At the Fork is a documentary about humane meat & animal farming. I designed a 360-degree virtual reality app as part of the film’s marketing & impact campaign.

My Role

UX Research & Design

The Client

United States of Animals (the filmmakers), Whole Foods Market & the Humane Society of the United States

mockup-atthefork-featured

01 — Product Strategy

Virtual Reality as a pathway to empathy

At the Fork is a documentary about humane animal farming. The filmmakers asked us to create a virtual tour of farms from the film,  in order to increase shoppers' interest in and understanding of humane animal products.

Project Goals + Approach:

  1. Promote the film
  2. Increase users' empathy for animals through Virtual Reality
  3. Increase awareness of what different labels really mean by showing users examples
  4. Create something delightful and exciting to show at film festival booths & grocery store pop-up experiences

Below: Desk research, interview notes, landscape analyses, stakeholder analyses + subject maps from early strategy sessions. What would "success" look like for this app, for all stakeholders?

discovery

02 — Research Strategy

Nice to meet you — can I strap some cardboard to your face?

In 2015, VR and AR were still new and exciting and, for newbies, kind of awkward. The filmmakers planned to distribute the app via free, branded Google Cardboards in grocery stores across the U.S., and in pop-up experiences at grocery stores and film festivals in a "ready to go" Occulus set up.

The app had to work for first time users of VR, no matter what VR device they used, and whether or not they would ever see the "2D" part of the app.

With a limited timeline, and a feeling that we needed to test interactions in real devices, we had to prioritize our UX research goals & tactics. We decided it was most important to focus on:

  • how to split up content, and how to organize it for users
  • how to help users get around in VR — across platforms, and in various contexts
  • how to make the experience intimate and positive

03 — Content Strategy

Wait, there's how many species of chickens?

With six different species and three different environments to explore per species, we saw that decision paralysis could be a big risk for new users.

We wanted to give users a way to experience everything, without having to make too many choices — but it was important for key stakeholders that users be able to explore environments modularly, especially for in-store experiences, where they'd be more crunched for time.

Left: a low-fidelity prototype of the home screen. On opening the app, users would be presented a primary, narrated experience that would guide them through a variety of environments.

Below that, quick access to modular, "deeper dive" content — where users could select a particular animal to learn about in depth — was just a tap or swipe away.

Right: a low-fidelity prototype of the "Explore" screen (a selection of modular experiences).

We wanted to allow users to see details about an experience they were interested in before "committing" to it, without having to go "back" to explore other options.

04 — Cross Platform In-VR Navigation

Humans don't nod with their hands

Once users were in VR, we didn't want to make them leave in order to navigate to the next section — but we weren't sure if navigating in VR would be the same in different devices. We decided to test in-VR navigation in real devices, where we identified major usability & consistency challenges in cross-platform navigation (below).

Because we started with these tests, we were able to iterate and pivot early on in design, and create affordances that worked across all devices.

We thought that nodding in response to questions like "Continue?" would be more conversational and intuitive for new users.

This worked really well for hands-free headsets: users nodded, the device's accelerometer was triggered, and subjects thought it was delightful and "cool".

...but for handheld devices (like Google Cardboards) it was a disaster: users nodded their heads, but they held their hands (and their device) still. The device couldn't tell they were nodding, and they grew frustrated and confused — "Why was nothing happening? Did I nod wrong? Should I nod harder? Did I break it?" — without any feedback.

 

Left: The "long stare" was easier to understand, across more devices. Users would point their field of vision at a particular target for a certain length of time to go to that experience. It took slightly longer to navigate, but it had a few huge advantages:

  1. We could give users feedback about whether they were "doing it right," or if they'd moved off their target through the use of a progress bar.
  2. It relied on a physical behavior that users were familiar with — they could use the same way of looking around their environment that they'd already practiced in earlier VR experiences.
  3. It worked without a VR device, too — users who wanted the "360-degree" experience (without VR) could navigate just as easily from one experience to another.

05 — Branding & Tone

Easing anxiety about the material

The filmmakers had done some early interviews about the content of the film (and the VR footage), and surfaced an unexpected user concern that we might not have known to look for otherwise: anxiety about the material.

Oh, uh, I don't know. I don't think I want to see animals in situations like that.

What group are you with? Is this one of those undercover videos?

Above: Quotes from test users & audience members approached by the filmmakers.

Around that time, a few undercover videos of farm animals being abused had gone viral. Users were concerned that we'd be strapping a device to their face and trapping them in an experience that was painful to watch even when it wasn't in VR.

To be clear: our footage was not like that at all. But it wasn't an unreasonable concern, and it meant that our final design challenge would be to build trust and put our users at ease, before they even downloaded the app.

The only problem: we didn't have a film poster or any kind of visual identity around which to center our art direction. We had to ship the app before a poster was locked, and we had to do our best to make the app visually flexible enough 

07 — Retrospective

Key Learnings

  1. Testing in a variety of real devices is crucial; you never know what's different across platforms until you test it.
  2. Stakeholders and clients are experts about their industries and businesses, and they often have really important and useful insights about their customers. User research is best when it's collaborative, and insights are shared.

Credits

Technology: Frank Flemming
Creative Direction & Script: Marshall Walker Lee
VR Footage: Canyon Darcy & Ryan Hunts