Designing and Developing VR Experiences

Virtual reality design and development are becoming a more attractive and attainable option to many content creators. More innovation and development have resulted in a refinement of a typical creation process. According to the Motive staff, there are a few things you should know as you embark on designing and developing VR experiences.

Before you get started on any type of designing or developing VR, be sure to experience VR for yourself. Try all of the VR games, training, travel, and entertainment experiences that you can. Experiencing many different VR types allows you to understand the capabilities of VR, leaving you with a breadth of knowledge to pull from as you begin to plan and design. The best teacher on VR is VR, and it prepares you by showing what is possible, what is necessary, and what more you can do by using your imagination.

Designing VR is similar to designing other modalities at a high level, but it is essential to recognize the unique details specific to immersive experiences. Let’s explore the discovery and design phases of the process.

Designing and developing VR experiences: Discovery

Begin by working with the client to discover and understand the problem they are trying to solve with developing VR experiences. These meetings with the stakeholders and SMEs should happen early and often in the client relationship.

Spending the time to fully define the problem to be solved and how VR will solve that problem is the cornerstone of the process of designing and developing VR experiences. Get this right so that the rest of the project lines up.

Motive designers utilize Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping Methodology to determine the why, objectives, and where to start. There are four D’s to this discovery practice.

Define the goal. Spend time defining measurable goals that address specific performance problems that are currently happening at the organization. Ask questions like:

  • What problem are you currently trying to solve with this experience?
  • Is this skill something you are currently training, and if so, how and how often?  
  • What will be the immediate, measurable impact on your business?  
  • What is the learning outcome or changed behaviour they are looking for?  
  • After completing this experience, what will trainees be able to do?

As you ask these and other questions to get more information on what they want to accomplish with the VR experience, you will have the opportunity to understand more about why they want to do it through VR. This is a crucial understanding to have early on – and will likely span several conversations – to determine if and why VR is the right learning solution. 

Define actions needed to meet those goals. Spend time understanding what the VR experience needs to include in order to solve the problem or meet the goal. Ask questions like:      

  • Does the user need to practice this skill, or will some other performance support work?  
  • What are the behaviours you want to change?  
  • What are the process steps you want to improve?  
  • How do we break those down into bite-sized pieces that can be developed?

Determine why there is a behaviour issue or skill gap. Really dive in to understand why they are not performing to expectations now. Ask questions like: 

  • Why are they not performing this function now?
  • What steps have been taken to address the behavior issues?
  • Does the current training meet the learning objectives?
  • What are the barriers to success for the user?  
  • Is there an interpersonal or environmental issue keeping them from performing?

Design activities for them to practice. Brainstorm activities based on ways you can design experiences in VR.  Design specific activities that address performance issues, not a large-scale information dump. Focus on the skill or steps they need to learn. It’s easy to get hyper focused on the environmental details that are not part of the actual skill being built.  

The answers to these questions are where the learning objectives or measurable outcomes are defined, streamlined, and finalized.


As you move into the design phase, you will need some tools to capture your creativity. Motive Senior Experience Learning Producer, Destery Hildenbrand, is a big fan of starting with a mood board when designing and developing VR experiences. A mood board is a digital collage of ideas in the form of images, text, and samples that centre around a specific topic. This quick process can help you organize your thoughts and begin to visualize the experience you want to build.  

Be sure to gather reference footage of the environment and contextual details to create an authentic environment.  Without proper environmental reference points, immersion breaks and the effects of VR are diminished. Include authentic industry terms, jargon, proper lighting, and background noise.

You will want to move towards creating a storyboard and detailing out branching scenarios as well as drafting and cataloging the steps for development. There are several tools to help you organize and categorize what you want to build and how to build it.  

Twine is a great open-source option for drafting out interactive branching scenarios. You can create nonlinear, interactive stories and publish them to html for free, making it easy to share with anyone. Lucidchart is also a great low-cost option for drafting branching scenarios, allowing others to collaborate with you in real time as you ideate.  Be sure to break the experience into steps or units that can be easily programmed, rather than storyboard the entire experience all at once.

A standard Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet will do a great job at tracking all the steps and details and make it possible for you to share and assign tasks with others on the development team. At each step, be sure to identify the following:

  • What will the user see?
  • What will the user hear?
  • What will the user need to consider?
  • What choices will the user need to make? 
  • What or who does the user interact with?
  • What actions will the user need to take?
  • What will be the results of those actions?
  • How does the user proceed based on feedback?

As you iterate and review client feedback, revisit the learning goals and focus on the skills you will teach – not every movement required for the skill.

Are you interested in learning more about learning design for VR?
Download our VR Learning Design Guide: Virtual Reality Learning Design: Best Practices for Trainee Success.

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Betty Dannewitz

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