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Making data tangible: using VR for data visualization - Codiax, November 2017

(URL available as the last slide)

Fabien Benetou @Utopiah, WebVR developer

What to expect from this talk

  1. why VR doesn't matter
  2. how does VR work
  3. how to design for VR
  4. what's data visualisation
  5. how is data visualisation in VR so different
  6. how to make data visualisation in VR
  7. let's make one!
  8. references

I can't ...

go to Mars, I can't scuba dive in the Marianne trenches, I can't juggle 4-dimensional toys, I can't hike in hyperbolic space, I can't organize my thoughts by moving them in space,

VR in itself does not matter.

How it impacts your daily life and the daily life of those around you when you come back does matter.

What's VR? Fooling your senses, giving up temporarily control to explore another reality

How does VR work?

Which is WHY you can't imagine it

Which is WHY you can't share it

OK but how does this magical hardware work?

So we are not a brain in a vat anymore...


Rethinking space


It's not just about the head mounted display.

your target platforms

Old and new constraints

UX foundations

  1. test in VR. If you did not try you are WRONG.
  2. it's all work in progress, we are learning.
  3. the medium has strength and weaknesses.

UX rules

  • don't control the camera rotation, make smooth movements
  • know the minimum mean of interaction
  • know how the body works

UX guidelines

  • provide sensory feedback for ALL actions
  • good silhouette, emotively animated with appropriate audio >> all the polygons in the world
  • know where people usually look
  • make a consistent environment
  • forget photorealism

Why does open source matter in VR? You're basically strapping a state of the art all black device full of electronics running on software

fabien@holodeck:~$ sudo su
[sudo] password for fabien: 
Sorry, try again.
[sudo] password for fabien: 
Sorry, try again.
[sudo] password for fabien: 
sudo: 3 incorrect password attempts

Why I'm contributing to Mozilla? Because I have to know how it works and that, whenever I need, I can modify a piece, something fundamental in your daily life yet even more in VR since you as a developer and artist literally shape a new reality

fabien@holodeck:~$ sudo su
[sudo] password for fabien: 

Being a Mozilla contributor (A-Frame/A-painter PR, issues, docs, organize WebXR events, dozen of workshops... but mostly just chatting on Slack!)

+ WebVR freelancer (PoC P&G, AirBus, European Parliament, startups, workshops)
+ WebVR startup co-founder (imec.istart 2017 incubee)

~200 WebVR demos

... and now that I spent all that time learning, building, creating I want to SHARE what I made!

What is there was a platform that all devices supported? Introducing WebVR.

Actually the web is better than native, it is not a "low resolution port".

  • ✓ Yes you can do WebVR PWAs.
  • ✓ Yes you can do VR-to-VR transitions (without passing by the store, with passing data!)

Going from one experience to the next, without leaving VR.

Including new hardware, controllers

but also new opportunities

faster process

new tools

What if ... we didn't even need to know anything to make VR content?

... ok but we don't want to do "art",

we are serious business people!

Data visualization


Ok but why?


  1. define a problem to solve based on a mental model
  2. gather, clean and represent the data to facilitate the discover of an unexpected pattern
    • via interactions or not
  3. insight generated from it invite to update the initial mental model
  4. allow backtracking from the unexpected pattern to data, optionally it's processing
    1. thus understand why it was unexpected
  5. update the initial mental model

Consequently beyond solely adding an extra dimension being able to use 6DoF for natural interaction might be one of the most important added value of VR data visualization.

Still a young field!

How to do it right?

maximizing the ink/data ratio

Sadly that was just a heuristic on how to do "traditional" dataviz right.

The curse of knowledge

More dimensions


The risk of laziness

Changing perspective, literally

Diving in data

Still trying to crank up dimensions

But to do it right it has to be personal

The impossible challenge of showcasing data visualization in VR...

Welcome to meta-flatland!

(15seconds in)


Wow... until

(at 17:55 to 18:50)

Shared attention

This is not Skype and sharing a screen.

(22min in)

Live demo: adit

(with video as backup)

So how to do it?


Meaning that you need to change your team

  • not a just a data analyst
  • not just a 3D designer

but ...

But then...

When interaction becomes central, at what point does data visualization becomes "just" an interface?

building the kubernetes VR experience

UX+Data Virtual Reality

  • Ana Asnes Becker bad and good (including "I don't know, we'll figure it out!")
    • think like and architect, "feeling about space"
    • make it personal, relatable

Low hanging fruits I didn't try yet

  • 3D brain scan manipulation

Live coding

aka how to look silly in public.

What's still coming

  • better cheaper hardware...
  • learning the grammar of data visualisation in VR
  • Web...
    • WebAR
    • WebXR
    • WebVR 2.0
      • with AR extension?
    • W3C workshop in Brussels
  • VR+ML workshop with VR.LAB Brussels following my failure

VR dataviz resources

dataviz in WebVR using A-Frame

Own examples of dataviz

Roughly sorted by date

Data visualisation in VR - Codiax, November 2017

Permanent URL:

Fabien Benetou @Utopiah, WebVR developer