, pushing a button, and getting in a room filled every art tool imaginable. With total immersion and no distraction, one could travel from one flow state to the next. How about music and the ability to hear the instruments as your write them on the sheets? Interactive web designing instead of staring at endless lines of code?

This isn’t even an impossibility anymore. Tilt Brush is one of the many virtual reality art tools that will soon be available with the release of the HTC Vive. It lets you paint in a 3D space. A few years of development going forward, we would no longer be viewing artwork in museums, but rather immerse ourselves in them.

Instead of viewing the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive as just another advanced gaming console, we should consider its near limitless potential as the ultimate platform for human creativity.

What do you think is the future of design with virtual reality? Comment below!



Kevin is a reader first, a writer second, and a gamer somewhere in between. When not rooting for Tyrion Lannister for the Iron Throne, he's probably writing some morbid short story. He enjoys some surreal art, clever advertising campaigns, and a warm cup of coffee while reading Murakami.