VR as a Research Tool

Shared by Design Researcher, USA

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We were recently in South Africa for a project focused on women’s health. But most of our team were back in the USA and we wanted a way for them to be immersed in the context with us. Virtual Reality offers an obvious answer for that.

The VR camera we used was pocket-sized and with a 360-degree lens. That breaks people’s mental models of a camera, so it’s no longer staring at them, or you, or anything, really. It puts participants at ease as it quickly fades into the background—and of course we’d asked their permission to record, explained to participants what the camera was and that we’d be showing people in our team back home.

The resulting videos indeed felt active, rich, and immersive—for our team it really felt like being there. This was a first foray with VR in design research—and we’ve been super-cautious about what we’ve shown and shared. It’s an incredibly powerful tool and is definitely going to present challenges from an ethical perspective—with 360-degree view available, even as the researcher who’s present I can’t be fully aware of what’s going to be visible in the video. So as we experiment more we’re thinking hard about what it’s going to involve to use it responsibly.

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Do you have a personal reflection around design research ethics that you'd like to share with the community? We would love to hear from you.

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