It was only a few months ago that CEO Tim Cook unveiled Apple’s latest products in an elaborate ceremony met with mixed reviews. But while the tech world buzzed about the iPhone X’s price tag, it’s intrusive notch, or that dubious FaceID, one important takeaway slipped under the radar: Apple fully committed to the idea that augmented reality is the Next Big Thing.
Cook didn’t just introduce the ARKit for iOS 11 (“a framework that allows you to easily create unparalleled augmented reality experiences!”)—he devoted significant time to demonstrating its capabilities, from a stargazing app to an immersive mobile gaming experience.
As an undisputed industry leader in both tech and design, it’s telling that Apple’s betting on augmented reality. For a UX design agency like Codal, it means we need to be prepared to create and implement design principles for crafting user-friendly AR experiences. Here’s some key guidelines for augmented reality applications.
IDENTIFYING INPUTS AND OUTPUTS
By definition, augmented reality is the combination of both real-world inputs and digital, pre-programmed ones (the augmentation). Before creating an AR application, it’s imperative that designers define these inputs, not unlike a site map or user flow for a traditional website.
Consider what needs to be automated, and what should be user-controlled. A common mistake in early AR applications is automating too much, or providing the user with too much virtual information. Consider this extreme example from designer/filmmaker Keiichi Matsuda:
Matsuda imagines a world saturated with AR, and how it might create a design dystopia
When sorting your inputs and outputs into real-world and digital categories, remember that the ultimate UX maxim still applies: keep it simple, stupid. Consider the apps that have had the most success with AR—Snapchat, Pokemon Go—and note their actual AR functions are fairly simple.
Snapchat’s most popular AR feature, their filters, are activated purely by recognizing the user’s face, and sometimes responding to simple actions like opening the mouth or widening the eyes. Pokemon Go’s AR interaction is even simpler, with users only needing to swipe to catch ‘em all.
Unlike the clearly defined boundaries of a 2D user experience, UX designers need to seriously consider the different environments their AR application could be implemented in. This doesn’t just mean broad identifiers like “outside” or “in a city”, but rather crucial details.
Will the AR functionality and design work smoothly in different lightings? Different receptions? How will the user actually interface with the application? To help answer these questions, AR UX’s Rob Manson developed four buckets to categorize the conditions you’re designing for.
Public — A bit of a misnomer, this doesn’t mean the user is necessarily “in public”, but rather denotes an AR function where the user’s entire body is involved as a controller. Think of large-screen augmented reality applications, like the Nintendo Wii.
Intimate — The next size down from public, an intimate environment describes more typical interfaces, particularly the desktop computer. In this environment, the user is likely seated, their body a few feet away from the monitor.
Pokemon Go is arguably the first pure AR platform to dominate the app marketplace
Personal — Describes using a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device in a public or private space. Here the user’s interactions are limited to swipes, taps, and facial expressions. Examples of AR applications in a personal environment include Pokemon Go and Snapchat.
Private — While mainstream augmented reality is still in its infancy, the private environment category, is even more nascent. This grouping includes wearable tech, from Apple Watches and Google Glass to Oculus Rift or Microsoft HoloLens.
While the specific environmental conditions are going to vary by application, these labels help designers define the limits and boundaries of their applications and understand how it will be used in the real world.
A NEW KIND OF USER FATIGUE
Every UX design company is familiar with the idea of user fatigue. Whether it’s too many high-effort interactions or a visually exhausting interface, designers innately understand their craft should alleviate the user’s workload, not add to it.
This idea holds even more weight in augmented reality applications, but often gets forgotten. The interaction costs in AR can be much higher than traditional 2D user experiences, or in simpler terms, it’s easier for a user to click than to swing their arm or contort their face.
Snapchat’s AR-enabled filters identify faces and respond to users opening their mouths
It’s important to consider how the user will be physically interfacing with the AR application, and how to avoid putting them in physical or mental discomfort.
AUGMENTED REALITY & A CHANGING WORLD
Both UX designers and app development companies will need to learn and implement these guidelines in order to craft meaningful and user-friendly AR experiences, but it’s important to remember that we’re still in the early stages of augmented reality’s role in the mainstream.
In time, as Apple’s AR Kit becomes more commonplace, more designers will start to experiment within the medium and develop the industry’s best practices. We understand the capabilities and possibilities of AR, but we have much to learn about how consumers will actually use it.
It’s an exciting time to be a UX design agency. As new technologies enter the cultural consciousness, digital leaders like Codal can leverage them to create more immersive, more useful, and more meaningful experiences for users to enjoy.