Doing vs. Being: A Philosophy of Design for Artful VR

Jack Atherton & Ge Wang

Well-designed virtual realities allow their users to both do and be.

doing: taking purposeful actions in the world; exploration, control
being: intentional reflection, introspection, and calm

A careful balance and synthesis of doing and being is an integral part of designing for VR artfully.


We present a practical philosophy for how to design artfully for virtual reality. Framing this design philosophy is the balance of doing vs. being as a central duality in all design for VR. The values underlying this way of thinking draw from a diverse set of interdisciplinary perspectives and from our own practice in computer music design. We develop a set of design principles, through which we critically analyse several popular musical VR experiences as well as some of our own creations. These include a tool for audio programming in VR, a set of design etudes on musical instruments and a multi-movement artistic work. Through these principles and case studies, we hope to provide lenses – both critical and practical – to inform the design of artful VR.

Design Principles

Lens 1: Don't Forget About Audio

  • Principle 1.1: Audio should be dynamically generated.
  • Principle 1.2: Audio should be immersive.
  • Principle 1.3: Audio should be interactive.

Lens 2: Designing to the Medium

  • Principle 2.1: Don’t Port (Corollary): Make things that would be impossible in the physical world.

Lens 3: Doing vs. Being

  • Principle 3.1: Design to balance doing (action) and being (reflection).
  • Principle 3.2: Look up! Use gaze to modulate between doing and being.

Lens 4: Interaction

  • Principle 4.1: Drive interaction design with aesthetics.
  • Principle 4.2: Multimodality is a virtue.
  • Principle 4.3: Make space for being alongside doing in interaction.

Lens 5: Immersion

  • Principle 5.1: Create worlds that enhance doing and being through animus.
  • Principle 5.2: Balance stylization and realism.

Lens 6: Designing for the Body

  • Principle 6.1: Design for virtual embodiment.
  • Principle 6.2: The body is an implicit medium where being supports doing.
  • Principle 6.3: Movement matters.

Lens 7: Designing for Play

  • Principle 7.1: Play is both an activity and a state: a synthesis of doing and being.

Lens 8: Designing for Social

  • Principle 8.1: Replicate baseline social interactions; redesign the rest.
  • Principle 8.2: Support many kinds of social engagement.
  • Principle 8.3: Design for social doing and social being.

Video Figures from the Paper

These figures are included in the paper itself, linked here for your convenience!

Get the Paper

The paper can be accessed through the Journal of New Music Research [PDF].