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The future of UX: Designing for Augmented Reality

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In recent years, digital designs of applications have broken new horizons with the introduction of exciting new technology, such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) for the general consumers. The most notable example of such an application would be Pokemon Go, an AR mobile game that has managed to attain 250 million concurrent players at its peak. Small kids, working adults, and even older folks can be seen running about as they try to capture animated creatures overlapped with the real-life environmental input captured through their phone cameras. This technology used is essentially AR, where designers can use creative UI designs to create an immersive experience that integrates the user’s real physical world with digital elements.

In AR, designers design for digital elements that appears over a real-world environment, often through the camera of a smartphone, unlike VR technology, which totally isolates the users from the real world around them. From audio cues to graphics and text overlays, digital elements featured in AR can respond to changes in the user’s environment as they move about.

AR beyond recreation

AR extends beyond just entertainment, with creative practical applications such as GPS overlays, testing beauty products, and measuring items. Check out L’Oréal’s Modiface, an AR app that allows users to try on make-up products themselves digitally, essentially revolutionising how fashion retails could work in the future. The architecture field has also explored using AR to create 3-D models of buildings for more effective space planning and visualisation.

As technology and hardware further progress, AR may even evolve to become a staple of everyday life in the future, essentially replacing our current screen inputs. This video provides a take on what the future could be like in such a scenario.


Designing for AR

With AR pushing the boundaries of traditional screen interfaces, how should designers adapt accordingly? Although AR products require modern UX approaches and new considerations, the fundamentals of UI UX designs are still essential to a good AR experience. This article aims to provide some insight into key considerations needed for digital UX designs for AR.

We would first have to look at the hardware used for the AR software, as different hardware provides drastically different experiences e.g. using AR on a smartphone screen compared to wearable smart glasses. In this case, we will be looking at AR on a smartphone as it is the medium most available to general consumers and the one which most apps are based on currently. Here are 5 top considerations for AR UX design:

1. Define the space

Before users engage with the app, define the context and place in which the app should be used. Give users a clear understanding of the amount of space or type of location required for the AR experience. Should the app be used in a wide public area? Or would it work better within the confined walls of a room?

Since AR is a new concept to many people, giving the users expectations upfront that the app will react to one’s physical environment can help them better understand what to do and expect.

2. Proper Onboarding

In relation to the previous point, proper onboarding activities should be introduced to the users to:

  • Allow them to understand what is AR and how it works
  • Functions and utilities of AR within the app
  • How to control their device to work with AR

Onboarding is especially important in this scenario as the way a user pivots and moves their device for the AR functionality might be very different from traditional apps usage, especially because of how they would have to use it with the camera view and interact with the elements on it.

Source: vovakurbatov

3. Safety Considerations

As AR requires interaction with the physical environment and user movements, the user’s safety should be a key consideration when designing such an app.

  • Users can get too immersed when using the app, and in such cases, timely reminders or reactive alerts can be displayed to reduce instances of users bumping into objects or crossing onto dangerous areas, such as a busy roads. As useful as AR is in making use of the user’s environment, it is also the designer’s responsibility to ensure users check and is aware of their surroundings.
  • Consider the physical actions and constraints of the users when implementing the app design. For example, if the app is meant to be used in a public space, having the users hold their device with arms stretched out, or having to swing their body constantly would be dangerous and impractical.
  • Avoid making users walk backward or get in positions that could impact their vision or mobility as it could increase the risk of accidents and injuries. It is important to design an experience that is comfortable and safe for users.

Source: Archdaily

4. Usage Environment

The type of environment the users are in plays a role in the app’s UX design element and the user experience. For example, if the app is mainly used in an indoor environment, longer user sessions and more complex interactions involving a wide range of body movements can be integrated, as compared to an outdoor environment where shorter sessions and lesser movements should be prioritised as users may not be as comfortable moving as much.

Source: Wikitude

5. Account for all users

As AR apps require physical interactions, it is all the more important for designers to account for different users and their physical limitations to ensure accessibility. For example, older users may have trouble holding their phones up for long periods of time to direct the camera. To prevent physical fatigue, it would be good to keep sessions short and allows users to pause or save their progress periodically. This makes it easy for them to rest when needed and continue where they left off easily, resulting in a better experience.

We hope that this article provides a good introduction to AR and how designing for AR products differs from traditional digital products. If you want to know more about user experience and its industry, do check out our other resources available on our website, such as our articles, weekly webinars, and podcasts. CuriousCore offers both a 2-day UX Design Course and a 4-month UX Career Accelerator for those keen on transitioning into the industry. Click the buttons below to find out more.