We’re excited to present a series of profiles on cutting-edge innovators. At Fahrenheit 212, we believe that the exchange of ideas and inspirations is a crucial piece of the innovation equation. We hope that each profile we share serves to inspire your own thinking.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Jessica Outlaw, and I’m a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) researcher. What that means is I’m taking my background in behavioral science, and applying it to how VR and AR experiences are being created. I help developers and designers create the best experiences possible for how humans actually are.
My current clients are building VR platforms. I offer them social science training or consulting to help them build the best VR experiences, which could be in gaming, education, social platforms, etc.
Why do you do what do you do?
Previously I did standard user experience research and only last year I tried VR. I loved it and it gave me the opportunity to apply my behavioral science background to my work. What drew me to VR is that people are really working from scratch. This field is often compared to working on the web in the late 90s – everyone is trying to figure it out right now.
What are the life moments that most influenced who/where you are today?
I entered VR because I started talking to people in VR about my ideas, and they were interested, and invited me to talk about the work I had done in graduate school in psychology and decision-making. There is an entire sub-field of social psychology called “embodied cognition” that examines how humans think with their bodies as well as their brains. This is really relevant to VR & AR because they are building spaces from scratch. Also, in-air gesture recognition is a viable way to navigate these experiences so there’s a lot of overlap between embodied cognition and VR.
A VR experience that’s already been made that uses human movements to navigate is called “The Sky is a Gap.” It’s a time-travel, storytelling experience. A person leans forward to move into the future. When they lean back they move into the past.
This idea of future / past being linked to forward / backward has actually been verified in psychology labs. It’s been explored further using abstract concepts like “controllability.” People tend to believe that things in front of them are easier to control than things behind them.
I called my company "The Extended Mind" because I was interested in the different ways that our environments or the ways that we move our body influence how we think. I want to make insights from embodied cognition and other aspects of social science accessible to VR/AR creators so they can create the best experiences possible.
What is your favorite book and why?
A novel that I always recommend is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. For non-fiction, Mindwise by Nick Epley is a great read. It’s all about how we make sense of the world and how humans systematically do (or don’t) take the perspective of others. If you want to learn the science behind how humans get into the heads of other humans, you will like Mindwise.
What is your favorite app and why?
I’ve been using Moment to track how much time I spend on my phone and on which apps.
If people want to use their phone to try VR, there many apps. All you need is a mobile headset like Google Cardboard that starts at $15. NYT, WSJ, and the Washington Post all offer VR journalism you can access on your phone.
Other VR apps are YouTube, Within, and Cardboard. If you have a Samsung phone and a Gear VR device you can get on Netflix’s VR app and a social platform called AltSpace VR.
How long do you spend in the VR world a day?
Less than one hour a day, but I break that into smaller chunks. After 30 minutes I feel neck pain because the headset is heavy. If I go longer than 40 minutes, I tend to get motion sick. I have some real challenges with the current hardware.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you recently?
I have a three year old daughter who is always cracking me up. This morning she wrapped my orange scarf around herself and declared, “I’m Batman.”
What is your greatest life hack?
Blocking off time to think and get work done.
What do you think will be the next big wave in innovation?
Augmented reality (AR) glasses will replace smartphones over the next five years. With products like Microsoft Hololens, you maintain your field of view, and you can see a screen without looking down. Apple is acquiring companies that make AR tech, and filing new patents. There is a company in Florida called Magic Leap that’s valued at $4.5B that hasn’t even launched a product yet. Plus, you have Facebook, Snapchat, and Google working in this area as well.
It’s is going to be very socially acceptable for us to have these glasses. The challenge is, how do brands adapt to that? Will brands make specialized apps for glasses instead of phones?
What makes a great innovation?
I’m old-fashioned in how I think about innovation. I go back to Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. If you want innovative, take the low end of the market and make it mainstream.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
I met David Kelly at a conference and I asked him for advice on running a consulting firm. He said “There’s two ways to do it. One way is to go the way of Ideo – huge clients and broad impact. The other way to go is to go extremely deep in single area, and never grow to more than five employees.”
He advises people to always take the second option, and never try to do anything between option 1 and 2. In short: go big, or go deep, (but really, go deep).