What is Spatial Design? Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality UX

Torresburriel Estudio
5 min readFeb 28, 2024

Regardless of the different disciplines involved in product design, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) have seen their presence grow across a wide range of services in recent decades. The growing trend of studying and applying these disciplines marks a before and after in the evangelization of UX, making it an increasingly popular choice for professionals from other fields when choosing a job, such as graphic or industrial designers, web developers, and more.

However, this situation leads us to ask: What will be the application of user experience in the future? How will the study of new practices for interfaces and experience environments materialize?

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

We don’t need to look far into the future to get an idea. The answer lies in Spatial Design and the break from the two-dimensionality of traditional devices.

Spatial Design or Spatial UI applied to user experience encompasses the different ways and possibilities in which information is organized and presented in a three-dimensional environment, from the conceptualization of interactions to the design of the user interfaces themselves that use virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), or even what is known as mixed reality: a combination of using the two previous types of experience. These three technologies are increasingly present in our daily tasks, but it’s important to correctly distinguish these three areas and how Spatial Design affects their development.

The 3 fields of application of Spatial Design

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality creates a completely digital and immersive environment. Users explore and interact within digital environments through navigation devices such as virtual reality goggles. The essential differentiation is the high potential for immersion, where users are submerged in intangible experiences.

Typical examples can be found in virtual reality games, like driving simulators, or immersive museum experiences, trends among educational practices.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality combines the real world with digital elements overlaid through the use of devices that visualize the environment (such as a smartphone, AR glasses, or tablet) and to which virtual elements are added to that view in real-time.

These technologies can be seen in real-world examples such as the popular filters of various social networks, which apply visual enhancements and filters to the image captured through mobile cameras, or in the famous case of Pokemon GO, where Pokémon appeared in the physical vicinity of the user, through their phone’s camera.

Mixed Reality (MR)

Mixed reality combines elements of augmented and virtual reality. Users interact with physical objects and environments that coexist and can interact with virtual objects and environments in an integrated manner, with the former being conditioned by the conditions of the real world. Examples include hybrid experiences offered by products.

Although these 3 fields of work are similar, they have different considerations, and thus, Spatial Design is applied differently as well.

Spatial Design is relevant in augmented reality to ensure that digital elements integrate and overlay correctly on the various volumes of physical reality, requiring calculation and evaluation of distances and objects. The arrangement, scale, and interactivity of these elements require precise spatial considerations with the real environment.

On the other hand, virtual reality is influenced by Spatial Design in the scalability of digital environments. The organization of space, navigation, and the arrangement of elements in the virtual environment are key aspects of spatial design, being different for each specific case.

In the case of mixed reality, the designer faces unique challenges in requiring the integration of digital objects into the real environment. Here, Spatial Design is applied to ensure that the combination of virtual and real elements is coherent and effective, and this is achieved through 5 principles that must be considered from the User Experience point of view.

Principles of Spatial Design


As Apple points out in its fundamental principles, interfaces and workspaces in spatial design should balance novelty and familiarity: the formats in which we manage or consume content should be familiar to the user’s classic experiences, so we will also apply the same measures and guidelines used in traditional experiences.

This applies to content windows, where we initially contain content, with the possibility of adding content through external panels.


As we find in current interfaces, scalability is an important point to consider in spatial design, taking into account that our experiences can be resized according to the functions and needs of the user.

This is achieved by applying specific grid and spacing guidelines in current digital experiences. By applying these same guidelines in consistent units of measure, such as points (pts), we ensure the scalability of content.


The work of spatial experience designers should focus significantly on immersion. We must carefully transition the user’s attention to the experience, without completely isolating them from the external reality. There are multiple decisions and techniques to achieve this purpose through opacity, localization, and delegation of actions to the user to maintain their attention to their surroundings.

An interesting application is Glass Morphism, an effect applied to a container to make it look like glass, slightly blurring what we have behind. This allows the user not to lose the information that occurs with the space through the content windows they see through VR glasses.


Familiarity is important to maintain understanding and provide the user with easy navigation. However, special considerations of breaking away from two-dimensionality can offer unique experiences that generate value for our user, so the search for new enriched experiences between the digital and real environment will add value to our product.


Perhaps the most important principle to consider is the user themselves. Applying our knowledge as UX designers is essential when making a correct application of Spatial Design: considerations such as user movement, their field of vision, or their position when designing immersive experiences will make an essential difference and ensure consistency, accessibility, control, and communication between reality and experience for the user.

Without a doubt, Spatial Design will continue to gain importance. And the launch of the Apple Vision Pro is further proof of this. This fusion of the digital world with physical spaces forces us to rethink how interactions should be, how far immersion can go, and what it means for experiences to be intuitive.



Torresburriel Estudio

User Experience & User Research agency focused on services and digital products. Proud member of @UXalliance