Blurring the lines between the digital and the physical with AR UX design – how Augmented Reality is changing the user experience
With “Year Zero” for augmented reality behind us, we’re seeing this design trend move further into the limelight in 2017. From enhancing how we communicate and entertain ourselves to the way we work and solve problems, augmented reality (AR) is changing how we interact with the world around us. But beyond the hype of Pokémon Go that allows users to catch ’em all on the go and Snapchat’s delightful photo filters, what is the overall impact of AR UX (user experience)? Read our post for six insights on how AR is changing user experience.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality is computer generated information superimposed through a sensor-packed wearable device over products and systems in the real world. It essentially takes the user’s view of the real world and adds a digital film to it with data and information to enhance our perception of and interaction with the real world.
Augmented technology first made a name for itself in entertainment and technology in the late 1990s. In 1998, the 1st and Ten computer system was broadcast by Sportsvision, casting the first virtual yellow first down marker during a live NFL game (full timeline in infographic here). Nowadays, digital designers are using augmented reality to make user experience more delightful. But is it working?
UX benefits of augmented reality
1—Augmented reality gives the user real-time feedback
AR technology is all about connecting the digital with the physical to offer the user real-time feedback on what they’re doing. With augmented reality apps, instead of just seeing information, users interact with it and get real, live feedback on the action they have performed.
With the recent marriage of augmented reality and the Internet of Things, we’re seeing more and more AR dashboards with real-time simulation. This study that evaluates the benefits of real-time feedback in mobile augmented reality with hand-held devices, concluded that part of AR’s usefulness is in reducing the need to shift focus between instructions and physical objects. For example, this augmented reality cooking system helps the user learn how to cook.
The pan can actually simulate the weight of the food as well as interact with it (flipping a pancake over, for example). The app also reads temperatures, which allows it to realistically mimic the cooking stages, such as meat being cooked through or water boiling. By receiving real-time feedback on their actions, the user is reassured that they are or aren’t on track, and has a deeper understanding of what they are looking to learn.
2—Changing brand UX and conversion opportunities
Both augmented reality and its close cousin virtual reality are becoming ‘crucial points of differentiation for brand’, as visual discovery app Blippar’s Anna Wilmot has it. For brands, customer loyalty is key to keeping revenue strong. According to Rosetta, engaged consumers buy 90% more frequently, spend 60% more per transaction and are five times more likely to stick with a brand. To make sure that customers keep coming back, the most important factor is the user experience. As we have seen above, designers are working hard to improve the user experience with the help of augmented reality.
Accessible by tablet or smartphone at a click, AR apps add value to the user journey anywhere, at any time. They help the user to make purchasing decisions, increase the ‘fun factor’, and enable them to get more out of their products. They allow for a more personal experience.
For instance, Pokémon Go – a location-based augmented reality game app for iOS and Android– has taken games off the couch and into the real-world, encouraging users to explore and curate their gaming experience. Within a week of its release in 2016, 65 million people worldwide were playing Pokémon GO – that’s more active users than the dating app Tinder. Why? According to Business Insider, it’s because it’s a dream fulfiller. The AR characteristics of the game’s UI are so accurate, that they bring the gaming experience to life. People are walking around their neighborhoods, looking for in-game creatures in real-life settings. Memorable, delightful experience = happy customer. Kerrrching!
3—Making design more comprehensible
Augmented reality can help to speed up work processes and is already making a name for itself as a learning tool in business. In fact, a report from Juniper Research shows that the use of augmented reality apps in enterprise will grow to $2.4 billion in 2019 – that’s up ten fold from 2014. For instance, car manufacturers, such as Volkswagen and Audi, are using AR and a simplified model-based definition to create service manuals that help the user assemble or perform maintenance on their vehicle. This means that even amateur motorist can learn how to perform repairs on their vehicle.
Additionally, Daniel Newman of Forbes suggests that AR will soon enter the workplace, as a form of ‘hyper-training’ to help on-board new employees. In his words, AR “can teach employees the proper protocol in such situations and prepare them for real-world scenarios in time to save lives.” By putting new hires in real-world scenarios in which they are to perform their duties – that in the past wouldn’t have been feasible outside of the actual work – we can shorten learning curves (with real-time feedback opportunities- see above), save time and resources, improve productivity, and possibly avoid work-related injuries and accidents. For instance, teaching a new hire how to operate heavy machinery without use of the actual machine could save you an arm and a leg, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Challenges to UX introduced by augmented reality
1—Threats to privacy control, spam and unwanted advertising
To execute their intended function, web and mobile apps often require access to a variety of data. ‘Traditional’ web and mobile apps, such as Dropbox and Facebook, may request access to user info and hardware for account management operations. However, the security risks associated with complex AR apps are much greater because the data needs to be rich and always-on sensing.
We’re seeing users input a trove of personal information into their mobile devices. But are users who hand over of data to apps – including security, locations, storage and camera permissions – actually at some sort of risk?
Yes. Depending on the permissions granted, malicious apps can launch location-based attacks, take advantage of device bugs to steal Wi-Fi passwords and even ‘kill’ security apps. Additionally, some companies reserve the rights to share the data their apps collect with third parties, such as augmented reality app Pokémon Go. Despite the warnings displayed in newly-installed apps, users don’t always read the small print.
2—Internet dependency: AR goes overboard
Check out the below video on augmented reality gone wrong:
HYPER-REALITY from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.
Scary right? Now imagine this in the real world, where everyone depended on technology – even more than some of us do now!
Augmented reality is about immersing the user in the moment, in the experience. These experiences come from seamless integrations that blur the lines between real life and the digital. But what happens when the effort to immerse the user takes away from the real world? It could result in an unhealthy fixation on the imaginary. Think Mal from Inception. We’re not far from it – we’re addicted to our devices and social media sites says author of ‘Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked’, Adam Alter.
But as of yet, no augmented reality app is capable of achieving full immersion due to hardware restrictions. Let’s just hope that our designers keep things useful and enjoyable for years to come!
3—Rethinking UX design principles
With the rise of user experience, digital designers learned that the user is king and their work needed to be enjoyable as well as useful. In line with this shift in design thinking, new terminology was learned, new tools were introduced, new data was collected and new workflows were established. Now with the acceleration of the AR movement, designers will need to familiarize themselves with yet another new set of terms like modulated reality and dead reckoning and new design aids such as Vuforia and Unity 3D. Luckily some tools will remain familiar, such as prototyping tool Justinmind for testing out ideas.
On top of this, best practices haven’t yet been established for augmented, virtual or mixed reality, so there are no globally accepted authorities or standardized concepts. UX Designers need time to develop a deep understanding of users’ current and future expectations around the new technology before any design efforts are made. It’s still early days and there will need to be a period of adjustment. But these are fun times ahead – let’s learn what we can!
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