The UX Development Story

The Problem


My bubble

As Human Beings, we unconsciously allocate a certain amount of distance between others and us. We leave larger gaps for strangers, and smaller gaps for friends. Currently, no Social VR system takes into account the ability to control our physical boundary space around us. Never before Virtual Reality, have we had to design with this in mind.

The Solution



By building upon decades of research on Proxemics, I have devised a model for AltspaceVR to have default Privacy Bubble space restrictions for strangers, which can be customized per users' comfort level. By "Following" or "Friending" another user, the friend can be granted access to a closer reach of the user, for more intimate conversations, just like real life. 



Studying Proxemics

Building a privacy protocol like this stems from decades of research done on comfort levels of communication and interpersonal space. 

Jeremy Bailenson (Stanford) and Jim Blascovich (2003) published a novel study on Interpersonal Distance in Immersive Virtual Environments. In the study, the participants had to walk around a room with another virtual person standing, and try to remember what the VR person was wearing. They ran two experiments:

  1. Participants walked around the room with the virtual person standing still. 
  2. Participant stood in a VR room where the virtual person walked towards them.

In both experiments, the participant's gender, virtual person's gender, virtual person's gaze behavior (matching the participants' eye gaze, vs closed eyes), and whether that other virtual person was allegedly controlled by humans (i.e., avatars) or computers (i.e., agents) were varied. 

By measuring the participants’ behaviors, including interpersonal distance, memory, and self-reported social presence and affect ratings, they found that participants clearly treated virtual humans in a manner similar to actual humans. 

Distance Kept: Average minimum distance was ~0.5m away which shows that participants did not violate the virtual human's Intimate space. In addition, the shape of the Privacy bubble closely resembled real life Proxemics zones with the bubble being much smaller behind the target virtual human, than in front.

Agency:  participants recalled the information on the virtual person's body more effectively when the virtual person was associated with an actual human being (Avatar vs Agent condition).

Gender differences: Although previous research showed average distance differences within genders of participants and avatars, 

More research analysis to come.

The Background

The Application 








Intimate Zone: 0 - 14 in, 

Personal Zone: 14 in - 4 ft, 

Social Zone: 4 ft - 10 ft, 

Public: 10 ft - ∞
































By compiling all the Proxemics research, visualizing the different "safe zones" can be done with concentric circular borders. The research lays the borders at:


Proposal for VR Social environment 

In today's VR Social Environments (ie: Altspace), spatialized audio limits its users to be in a close range to be able to communicate clearly. 

To apply the Proxemics Borders to such a system, I have edited the borders to a simplified version which accounts for speaking to strangers, but still protecting you from people coming too close into the Intimate Zone.

Through my own experiences in social environments, my observations led to me disregard the borders behind my back. It is less uncomfortable for someone to be standing closely behind me than standing in front of me.

Interactive system Design

By combining the research and our intuitive experiences, I propose that by two users mutually "Friending" or "Following" each other, they give each other access to each other's Intimate Zones. 



Infographic drafts

Visualizing Data is not a simple process. These draft demonstrate my thinking process of how to translate the information from a list of zones, to a simple coherent infographic that anyone can understand.




Version 1: Fully Flat planes, circle not accuratly scaled to size








Version 2: Fixed scalings of circles, blurred out the last circle because it's boundary goes to infinity.







Version 3: Contrasful Colors, Text made more legible





Version 4: Fixed back area behind user, better zone legibility


proxemics back fixed.png

Bailenson, J. N., Blascovich, J., Beall, A. C., & Loomis, J. M. (2001). Equilibrium revisited: Mutual gaze and personal space in virtual environments. Presence, 10, 583-598.

Blascovich, J. (2001). Social influences within immersive virtual environments. In R. Schroeder (Ed.), The social life of avatars (pp. 127- 145). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Mehrabian, A. (1967). Orientation behaviors and nonverbal attitude communication. Journal of Communication, 17, 324-332.

Sommer, R. (2002). Personal space in a digital age. In R. B. Bechtel & A. Churchman (Eds.), Handbook of environmental psychology (pp. 647-660). New York: John Wiley