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Virtual reality user research: delving into innovation with Threesixty

By Jess Lewes

Business Development Director


People for Research shared some tips last year about recruiting users for augmented and virtual reality user research or testing and we wanted to follow up with a client’s perspective on running user research for this type of technology. Luckily we have had the pleasure of working with Threesixty Reality on a user recruitment project recently, and Pietro Desiato, one of the co-founders, agreed to answer some questions from the team.

Threesixty is a company that specialises in augmented and virtual reality user research. They help clients at different stages: from understanding user needs and how VR/AR fit into running lab sessions to test prototypes and generate insights for them. Threesixty wants to help the augmented and virtual reality industry move forward and believe that this can be accelerated by taking a user-centred approach to the design of the solution, where technology follows the needs that people have. They have also set up a mixed reality lab in London.

What is a ‘mixed reality lab’?

A mixed reality lab is a space where you can run augmented and virtual reality user research sessions. It provides the virtual and augmented reality kits (head-mounted displays like Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens) and a space that can be configured according to needs of the research. At Threesixty, we’re working towards a lab where researchers are able to literally reconfigure the space to accommodate the needs of the project. This becomes especially critical with augmented reality, where you want to be able to see things in context.

What additional considerations do you need to make when setting up a session for VR/AR
testing in contrast to a standard web or app testing session?

Depending on what your use base is, you might want to add extra time for the getting ready part,
where the participant puts the headset on and familiarises with the headset or environment. This
might also mean adjusting the virtual height of the scene and the device straps.

Another key factor is hygiene: if you’re running multiple sessions in a day, you might want to
consider some wipes to keep the devices clean (it can get quite sweaty!).

Overheating: augmented and virtual reality require significant hardware resources. You need a mid to high-range PC to run VR. This means that, if you’re testing mobile experiences, they will be a strain on your devices; they will overheat a lot and they might shut down to preserve the integrity of the hardware.

Sickness: one of the key things virtual reality user research can help with is simulation sickness. This is caused by a series of factors ranging from frame rate, sudden acceleration, duration of the session, standing versus seated experience to the age of the participant, accuracy of the tracking, etc. Currently, this is being measured with a questionnaire (Simulation Sickness Questionnaire).

Observing and recording: there are some differences in observing and recording, especially for
virtual reality user research. Some key considerations are that you might not be able to see what users are doing with the controllers right away, which is particularly problematic in the observation room. You want to have a camera that shows the user’s body, possibly with a picture-in-picture, so that any interaction can be observed together with the actual user behaviour in the space. We are currently working on a solution that will allow participants in the room to get rich feedback and understand what is really going on in the testing room during augmented and virtual reality user research or testing.

Moderation: sound is key in virtual reality, but you need to moderate the session and be able to talk
to the participant as well. We’ve found that, unless the experience relies heavily on sound cues,
asking the user to take out the earphones works. Having said so, we want to explore how viable
moderation is in virtual reality user research, which would mean having the moderator immersed in the experience.

What considerations do you have to make regarding the participants, so they take easily to these sessions, or does it take them a little longer to warm up?

It really depends on the profile. If they’re early adopters and familiar with the device, it’s quite
straightforward. Most times what you want to make sure that the setup is right for the user: things
like height, distance of the lenses, straps and headphones.

What is the main reason for setting up Threesixty Reality?

We are all fascinated by technology. By how it can help us do new things or get better at things we
already do. Virtual and augmented reality are captivating platforms with the potential to make us
more productive, make less mistakes and ultimately enjoy things to a whole new level.

Threesixty was created because we believe that there’s no point in having amazing technology if we
don’t think human first. Unless we start from our needs and use technology to meet those, we are
going to struggle to make the world a better place. We want to provide a service that helps businesses create great experiences that are based on user needs by using user research and feedback from real people.

What are your predictions for the future of VR/AR?

Virtual and augmented reality are two faces of the same technology. They will eventually converge
onto a device capable of doing both.

Augmented reality today is looking more and more as a platform where other technology could
converge. For example, artificial intelligence, voice input, Internet of Things (IoT). AR will get to the point where it will be able to leverage different capabilities to deliver a truly personal, timely experience that changes all the time based on who you are and where you are. Visualising information in context, the possibility of creating tailored training together with how disruptive this technology can be for marketing, sales, design and prototyping, gives an idea of how much AR can really change things.

On the other end, virtual reality is the one that can really push the limits of what is possible,
especially when thinking of its ability of simulating situations over and over again without consequences. The other thing that is unique about VR is that you can change the rules of the game,
transcending reality: think of the laws of physics or your identity…

Anything you can share about the research project PFR have recruited for?

All I can say at this stage is that we’re really excited about the project, but can’t reveal more until it
will be released. It will hopefully represent an important milestone for the UK education industry.
We had the opportunity to help with the research and ran sessions on the Oculus Rift and Gear VR. It
was an insightful experience which has taught everyone a lot. In augmented and virtual reality you’re constantly learning because there are no established rules yet. We are documenting our findings in a library of interaction patterns, which is available on our website.

Pietro Desiato is co-founder of Threesixty, a company that specialises in augmented and virtual reality user research. With over 10 years of experience in interaction design, Pietro has been involved in a wide range of projects where he has led the design team to deliver products and experiences based on a research-centred and data-driven approach. These days, Pietro focuses on helping clients create immersive experiences with a user-centred approach.

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If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

jess lewesAbout the author: Jess Lewes is passionate about making research user-centred, and she is a source of knowledge for how to approach the recruitment process to get the best results for your UX research and testing. Jess is available to speak at your event, conference or company workshop.

About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.

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