The Oculus Go Wasn’t Designed for Black Hair
Here’s how I designed a prototype to fix it
In January 2020, I ran an in-person experiment for my thesis at the MIT Media Lab. The project, called Allo-I, is a virtual reality human interaction study that centers the lives and experiences of Black women — specifically, Kenyan women living in informal settlements in Nairobi. As far as I know, it’s the first research of its kind, and I wanted to understand how the participants interact with novel technologies like virtual reality (VR) and the content within them and tested to see whether the technology can result in more imaginative thinking about the future.
The study had 220 participants, half of whom participated in a VR experience. For the study, I used the Oculus Go device by Facebook. I chose that device because it was easy to use and lightweight. I can use the device anywhere and pre-downloaded all my content so that Wi-Fi wouldn’t be an issue. From an accessibility perspective, the Go felt like the right decision. But that was before I realized that Black hair was going to be a major issue for the completion of my work.
Over the course of running the study, it became overwhelmingly apparent that the Oculus Go (and, I would imagine, any other high-definition VR headset for that matter) was not designed with Black women in mind. The texture, size, and styling of Black hair was not suitable for the device, and the strap attachment piece kept pulling out at the joints from extensive stretching.
I had four headsets for the study that participants used 25 times on average, and each headset “broke” approximately 10 times during the study. This means that the headset strap snapped nearly half the times that a participant tried to use it.
It’s not that African women have uniquely big heads. It’s that they have uniquely big hair that includes…