Design engaging experiences for Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality (AR) is beginning to open doors in the creative technology space. For those unfamiliar with the term, AR allows people to use mobile devices to overlay digital content on the real world. Using AR applications, users can scan unique trigger images using the phone’s camera view or place digital content as they wish.
When the trigger is recognised, content appears in real time over the scene in the camera’s frame of view. This content can be anything from a still image to a complex model the user can interact with as it evolves. AR sounds complicated in theory but the application of it is incredibly simple – real life plus overlaid topical, relevant, background information equals something massively more useful.
As understanding of the technology has grown, the prohibitive costs that had limited the uptake of AR development have plummeted, turning promising potential into powerful tools. This has led to an explosion in use in both creative and traditional industries. AR-driven marketing campaigns have seen huge engagement, innovations in manufacturing have driven improvements in safety and savings in costs and efficiency.
The range of applications for AR is expanding rapidly, and with enormous investment by the giants of the tech world – Apple and Google both releasing their AR offerings this year – it will soon become a staple of the day-to-day experiences of the average mobile user.
While this is great for hardware and software creators, for designers, the 3D content, real-world context and interactive nature of the experience presents a whole new set of creative challenges for creating effective content.
To add to the challenges, AR puts control of the experience in the hand of the user and requires clever user-experience planning to make sure you are making something that simplifies, engages, empowers or demonstrates the user, and looks great from any angle.
So, with that said, how do you produce great augmented content?
Unless you are a 3D animator or modeller, you’ve probably had little reason to think about creating much other than 2D images to be viewed on screen or paper. Now you’re faced with content options that range from 2D images to 3D models and animations. It is easy to get caught up in the possibility of creating something just because you can, but the original rules of content hold fast: Your content needs to appeal and provide utility to your target audience.
Consider what it is your audience needs to take away from this interaction, what messages do they need to hear, what problem does the content address? You can then take the brand idea from 2D and expand it into a third dimension. It could be a 3D instructional video, 3D logo or branding design or 3D product visualisation, such as the app Plattar created for La Marzocco, which allows customers to see La Marzocco coffee machines in their own kitchens.
Your content needs to take users on a journey into another dimension by making the experience immersive and relatable with characters and content that come to life and are encapsulating – the wow factor! It is this edge that will ensure users keep the app on their phone and come back time and again.
Working the Angles
Augmented content leaves you nowhere to hide. You’re not in control of the camera and users have the ability to explore your experience from every angle. When you’re designing content it’s imperative you check, how does it look from the side, top and bottom? You need to think like a movie director – the world you create will be articulated by the user from all angles so ensure objects are well-lit on all sides and don’t try to hide any imperfections.
With so much going on, it is important to create a ‘hero angle’. This is a focal point that captures a user’s attention and helps direct their eyes towards the message or brand component you want them to absorb most. It is a wise idea to present any interactive 2D components, such as buttons or hide/show features, square on to the user.
With Augmented Reality it’s not just what you see, it’s how you see it. Content is created in proportion and in relation to a particular marker or point in space. Some of the most effective applications of AR content, take that marker or location and use specially crafted content to extend what we see in the real world. A perfect example that has captured the imagination of millions of consumers is Snapchat’s now infamous filters. Content is laid over your real-world self in perfect sync with your face, the result is Snapchat has over 100 million daily active users and 87 percent of users are using the app at least twice per week.
Another example, Plattar brought Karan Singh’s art to life with Augmented Reality at the Sugar Mountain Music Festival. Thousands of people viewed and engaged with the art during the festivals, which brought a whole new experience to the way people interact with art at festivals.
When considering the context of your content, it’s important to be aware of AR-specific interactions such as moving the device (scan/pan/zoom) and scale – for example, a big button is great if the user is far away, but they will not always be. Are there any field-of-view restrictions? Understand how a user begins their experience and what might impact your content. Context really is key – it is common in 2D design to include shadows on assets but they could look odd in 3D in someone’s home or their lap while traveling on public transport – all these elements must be taken into consideration.
Once you’ve mastered the content, a well-designed AR experience can add value to brands and consumers in so many different ways. AR can make it easier for users to find products or information; wow and engage customers in a brand experience; empower users with relevant information and the ability to act in real-time; and personalise a product or experience by demonstrating what it will look like in a user’s world.