©2019 by Big Tree Digital.

Project: virtual reality

The objective was to increase engagement at trade conferences.

After ethnographic research at trade shows around the world, we decided to develop a VR app.

Video of the first rendition of Specac's Virtual Lab.

This page briefly describes the end-to-end research and design of a virtual reality application. Work is ongoing to transfer this app from its current Oculus Go platform to the new Oculus Quest device.

Opportunity scouting

Trade shows in Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, Beijing, Dubai, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Orlando and elsewhere were visited.

We reviewed the features of hundreds of competitor event stands. Virtual reality was identified as a effective method for demonstrating product functionality to the user and a novel way to increase visitor engagement.

User research

Past analysis found content focused on functionality and applications of our products yielded the highest engagement from customers. So rather than designing a general science or educational concept, we focused on product demos.


Specac products are hand operated laboratory instruments, where powder and liquid samples are loaded. So a product demo in VR could be an immersive walkthrough, putting the participant in the shoes of the scientist using the equipment.

We used user personas, surveys, YouTube Analytics and trade show research to inform this approach.

  • Which Specac products are most popular at trade shows?

  • Which products appeal to which user personas?​ 

  • Which parts of our videos do users watch or skip?

  • Which topics are currently popular among our customer base?

Researching headsets

I started off by performing feasibility assessments of virtual reality devices, drafting concepts in parallel to try and anticipate device requirements.

  • Google Cardboard – researched, used & built prototype

    • cheap, poor visual, uncomfortable, phone needed, no controller, head tracking, wireless

  • Samsung Gear VR – researched, used

    • average visual, handheld controller, phone needed​, head tracking, wireless

  • Oculus Rift – researched & used

    • expensive, two controllers, good comfort, no phone, excellent visual, ​6 degrees of movement, anchored

  • Oculus Go – researched, used & built prototype​

    • handheld controller, average comfort, average visual​, no phone, head tracking, wireless


The platform

Many concepts were worked through, from paper wireframes to working prototypes.

Device we chose

We decided to use the Oculus Go.

It is wireless so would be easy for company representatives to travel with. At £200, several could be bought for use internationally at shows and with customers.

No phone is needed, so less set-up needed and it'd be easier to use. It provides reasonable comfort and visual quality.

Oculus provide a portal for remotely installing and updating software on all headsets. What's more, Unity provide an SDK compatible with the Oculus platform.

Experience mapping

We agreed to start with the Apex and Autotouch products, then to follow with more.

We consulted our value propositions, based on customer research, and drew up a basic scenario around this.

Interaction design

Wireframes and prototypes were put together and redesigned iteratively between usability tests with internal staff, customers and partners.

Building the solution

I designed and screened versioned solutions in Beta and Alpha release channels, using the Oculus portal.

The app was built within Unity. Affinity Designer was used to draw assets and Solidworks was used to source product CAD models. Blender was used to draw additional 3D assets.

The outcome

Usability issues raised during the first live run in Dubai prompted a brief return to Interaction Design.


  • Feedback informed us the UI was too wide, so I moved important items closer together.

  • Without a reliable mirror of the VR screen, it was difficult to talk a user through the experience. I added a prominent training screen and simplified the controls to alleviate this in the meantime.

  • The controller's 'exit' button can't be deactivated within Unity, prompting lots of users to accidentally escape the app mid-experience. The Oculus Go doesn't offer a 'kiosk' mode. I have started looking into a plastic 'shell' to hide this button from the user.


Going forward, I have learnt a lot about usability testing and VR, which I will draw from in future projects. More headsets have hit the market since, I'm currently probing the Oculus Quest and other products.