Bodystorming Spatial Apps
January 19, 2024
After a problem area has been identified, it’s time to generate your ideas. But what’s the best way to brainstorm for spatial apps? You could grab your iPad and start sketching. Write out some user stories. Make a bunch of sticky notes with your team or AI in Figjam. While all of these can be a good way to generate ideas, none of them are inherently spatial. But there is an old technique that uses your body and the world around you to generate spatial ideas: it’s called bodystorming.
Bodystorming is a method of ideation and prototyping where designers roleplay a specific situation or interaction, with the help of various props. It’s like an improv show, where the designer uses the world around them as prompts for idea generation. Now in the past this has been done in person, in the real world, with real props. But today ShapesXR allows you to do this remotely with your team, on top of the real world, or any environment you can imagine.
Bodystorming in ShapesXR
Imagine designing an MR cooking app. To start bodystorming in ShapesXR you could walk over to your real kitchen in passthrough or import a virtual kitchen as an environment. Import some cooking props, ingredients, appliances, recipes etc. Once immersed you can start playing out the scene, placing the objects around you. Getting a feel for where things might be placed around you, relative to your oven or people in the kitchen with you. Bodystorming lets you think spatially during the ideation process.
Bodystorming can also reveal the assumptions from the user that a designer will need to contend with, along with problems that need to be solved. It is an excellent tool for when the ideation side of a project has physical or interpersonal aspects. Designers and researchers can see things from the user’s perspective, and better understand their needs and behavior within the context of the spatial experience. Those ideas can then be communicated quickly to get meaningful feedback, which in turn leads to even more iteration and improvisation.
In terms of design, there are two major advantages to bodystorming:
Empathy: By getting immersed in a specific situation and environment, you can step into their users’ shoes to better empathize with them
First-hand user experience: Designers and researchers get a first-hand view of a user’s behavior, including their specific reactions and how they physically navigate an area.
Prepare for a bodystorming session using ShapesXR
As a collaborative design tool, ShapesXR is particularly well suited for the initial phases of any design process. But before jumping into a session, designers need to have a clear scope and objective. That includes:
- Immersing the participants into a specific environment that relates to the experience being created
- The ability to ideate freely on a prompt that focuses on a specific challenge
- A means of openly presenting and discussing each idea.
The first step is to select an environment to work on within Shapes XR. Designers can upload the 3D model of their own 3D space, or find a ready-made environment online at a site like Sketchfab as a GLB or glTF format.
Alternatively, users can also select from one of the various templates available from ShapesXR, or they can sketch one out using the creative toolset. The next step is adding assets (including images), in a similar way. Users can upload their own, secure them from a third party source or generate them using the creative tools within ShapesXR. Platforms like poly.pizza offer nice, low poly assets that come in packs, assuring a visually coherent look.
With that done, the next step is to lock the environment, and then share the space using the code or the web link. For teams collaborating together, each member will need to download the ShapesXR software, create an account and go through the initial tutorial.
Bodystorming can be done alone or in a group, but the general approach is the same. Participants should start by familiarizing themselves with the movement options (typically teleportation and standard movement), and make sure they are comfortable. Each situation should be approached individually, allocating a specific time to act out the interaction or layout the various elements in the scene. Users should also be encouraged to grab and move both physical props and digital objects, while experimenting with the UI. That also creates an opportunity to try variants and new ideas within the 3D space.
For groups, designers should also determine whether they want to fix roles in advance, or let the group switch between roles. Going back to the example of an MR cooking experience, designers could follow the users and observe how the UI might follow the user around the kitchen, or determine how to gamify the cooking experience in a way that might feel natural.
Depending on the complexity, all of this can be done in 10-20 minute sessions. That should be plenty of time to get some ideas flowing.
Add a little magic with Wizard of Oz prototyping
Here is a team at MIT Reality Hack 2024 using the Wizard of Oz prototyping technique in ShapesXR to find the fun of their game.
Sometimes interactions become too complex to simulate alone, and having a buddy stepping into the role of the “Wizard of Oz” – performing actions behind a figurative curtain – can help unlock many creative opportunities. Typically, something like this would be done in the physical world with one person acting as the user and running the experience through the motions, while the other would help to facilitate and imitate the actions. For example, a user might tap a button that in the MR environment would turn a page in a series of instructions, and the “wizard” would jump in and physically switch pages. Another way of doing this would be to create a video that is afterward edited to communicate the interaction
This can be a very useful strategy and method of brainstorming, especially when paired with ShapesXR. Here are a few ways of using Wizard of Oz techniques in ShapesXR
- A user can zoom out and grab props and UIs that are outside the environment to simulate the progression in the user flow as the life-sized users are acting out the scene
- Record a Holonote replicating the user movement in the space
- Use SamePage mode to have one participant switch between stages once the user acts out certain actions
Consider incorporating bodystorming early in your ideation design process. Individual and full design teams alike can solve problems and experiment with multiple solutions quickly and easily. Designers who are able and willing to embrace bodystorming early in the design process can get directly into the head of a user to understand their context and generate complex spatial ideas.