One of the main reasons people (ourselves included!) become so immediately taken with AR is its ability to transport us - opening portals to new dimensions, experiences and opportunities to digitally explore the world around us. But from my perspective, in the privileged position of gathering stories from our amazing ZapWorks community, some of the biggest excitement comes from seeing how AR can make an impact on a personal level - even inspiring a life-changing journey.
With that in mind, it’s fair to say that Valentin’s has been on an incredible trip, with stops across the digital creative industry that have led to his long-time relationship with ZapWorks and now, heading up his very own immersive agency as CEO of Etiketa Interactive, delivering incredible AR campaigns for major brands.
I caught up with Valentin during a glorious Slovenian summer day to talk digital creativity, his approach to AR and how he went from the world of animation to commercial AR.
AR inspiring change - Valentin’s journey
James Wright: Could you give us an introduction to who Etiketa Interactive are, what they create, and what your role is there?
Valentin Jesenko: My name is Valentin, and I am the CEO of Etiketa Interactive. Established in Slovenia in early 2019, the company has been developing different kinds of digital products and services to increase consumer engagement through leveraging AR.
Etiketa Interactive is a subsidiary company of Etiketa d.d. which have long been providing state-of-the-art printing solutions for major brands all around the world. They have been focused on the business of developing new printing technologies for around 60 years now, during which time they have supplied printed products to major brands in the sports, textile, pharmaceutical and automotive industries.
So the overall goal at Etiketa for the wider business is to remain the leader in the printing industry. The strong belief is that that will be achieved with the introduction of new and advanced digital technologies, which is where real growth can be found - and logically, we see AR as an important part of that approach.
As Etiketa Interactive continues to grow, Valentin (bottom left) has assembled an agile, versatile team to exceed client expectations. Find out how could too with our guide to Assembling the AR Dream Team.
JW: What was your background before heading up an AR agency?
VJ: Before taking the leading role in Etiketa Interactive, I worked for an animation studio called ANIMANI, which I also co-founded. At ANIMANI, I worked as a project manager, leading the development processes for all of our animation projects.
JW: Interesting - so did your previous creative experience in animation make transitioning to working with AR feel a bit more natural? Did you face any particular challenges when it came to adapting to creating AR experiences?
VJ: My experience working at the animation studio really helped me make a smooth transition into the world of AR.
Typically, the initial process of an AR project is very similar to the creative approach you would use for classic 2D animation. However, to successfully complete an AR project, there are further steps required - including programming and coding, if you’re putting together a more complex or feature-rich experience.
So, deciding to learn to program was one of the most challenging things for me personally when I transitioned to working with AR. It’s not something required when using the ZapWorks toolkit, fortunately - but it is certainly a very useful skill to have up my sleeve for contributing to the overall design process.
JW: So looking back, what was your first ever experience with AR and what made you decide that it was worth pursuing commercially?
VJ: While working for ANIMANI, it became abundantly clear that the demand for digital services was growing, with AR sitting at the top of the wishlist for many of the brands and businesses we dealt with
Looking ahead and trying to figure out the technologies we would be actively using in the future has always appealed to me. Of all the possible technologies to come, it is AR that struck me as having the potential to deliver the most positive impact on our lives. The more I learned about AR, the more I realized I wanted to be a part of it - which is precisely why Etiketa Interactive was born.
Etiketa Interactive's connection with print means lots of exciting opportunities to showcase how AR can make 'passive' assets into a portal to new experiences. This example demonstrates how a team's crest on a sports shirt could be leveraged to access a range of digital content and social sharing opportunities.
JW: You've been working closely with our team here at Zappar - how did that relationship begin?
VJ: Etiketa Interactive have been working with Zappar for nearly six months now. In this short period of time, we have built a stable relationship with the Zappar team, thanks in large part to their friendly staff and the excellent support that they provide.
Our relationship began after I signed up for the 30 day free trial for ZapWorks Studio and began experimenting with the software. Later, I attended a free webinar that Zappar held to provide us an even better insight into how agencies could maximize the benefits from their AR creative tools and expertise, and I’ve been here ever since!
“Looking ahead and trying to figure out the technologies we would be actively using in the future has always appealed to me. Of all the possible technologies to come, it is AR that struck me as having the potential to deliver the most positive impact on our lives. The more I learned about AR, the more I realized I wanted to be a part of it - which is precisely why Etiketa Interactive was born.”
- Valentin, Etiketa Interactive
JW: So were you using any other toolkits besides ZapWorks at that time?
VJ: Our company has the internal knowledge base to build our own custom made AR applications from the ground up, so we often use a wide range of products for different client needs. However, we love to use the ZapWorks toolkit and the majority of our projects to date have been built using ZapWorks Studio.
JW: Zappar have certainly grown alongside Etiketa Interactive - what's been the most significant change for you as an agency using ZapWorks?
VJ: For us, the big game-changer until now was the World Tracking feature - that really meant we could deliver a whole different level in experiences.
We are now waiting for the full roll-out of the next massive change in the AR world, which has to be Zappar WebAR technology. We expect this to entirely change the whole AR ecosystem and how users experience access and experience immersive content.
Zappar's WebAR capabilities brings AR experiences direct to the mobile web - without the need for an app download.
JW: How do you approach creating an AR project for a brand? How do you begin that conversation with them, and how does that creative process work?
VJ: When we first approach the client, we really try to create an extensive presentation, so that the company gets familiar with the technology and truly understands all the potential and commercial benefits of leveraging AR.
