This question is about what you could call applied information aesthetics, so I hope it fits here.
So, by reality I mean a concept or system of presenting information to a user in a way so that she can understand the information structure, thus interact with it in a least-efforts manner. I use the term reality here, as my question is related to creating an augmented/virtual reality user experience.
A typical AR/VR setting presents the user with a reality that is different to the world we live in only on a first glance. So for example an alien world the user could immerse himself into would probably have large mushrooms instead of trees, animals would be larger/smaller than we experience them, leaves of plants would be red instead of green, etc. So this world is different, yes, still the user experience references concepts of our world.
Now, my intent is to create an AR/VR UI for presenting molecules. In the nanoscopic world of molecules and atoms, any concept like colour, sound or shape are initially invalid. Still the user should be able to interact with the molecules, to design them, which means she should get a reasonable amount of information from the UI that helps in doing so. It might sound a little strange to raise that problem, but be assured that the usual 3D-representation of molecules transferred to an immersive environment is utterly, utterly stupid, because the user experience does not satisfy the user expectation. (When an atom is a football-sized sphere in front of you, coloured in a metallic glow because it depicts iron, you just gosh and ask yourself the question: "Ehm, seriously?").
In the end, the question boils down to:
- How would you approach designing an information representation in such a "reference-less" case?
- What criteria would you suggest to label a design as "valid"?