Augmented Reality – The Future of UX

Augmented Reality (AR) is going to change everything and yet, it will all remain the same. The basic guiding principles that your top-notch designers use today will be just as relevant with AR, if not more so. With AR, you need to focus on being hyper-intuitive. There are no physical interaction keys or options. If your AR product is not easily picked up by a first-time user, it will die on the vine.

An easy knee-jerk reaction is to write off AR as a flash in the pan, but remember that big players in the computer world are actively developing and pursuing solutions – companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google. These are companies that serve and shape consumer tastes and expectations.

Audacious you say? Let me explain why.

What is Augmented Reality?

In the simplest terms, AR overlays information over the real-world environment you’re viewing. Think of a heads-up display in a fighter jet, Tom Cruise in Minority report and Micrsoft’s HoloLense.

Many people confuse AR with Virtual Reality (VR), however, there is a large difference between the two. VR places you inside an entirely virtual world. Everything you see in VR is a computer-generated construct. As mentioned before, AR allows you to interact with your real-world environment while bringing digital components into your perception of that environment.

AR is becoming more prominent with the proliferation of smartphone apps. You may have interacted with AR when using Snapchat, Google’s AR stickers, and Pokemon GO, along with many other apps. The current majority of the AR market is focused on entertainment and is something you need to be paying attention to and considering. Just as smartphones and the personal computers ended up driving IT infrastructure for businesses, AR entertainment is shaping the expectations of your clients and customers. Consumer technology is rapidly approaching the point where AR will be an everyday interaction and this trend is going to continue to expand. As we move forward, we need to be ready to face the design challenges it will present.

The Biggest Opportunities AR Brings

AR offers us the opportunity to give users the best possible experience with our products by:

  • Decreasing interaction costs
  • Reducing cognitive loads
  • Minimizing attention switches

By providing real-time information about what the user is looking at or looking for, AR allows us to serve up exactly what a user is trying to accomplish in a much faster and streamlined way.

My favorite example of this is Ikea’s Place app. With this app, Ikea has essentially removed half of the work a consumer has to put in when deciding on what furniture would go best in their home.

Instead of browsing the Ikea brick and mortar store, taking pictures of furniture, and then trying to imagine what those pieces would look like in your home, you can now simply look through Ikea’s inventory and place the pieces you like in your living room via AR. With this one app, Ikea has solved a critical problem for their customers and shown that AR has many practical and important use cases.

The Biggest Challenges AR Brings

Like every huge shift in technology, there are just as many, if not more, ways to overdo it. We have to walk a fine line between providing users with the information they need and introducing more and more visual noise. AR will not always be the right answer for a product and we have to be sure that we don’t introduce it simply because it’s the hot new thing.

AR will introduce a brand-new testing challenge for your organization. When designing for a screen, there are a pretty standard set of variables we need to design for so our products are accessible to the widest range of users as possible. With AR’s use outside of the screen, we will need to take more consideration into how our designs interact with a multitude of environments.

Until wearables become more comfortable and stylish, we have to consider how our users interact with AR experiences physically. We already take into consideration eye and thumb strain when designing for mobile, not to mention ADA needs. Now, we will have to consider other physical interaction limitations of the human body when using an AR app. This includes things like arm strain from holding up a phone for an extended period of time, or over focus – when a user becomes so engrossed with the AR experience that they lose focus on their surroundings.

Final Thoughts

AR is the first truly new User Interface since Apple rolled out the original iPhone. Going from a mouse and keyboard to a single touch screen – it’s hard to believe that that was a scant 10 years ago.

However, AR is an even more radical departure from traditional UI than that. With the iPhone, we went from one physical interaction to another. With AR, we are going from a physical interaction to a virtual one. If we can overcome the hurdle of adoption inherent in new technologies, AR will easily become something we interact with everyday. It will be our job, as designers, to make sure that AR experiences are useful, accessible, and safe for our users.