Designing for Human Embodiment

Human Embodiment

Human embodiment often plays into the construct of immersion. We want the users to be able to objectively perceive and interact with the environment around them. This involves manufacturing a digital construct that utilizes an individual user’s sensory, physical, and cognitive abilities. Because these abilities are heavily varied person to person, we need to provide accessibility options so that our users are given the flexibility to consume content according to their own needs.

Sensory Abilities

Sensory Abilities are a user’s ability for hearing, sight, touch, smell, taste, vestibular (balance of body), and proprioceptive (positioning of body) senses. Of course, in the context of AR/VR we don’t normally use all sensory abilities like smell and taste as they are hard to reproduce in digital constructs, and oftentimes are much more personally evocative than most users are comfortable with experiencing.


Two new senses that many designers may be unfamiliar with are that of vestibular and proprioceptive senses. Proprioceptive senses relate to how a person perceives their body in space. A fun example of this is catching a grape in your mouth or a ball in your hand. On initial throw, you can easily estimate the trajectory of the object. You’re aware of the position your body currently occupies and where you need to travel to in order to be successful in the task. This knowledge and spatial awareness of the position of your body is proprioception at work.

Your vestibular senses have to do with a similar spatial understanding, but instead of the location of your appendages or body, it has to do with understanding your sense of balance and movement. The vestibular sense is a complex system inside the inner-ear that gathers information on motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation. This commonly comes into play when you lean too far back in a chair, or trip over a rug, and you know that you’re about to fall over.

A specific VR app called Richie’s Plank Experience actively exploits a player’s proprioceptive senses by challenging players to step out onto a plank of wood over the edge of an 80 story building and convinces them of the illusion of danger.

As always, make sure to integrate cues that include audio and haptic information that allow are important constructs inmaintaining immersion and presence!!

Physical Abilities

Physical abilities are a user’s ability for mobility (moving about in space), dexterity (precision and flexibility), and stamina (prolonged or retained movement). These are all incredibly important components to remember when requiring users to physically engage with content. Once again, accessibility features here are paramount so that users can interact with content according to their own needs and preferences.

Headmaster VR is a game that plays on this idea that inclusive design can be the point. This game positional tracking of the head to allow the user to headbutt a soccer ball instead of using other more typical forms of input.

An important consideration for physical ability is the potential detriment for a primary, singular input. This can be particularly difficult for embodied content as it requires ranges of motion that aren't available to all people at all times (especially one as complex as hands).


Cognitive Abilities

Cognitive abilities are a user’s ability to comprehend and retain sensory, emotional, spatial, and time-based constructs. Because we have such a broad audience with a vast array of cognitive preferences and abilities, the best way to design for differing cognitive abilities is to perform usability testing to make sure our games are working with our users instead of against them. This involves giving options and control over content, and helping prevent errors in the process of our users experiencing said content.

One example of helping users retain spatial constructs is Fantastic Contraption, which showcases informational UI for rotating objects so that a user does not have to remember when architecting complex mechanisms within the game.

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