Later on, we discuss the client’s wishes and requirements, as well as about the goals that they want to achieve with their unique AR campaign.
Once we gather all the information and data on what their commercial targets are, we can begin work on the technical side of things. Our team has created an efficient six-step development approach that we always use to create our AR projects.
The 6 steps are:
1. Brainstorming ideas - Bringing creative and technical teams together to contribute ideas for the client brief.
2. Pre-production - Storyboarding content and exploring the user journey.
3. Asset creation - Creating branded assets that match our creative vision for the project.
4. Production - Populating the experience with assets and iteratively amending based on feedback and testing.
5. Delivery - Deploying the experience in the way settled on by the client (custom app, WebAR, SDK embed etc.)
6. Support - Providing rapid trouble shooting, technical support and deploying updates over the air.
JW: Talking specifically about how Etiketa Interactive uses ZapWorks Studio, are there features your team finds particularly useful? Has the Studio feature set enabled you to solve creative challenges for brands?
VJ: There are numerous features in ZapWorks Studio that we use on a daily basis. For example, Actions, the lighting engine for realistic materials, 3D viewport sub-symbols, drag and drop code implementation for hierarchy objects and easy access to z.device - these are all important parts of our workflow and allow us to enhance our products and deliver work to clients faster.
JW: How have you found the wider ZapWorks community? Have their been opportunities for collaboration or skill sharing with other users?
Yes, we are certainly active on the ZapWorks Forum, for example. There’s a lot of knowledge being shared there, so it’s a great place to hang out. And the community keeps gaining traction with so many talented people joining the field, all eager to share their expertise on the usage of advanced AR development processes.
“Etiketa Interactive have been working with Zappar for nearly six months now. In this short period of time, we have built a stable relationship with the Zappar team, thanks in large part to their friendly staff and the excellent support that they provide.”
- Valentin, Etiketa Interactive
JW: Being based in Slovenia, is there an appetite from Eastern European brands for AR experiences? Has the perception and popularity of AR changed?
VJ: The interest in AR in Slovenia and other parts of the EU is experiencing a tremendous rise. What we have noticed is that larger, well-established brands based in our local area are already aware and well educated about AR, and many of them have already started using different kinds of AR products and services.
On the other hand, I’m still seeing many smaller, local brands that still need to gain a little bit more knowledge about AR technology, particularly in terms of learning how to access it and being understanding the benefits AR could provide for their business. Helping them to and understand unlock that value with AR is where we see the potential for our future growth.
JW: What is the favorite AR campaign that you've created during your time with Etiketa Interactive that you'd like to share?
VJ: Every campaign that we have made so far is something we can be proud of. It’s exciting because we have been able to learn something new with every project we’ve worked on, with the result being that Etiketa Interactive is now much more knowledgeable than it was in the early days.
If I had to pick one, my favorite AR project to to date was the one that we created for Skaza - a major company doing pioneering work with sustainable plastic products. They wanted to implement an AR campaign in support of the launch of their Bokashi Organko 2 product.
By making full use of the ZapWorks toolkit, we created an AR presentation for Skaza that was truly wonderful. We crafted connected packaging that the consumer could interact with using the camera on their mobile device. This empowered them to visualize the product in a real-world environment and explore its functionality and features to help inform the purchasing decision.
For a better idea of how this campaign looks and works, I suggest that everyone takes a look at the video that we have provided!
Etiketa Interactive created a stunning product visualization for Skaza's Bokashi Organko 2, empowering potential consumers to virtually place it in their own home and explore its features interactively.
JW: What would be your advice to creatives looking to move into the AR space, or indeed, agencies who are thinking about offering AR to clients?
VJ: Entering the AR space may, at first, present a challenge for every individual or company, as it requires a range of knowledge and different skills.
In my opinion, it is difficult for just one person to work with a high level of quality across all areas of AR for commercial-grade experiences - including computer programing, designing, marketing, UX and so on. But one of the ways to deal with this exciting challenge is to build a team of people, with each participant being an expert in a different “field” of AR work. With a small team of well-informed, creative people with skills that complement each other, it is much easier to overcome challenges in this fast-evolving industry.
JW: What's next for Etiketa Interactive, and how do you see the future of AR for agencies like yours?
VJ: To begin with, we would like to become the leading provider of AR solutions in Slovenia, which we will do by bringing a high level of innovation and connectivity between conventional printing and the digital world.
As far as the bigger picture goes, we would love to partner with large companies globally - helping them make the step into the digital world in a way that benefits both the company and the consumer.
With the AR/VR industry set to become worth $25 billion by 2025, there is going to be a lot of competition to get a slice of that market. We will continue to evolve and learn so that all of our carefully crafted AR campaigns will be viewed as unique and creative.
If Valentin’s story has inspired you to start your commercial own AR journey, why not give ZapWorks - our complete AR toolkit - a try? From our drag ‘n’ drop, browser-based Designer tool to the powerful, versatile and fully-featured Studio, both are available on a completely free 30 day trial, which is exactly how Valentin got started! There’s a wide range of in-depth walkthroughs, guides and tutorials on-hand to support you, covering everything from AR photo booths to world-tracked interior design. Plus, our active and friendly community of AR enthusiasts can be found on the ZapWorks community Forum, alongside our expert Support Team, who can help with everything from technical issues to providing a bit of much-needed encouragement and inspiration. And of course, if you’ve got a particular idea in mind for a commercial activation that needs the input from our expert team, then you’re welcome to get in touch. With over 8 years of experience working in partnership some of the world’s biggest brands, we can help you make it happen.