Virtual Reality Design Terminology

Below is a curated list of terms relating to design within virtual reality.

  • avatar

    a virtual representation of the experiencer within the virtual world

    They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse.1

    1. Stephenson, N. (2011) Snow Crash. Penguin. Pg 33.

  • butterfly effect system

    the butterfly effect system is a storytelling mechanism for managing complex narrative structures where actions from the experiencer can have a direct influence on how the narrative plays out

    The phrase ‘butterfly effect’ derives from chaos theory where American mathematician Edward Norton Lorenz used it as a metaphor to describe the phenomenon whereby a minor change in circumstances can cause a large change in outcome.


  • cockpit

    a virtual anchor that is fixed to the experiencer’s view and helps to ground them in the virtual world e.g. a fighter jet cockpit

    Research has shown that grounding the experiencer’s with virtual anchors can help curb symptoms of virtual reality sickness.

  • dollhouse view

    a top-down, external view of the entire artificial space allowing the designer to make global decisions about its composition and to enable swift prototyping

    The dollhouse view can also be combined with a first-person POV, to allow the experiencer to occupy the space they are actively manipulating, avoiding the need to switch between modes and perspectives when designing the space.

  • field of view (FOV)

    is the view that is visible to the experiencer while rotating their head from a fixed body position

    The average human field of view is approximately 200 degrees.

  • gaze-activated content

    when content e.g. the way actors within a scene behave, or the narrative, is directly impacted by the experiencer’s gaze

    See Believe VR from LA-based VR filmmaker Kevin Cornish and AMD.


  • hotspot

    an interactive spot within the artificial experience that reveal more content or options

    Hotspots can be animated and are often shown as a glowing orb.

  • occlusion

    the obscuring or hiding an object from view by the positioning of other objects in the experiencer’s line of sight

  • pitch

    rotation around the horizontal (x) axis

  • quillustration

    creating dynamic, 3D animations and illustrations in virtual reality using the Oculus Quill


  • reticle

    the reticle is a visual aid for the experiencer to target objects within a virtual reality environment with their gaze


  • signposts (signposting)

    environment cues with the added purpose of helping the user to interpret the virtual environment

  • yaw

    rotation around the vertical (y) axis