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Creative User Experiences using Augmented Reality

Working for a design firm has given me the opportunity to contribute to a wide range of media including Print, Web and Mobile. A few years ago I designed Augmented Reality cover pages for two Magazines (featured above), that required detailed illustrations be linked to an animated video using AR. I've been since fascinated with the possibilities of using AR to make any user experience 'more' than what it appears at the first glance!

The dictionary meaning of Augmented Reality is 'a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.' With the addition of CGI over reality, the boundary of User Experience is now crossing two realms - where we not only need to figure how the User Experience affects AR software, a constant, but also need to find an aesthetic way to integrate that experience with a reality, a variable in the design equation.

Here are a few points that could help maintain the usefulness of AR in UX, without getting lost in the frou-frou potential of this technology. 

1. Find an Apt Placement of AR content

We begin by finding what our needs are and what media and content combination will be most useful in placing AR interactivity. For instance, an Advertising Agency Exec can pass on a Business Card with AR features, to potential clients at conventions - allowing them to view a demoreel at the tap of a button. Museums and Amusement parks would rather add the AR feature to their maps and landmarks that can help visitors navigate better. Need based placement of AR features can provide utility beyond amusement. 

2. Define the right Degree of User Interactivity

It's crucial to understand the people and setting in which the AR will be accessed. If it is an AR magazine mailed directly to the user, they will have ample of time for a higher degree of interaction, and any associated videos can hence be longer and elaborate. If AR content is displayed in an exhibition setting at a local museum, the users will have bigger screens, lesser time and limited gestures to interact with. In that case the AR content would be simpler, shorter and using easy and intuitive gestures that won't tire the users. 

3. Design CGI and Reality, Collectively

While designing CGI content for Augmentation, imagine how it would read on a variety of backgrounds because the Reality aspect is variable. Any CGI element on a white or gray background would read nicely, but pre-visualizing it over live footage will help adjust the contrast, positioning and opacity of the CGI elements for higher readability. If an AR product is using specific locations, it also helps to examine the spot in person and noting the network reception quality, lighting, safety and other factors prior to designing AR content.


4. Set the right Frame Rates and Compression

If the Augmentation content is a video with it's own pre-rendered timeline, 24 fps is an acceptable frame rate. As a test, you can scan the 'Creative Gaga' magazine cover above, using Layar app on iOS/Android. It leads you to an AR video with a 24fps rate and H.264 compression, providing decent quality for mobile viewing. However, if 3D assets are part of the AR experience, a much higher frame rate (48-60fps) will be needed in order to perfectly superimpose CGI over Reality. It is also possible to render 3D assets live, at multiple angles, which makes the Experience more seamless and pleasing.

Designing a well-thought UX is essentially a return on a user's investment in our product. Having a busy user download an app to view content is a big ask in this era of short attention spans. Keeping the content precise, organized and easy to access are part of the Design Ethic for AR products. 

Two of my favorite AR Games with engaging User Experiences are LittleBigPlanet's Tearaway and Google's Ingress. What are some of your favorite AR User Experiences?