As augmented reality becomes increasingly prevalent in how businesses communicate with their customers, designers are playing a leading role in defining how AR experiences are produced and consumed.
To share that perspective with you, I spoke with Anna Broadhurst, Lead Designer at Zappar. We discussed the opportunities of AR design, the benefits and risks, and campaign tips for adding real value to the user's experience.
Anna Broadhurst, Lead Designer at Zappar
CH: Hey Anna, thanks for taking the time to speak to me. What do you see as the main benefits of working in AR?
AB: Hey! It’s hard to pick just one! Firstly, it’s amazing how engaging the technology is. It’s such a magical feel to see digital content integrated into the real world around you. I also love the fact that you can seamlessly combine digital content with print to allow the user to interact with their real world surroundings, rather than limiting them to just looking at a screen. This paves way for more creativity as a designer, as you are no longer constricted by using only 2D space.
CH: Are there any additional considerations for an AR project that a designer needs to be aware of?
AB: It shouldn't be vastly different from a normal design brief, but there are definitely some additional considerations that need to be thought out. For instance, the context of the end design should influence the type of AR content that’s attached to it. A point of sale piece in a shop should have “grab and go” type content, while a household product with more engagement time can allow for fully “tracked” content (where the digital overlay is stuck to the scanned print piece).
The print object also needs to be designed to utilise tracking— for example, high contrast graphics are needed as well as a flat, non reflective surface. (More information about designing tracking images can be found here.). Things like access to a strong internet signal and appropriate lighting should be considered as well.
"For a truly successful AR project my advice would be to use the communication of the entire design as the call to action, therefore making the AR content integral to the design rather than an afterthought."
CH: What are the common mistakes you see that prevent AR adding real value to a project?
AB: One is relying too heavily on AR’s “novelty” factor. There are still many people who have never been exposed to AR, so it’s easy to engage them. However, this wears off. In order to be sustainable, you should never forget about the objective of the brief and always work to produce truly effective and engaging design.
CH: What are the most important factors in getting the end user to scan the experience that you have designed?
AB: Most importantly, there needs to be a strong call to action on the print/real world object that the user is seeing. You need to be clear in communicating the benefits, so they will go through the effort of downloading the app and scanning. The process should be persuasive, instructional, and as simple as possible. For a truly successful AR project, my advice would be to use the communication of the entire design as the call to action, therefore making the AR content integral to the design rather than an afterthought.
"I also love the fact that you can seamlessly combine digital content with print to allow the user to interact with their real world surroundings, rather than limiting them to just looking at a screen."
CH: How much of the design relies on your expertise and how much of it is directed by the client?
AB: It should be an ongoing partnership between yourself and the client. They will have greater knowledge on what they want but it’s important for you to explain early on both the benefits and the constraints of AR. For example, many clients will try to fit too much into a project. AR is about creating bite-size content, so you should be aware of this from the beginning.
It’s advisable to avoid situations where an AR element is being shoehorned into an existing project right at the end. You need to make sure that the project timeline allows for enough time and flexibility, otherwise you’re making it harder for the project to be a success.
CH: What is the most important thing in building long-term relationships with clients?
AB: First and foremost, it’s essential to make sure the client’s process is extremely simple. Keep in mind that individuals will be nervous about spending on AR for the first time, so it’s your role as the expert to explain the risks and benefits, whilst also giving the project the best chance possible to succeed.
Don’t scare them with technical terms and unfamiliar language. A lot of clients have only just got their head around the difference between UX and UI, so when you start talking about tracking images, raycasters, gyro-oriented environments, or off and on target, you start to lose them. For instance, when discussing with the client about whether they want the experience to be fully “tracked to the target” or not, we try to instead use phrases like, “stuck to the image,” which is much easier to visualise. So, you’re not withholding information. You’re just making it more accessible.
When using ZapWorks, both yourself and the client can see the analytics of a live project, such as how many scans it’s had and which parts of the content people are interacting with the most. If not enough thought has gone into the CTA, as mentioned above, it will be reflected in the amount of scans the project has received. If there aren’t enough scans, then the client will not see any benefit in commissioning a second project. You can make the most amazing AR content, but if no one knows it’s there, it will all go to waste!
As more and more businesses start to think in terms of an AR strategy rather than a one-off campaign, there will be more demand for talented designers with experience working in the medium. Operating at the intersection of print and digital, designers such as Anna have a fantastic opportunity to solve problems and help brands enhance the connections with their audiences. I’m incredibly excited to see what they create, as well as the progression of augmented reality over the coming months and years.
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