Customer Experience and Unreal Engine
Many years ago the creator of the programming language Visual Basic wrote a book titled „The Inmates Are Running the Asylum„. This was a stark warning that if left unchecked, the development process could overtake common sense when designing user interfaces. The user interface is the manifestation of an idea or process by way of screens. Alan Cooper states that user interface design must be driven by the customers needs, not by the development requirements. As with most things, when a new technology is introduced, the usability or ease of use gets compromised by enabling new features. Over time and thanks to competition, companies streamline the technology for it to be easier to use for their customers. Eventually, the ease of use of a product has become the difference between gaining or losing a client. This is something that can be applied to many areas, not just software.
We can think of one example that has nothing to do with computing but all to do with the ease of use, a commercial airlines cockpit. The interface between the pilot and the plane are the instruments at his/her disposal. The layout, position, complexity and other factors are what we consider the user interface design. In the past, up to three or four people were needed to read and act upon the instrumentation in the cockpit. Now, thanks to simulation using software, the user interface of the commercial airliner has been simplified to such an extent that one person can fly the vehicle.
In the past, to experience this level of interactivity we needed to gain access to a flight simulator which costs in excess of 1 M USD. Today, we have enough computing power in a typical smart phone to recreate the cockpit of a commercial airliner. This power means that customers have the ability to view not just images and video, but also interactive, immersive 3D.
With Unreal Engine, we can give the customer a complete experience which is easily accessible through his/her desktop computer, smart phone or VR headset.
How can we achieve this with Unreal Engine?
It is possible take a product model that any given design team has in production OR are creating. We can use the existing industrial 3D files and convert them into an immersive interactive model – in other words Datasmith (Unreal universal importer). Any product or feature which is being considered can be made into interactive 3d and put in front of clients in order to gauge their interest and more importantly, their understanding of what it is supposed to do.
How can we evaluate the effort the customer must exert to understand the product? Heuristic Analysis
Heuristic Analysis: We can do this by reading the user manual and looking at videos. If you like, we reverse engineer the objective from the finality to the start. We try to understand what the learning objective is and how best to sum it up and remove redundant things. Then once we get the idea and clean it up, we should proceed to produce the corresponding interactive 3D experience.
The Unreal experience must have an objective – this is defined by a set of questions relating to the task, for example:
Question: Was it easy for you to assemble and insert the tool into the device?
0= Too easy – 10= Impossible
The questions gauge the difficulty in terms of customer understanding.
If we do this with any given user manual, you will see what we mean, there is a lot of material that could be improved in terms of redundancy and repetition. This method is ideal for improving the customers understanding of complex tasks and products. This is what we gather from the Heuristic Analysis:
Usability = 1 – User Effort
Where the user effort is the sum and average of the answers.
Why this approach and the benefits?
This approach allows us for a fast production time with minimal costs due to the fact that we are creating a high fidelity prototype with software. The benefits include having multiple layers of the same product in things like virtual and augmented reality along with desktop for both PC and Mac. This combination allows for a realistic evaluation of complex products in a simple game type executable file. These layers allow us to engage the customer with something that is as pleasurable as a video game, expect for we are shifting the customers focus on a product that he/she must understand. This is an efficient and inexpensive way of:
- After Sales: Training the customer on product operation
- Pre Sales: Showing the product benefits prior to purchase
- Customer Oriented Design: Testing a 3D prototype prior to its production