Design Changes – a year on at Make Real

As part of our desire to encourage the wider team to write blog posts about their area of expertise, life at Make Real or topics they have an interest in, here we have Alan from the learning design team, who joined us [nearly] a year ago, looking at adaptions he’s made during his transition from traditional elearning to immersive learning design…


As we approach September, a number of exciting events await me. It’s the month of my birthday, the month of my first Make Real anniversary, and the month I finally marry my wife-to-be…

Since the tribulations of marrying in the midst of a global pandemic could easily warrant an entire blog series, I’ll opt instead for the easier route of using this blog post to explore some of my biggest VR related takeaways from my first year at Make Real – design discoveries that will stay with me as I continue into my career.

NHS ‘Blood Identification VR’ learning experience, looking at precise input motion replication for blood test procedures

Keep It Simple

In our continued quest for immersion and innovation, it can be tempting for designers to look to implement newer, more complex functionality. However, it’s important not to lose sight of the audience or learning goals when deciding upon this. For instance, if your audience is comprised predominantly of users who are new to VR, it can be best to cut the complexity to avoid barriers to entry. Additionally, if more complex interactions drive development costs – without providing any tangible benefit to the client and their learning goals – there’s another case to be made for pairing things back.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, we’ve recently begun exploring new approaches to production at Make Real – where comprehensive upfront design is eschewed in favour of greater opportunities for iteration. By doing so, we’ve seen improvements to our processes. Client feedback on early prototypes now allows us to decide where added complexity can better support the training needs of the learner. So far it’s yielding very positive results… so it’s a thumbs up from me!

Legal & General ‘Retirement Planning’ branching narrative interactive 360º video application

Know Your Engine

I came to Make Real from an eLearning background where the software and tools I used there differed significantly from the ones I use today. At Make Real, many of our experiences are built using the Unity engine and to a newcomer without a CompSci degree (i.e. me) it can be difficult to grasp. However, increasingly I’m realising that knowing more about our engine makes my life a lot easier in the long run.  [Editor’s note: we do not require employees to have a compsci degree.]

Firstly, there’s optimisation. The ability to know what’s computationally expensive to implement plays a more significant role in the design of a VR experience than in the design of an online training course. As I’ve become familiar with Unity so I’ve gained a better sense of the features that eat into a computer’s processing power. This knowledge has proved useful when designing for standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest that has less processing power than its tethered counterpart, the Rift. Moreover, when used in conjunction with our learning design experience, this knowledge has led to realisations that features once thought essential were, in fact, extraneous. If the computational cost is high, but the learning benefit’s low, it’s probably better on the cutting room floor…

A further perk of knowing Unity is that it’s allowed me to tinker and try out design ideas. There’s an element of experimentation with VR design and I’ve often been surprised by how ideas that seem neat in a 2D concept illustration just don’t translate to a 3D world. For instance, in an early piece of concept art, I suggested a UI panel appear in front of a virtual character. It looked quite nice on paper – and probably would’ve worked well were I designing a 2D mobile experience – however, in VR, the UI panel separating me from the character felt like a bizarre Perspex screen. I hadn’t predicted that and, had I been more confident with Unity at the time, I could’ve tried this out before sharing the concept design with the developer. (That said, in these COVID times in which we now live, Perspex screens separating us from our peers may no longer feel quite so odd…!)

Lloyds Banking Group ‘Coaching Intervention’ VR learning experience for soft-skills training

Know The Difference

I wholeheartedly agree with our Head of Learning’s remarks that learning is still learning and that established learning theory applies no matter the type of training you’re delivering. That said, I’ve come to appreciate that VR design is, in other ways, an entirely different beast. So many more variables are at play in a virtual experience and I’ve had to consider a far greater number of edge cases when designing for this medium compared with my previous line of work.

Additionally, I’ve had to challenge my own assumptions – like where a learner’s eyes will be looking – and put greater thought into strategies I can employ to direct attention at various points in the experience. It’s been a steep learning curve, but also something that’s made my first year so enjoyable.


In these uncertain times, it’s hard to know exactly what lies around the corner. But, at Make Real, it’s clear that we’ve lots to look forward to and that learning and adapting will continue to be at the heart of it. Bring it on.

Get in touch

We’re always happy to talk to you about how immersive technologies can engage your employees and customers. If you have a learning objective in mind, or simply want to know more about VR, send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.