Candidate blog Chris Northwood

Q and A Guest Blog with Harry Brenton

Harry Brenton Headshot

Harry Brenton

Director of BespokeVR

Harry Brenton bio.
Dr Harry Brenton is a director of BespokeVR that specialises in immersive UX design and virtual human research and development whose clients include the NHS, Imperial College, UCL and Generic Robotics. Harry has a PhD in virtual reality and medical simulation from Imperial College, has published over 30 papers about VR and applied technology and was a Research Fellow at Imperial College for 4 years.

Hi Harry, thank you for making the time to talk with us today. Your career in UX looks very impressive and quite a journey, from the film industry, to Ph.D researcher in VR and medical simulation to founder of BespokeVR, can you tell us what first prompted you to a career in the UX and VR space?
I’ve been fascinated by 3D graphics and virtual reality since I was a teenager watching early Pixar shorts and reading sci-fi novelists like Philip K Dick, Neal Stephenson and the late great Ian M Banks. So as the technology matured I naturally gravitated towards virtual reality.
I realised a while ago that some of the most interesting challenges in VR/AR are actually UX problems.

What is immersive UX design?
Immersive UX covers anything that affects a user within a VR or AR environment. Initially this focused on practical questions such as:

Comfort - How to design VR experiences that don’t make people feel sick.

Locomotion - how to allow a user to navigate through a VR world.

User interface design: how to display user interface text and icons, and how to use gestures to interact with these interfaces.

Storytelling - how to orient a user’s attention and guide them through a narrative.

These aren’t completely solved problems, but developers have come up with some nice solutions and design patterns. I’m investigating some slightly more exotic aspects of immersive UX, for example:

• How to simulate virtual humans that respond realistically when you interact with them.

• How to strengthen the illusion of owning an avatar’s body.

• How to control non-human avatars with tails, additional limbs etc.

What are the day to day challenges you face in immersive UX design and how do you best tackle them?
1. 3D development tools are built for monitors
I use Unity every day and it’s fantastic - but it can be frustrating to design VR content on a flat screen. This will all change soon with a new editor that lets you design VR in VR! 

2. Educating clients about immersive media  
There are a lot of misconceptions about VR and there is a lot more to it than just 360 videos. I always bring a portable headset (like a GearVR) to an initial meeting so people can get a feel for themselves. I then explain how immersive media changes traditional development workflows and pipelines.

3. Lugging around a huge and heavy PC!
I do a lot of workshops and demos and my VR ready PC is a bit of a tank. The new generation laptops and wireless kits will hopefully save my back!

If you were to describe your career in UX design as a movie, what would it be?

Wild Palms.

Which qualifications or personality traits do you think are a key foundation for the best UX professionals to build from?
• Curiosity.

• Side projects which show a willingness to experiment with new types of interface / navigation / interaction.

• An ability to help co-workers translate and apply their existing skillsets. For example, a good immersive UX designer should be able to work with architects, sound designers, filmmakers and photographers to help them to apply their talents, even if they haven’t used VR or AR before.

In the past, how would you approach seeking a career change given current technology and market conditions?
Keep changing jobs until you find something you love doing. Then get good at doing it, as John Lasseter once said: "if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”.

There’s a burgeoning tech skills gap in the UK, if you were to design a solution to help address it and plug the gap, what would it look like and what would the experience be?

Coding clubs for kids, I’ve seen some amazing stuff written by 8-10 year olds.

What’s the future of UX design, where’s it heading?
Immersive UX. See my previous answers!

When recruiting, what would be your 3 major no no’s when it comes to identifying your next ‘rock star’ UX design professional

1. Someone who uses trendy design methods and jargon, but can’t explain why.

2. Portfolios which don’t show the thought process behind a particular solution. 

3. An inability to demonstrate how a solution adds value to a user.

If you could create an app for the greater good, what would it be?

Wine synthesiser plugin device