Designing for mobile augmented reality presents a unique set of challenges. Traditional 2D visual cues that users are familiar with may not be conducive to an optimal AR experience and when 3D objects are inconsistent with environmental conditions, immersion breaks. How can designers maintain some level of control over the user experience while sustaining the AR illusion?
Design First-Person Experiences
When designing for mobile AR, it’s important to remember that users are now experiencing rather than observing your app. Usability should feel instinctual and foster immersion. Always consider the user’s orientation in relation to any 3D objects, and make sure that elements which are critical to the user experience are easily discoverable.
Empathy goes a long way in predicting natural usability; How would a user interact or react in a certain situation? Would they walk closer to an object to inspect it? Would they tap on it? Try to anticipate and prevent any frustrations that may be caused by unpleasant interactions, including physical discomfort or confusion. Beyond simple usability, how is your AR experience enhancing the experience beyond the norm?
Move Beyond Traditional Elements
AR allows for a fully untethered, physical experience. The app’s design elements should not be limited to the confines of a mobile screen, but rather, should naturally extend into the environment, encouraging users to move around, explore and play with the world around them. Since the phone screen is the window to this AR world, it’s important to try to keep static 2D user interface elements to a minimum.
When it comes to in-app gestures, don’t feel limited by taps and swipes alone. The phone can now operate as a 6-DoF input device to be wielded with purpose; it can transform into sporting equipment, an art tool, or a magic wand. Be sure to always design with this advantage in mind.
Know When (and When Not) to Enable the Camera
Nothing kills an immersive experience faster than when occlusion fails. Not to mention, the camera’s insufficient field-of-view can make viewing an AR app akin to looking through a telescope. Unless your user needs to see objects in the real world, it’s best to skip the camera all together. By choosing a virtual field-of-view that matches the needs of the app, it will be far easier to avoid running into occlusion issues. Save the camera for when you really need it, like when you are placing furniture or measuring your space.
Designing for AR can often feel overwhelming in its unbounded possibilities, but you’ll nail it if you look to your environment for inspiration, rather than the limitations of a screen. It truly is a unique opportunity to reinvent the world around you, and the sky is quite literally the limit. A good rule of thumb: If a six-year-old can figure out how to use your app within three seconds, you’re probably doing something right.
About the Guest Author(s)
Erik Murphy-Chutorian is the founder and CEO of 8th Wall, creating cross-platform solutions for developers to build augmented reality applications on all mobile devices. Erik has deep expertise in computer vision, imaging infrastructure, data analysis and full-stack/mobile product development. Prior to founding 8th Wall, he worked at both Facebook and Google as an engineering manager and senior staff software engineer respectively, leading the initiatives behind a number of key projects on Google Images and Google Photos. Erik holds a PhD in computer vision from the University of California, San Diego and a BA in engineering physics from Dartmouth College.