Augmented Reality and its implications in UX

In Usability, UX Design by relding

Augmented Reality (AR) is everywhere. Whatever tech blog you open, there will be at least one post about it. As more and more technologies are starting to embrace this growing trend, there is a high degree of chance that AR will grow to much more than it is now. This will only be possible with a deep level of understanding of what goals and context that the users want, and using that knowledge to create a successful AR experiences.

In line with the above, it is obvious that augmented reality will require detailed studies of human body and brain, as well as human – computer interaction. This is only one of the implications that AR will have on UX and the purpose of this article is to explore these implications and how they will shape the UX strategy.

What is AR?

Before going any further, we would first need to define what AR really is and explain the difference between VR and AR. The two terms are often used in same conversations and those less informed often get confused which is which. While related, they are significantly different and that difference is worth explaining.

Augmented Reality is an innovative technology that combines digital information and the real world by superimposing computer-generated images or text over what a person already sees in their surroundings. As the potential of AR continues to grow and its influence is spreading across different industries, the definition of AR is quickly moving beyond 2D and 3D overlays on top of reality to experiences that are context-driven and fully personalized. This new AR combines contextual computing with technologies such as AI, Big Data, machine learning, sensors and social networks in order to give users tailor-made and adaptive experiences.

So, what do all these changes mean for UX designers?

First, it is important to note that AR provides an enormous opportunity for UX designers who will lead the development of this “new” medium and will be able to redefine the way people experience reality. However, while the opportunity is immense, AR also comes with its own set of UX challenges.

Implications of Augmented reality on UX

This new AR we discussed above will be based on the user´s changing environment and context and, as such, highly adaptive. Because of this, UX professionals will need to create seamless experiences in different environments and for multiple devices – all while making sure that the user is always at the center.

In AR, devices play a very important role and they are no more limited to glasses products such as Google Glass. Now, there is a wide range of data that is continuously analyzed about the user and his surroundings. This data ranges from historical and situational/environmental to demographics and using all that data to create a relevant yet natural and intuitive experience that centers around the user is more than complex. How can UX designers use these new devices and this new technology to create such experiences?

Let´s state the obvious: technology should work in the background and instead of interrupting our lives, it should appear only when we need it to enhance our productivity and connectivity in areas that are important to us.

Being in the field of user experience for years, we have to ask ourselves first: “How do we want to live in and with AR? How can we use it to shape people´s lives? How can we design AR experiences to improve and ease a user´s life?”

These questions are ours to answer, but before going into details about AR best practices, let us talk a bit more about its implications on UX.

Why is it important for UX?

The way how user interacts with computer and other hand-held devices is changing even faster with AR´s growing popularity. Since AR has the potential of offering a new and innovative interface, the User Experience of AR services is very difficult to envision. As a result, it is important to apprehend what the users are expecting from the experience. Additionally, it is essential to define a set of guidelines and implications for enhancing the UX of AR experiences.

AR interfaces are actually non-command user interfaces where tasks are done using contextual information obtained by a computer system and not through commands explicitly given by the user. In order to interpret that contextual information and augment the reality, the wealth of external inputs must be analyzed in the background, and actions must be done on the results of those analyses.

With a non-command UI, AR interfaces offer significant opportunities for UX designers to improve user experience. By having various types of information overlaid over the physical world, the user can access this information without the need for any external devices which significantly improves speed and reduced any need for repetitive tasks. Here are 3 fundamental ways how AR changes UX:

1. Decreased cost

Classic user interfaces require the user to conduct a specific action before accessing any information or completing the task. The lack of commands in AR interfaces makes the complete interaction much more efficient and requires much less user effort.

2. Decreased cognitive load of the user

In some cases such as mechanical engineering, the absence of AR interface would require the engineer to remember certain information such as serial numbers of certain parts and then remember it again later when he uses a computer to find more information. AR interface can be used to display this information immediately saving him the trouble of memorizing the serial parts and allowing him to focus on the job itself. If that was not enough, AR user interfaces also allow the user, in this case the engineer, to move information from one context to another.

3. Minimized attention switches

Let´s get back to the engineer. Without an AR system, the engineer would have to save the serial number, use a different system to find more details. AR system combines the two systems as it displays the relevant information in an overlay.

Remember that we assumed a nicely designed AR User Interface in our example: we stated that the engineer would be able to see useful information about the different parts on his AR overlay. It would not be too hard to imagine a badly designed AR interface that would give the engineer so much information that would confuse him and make searching for required information very difficult.

We can certainly say that a good UX comes by putting a great deal of attention to the user´ needs and new technologies such as AR open more ways to mess up a design. We are confident that there will be many AR experiences with terrible UX. To prevent that from happening to you, read on about some of the best practices in UX design for AR.

Best practices

After years of lurking in the background, AR has finally stepped out of the shadows and is now revolutionizing the technology mainstream. Products such as Google Glass, Blippar app, and Oculus Rift are already gone viral, and more and more brands are starting for the first time to explore the field of AR.

In order to ensure that their first step into AR is a success, brands and their UX designers have to watch out for a couple of challenges we mentioned above. To help you succeed, we are bringing you 5 advices on how to develop AR solutions that will enhance the overall user experience and increase your chance for success.

1. Plan first!

Before you proceed onto coding, you have to plan your experience from top to bottom. Think about the environment and conditions where the experience will be staged. Also, think about how the users will interact with the experience. Here are some possible situations:

– Experiences that involve the user´s whole body, full movement of user´s limbs and/or torso such as Microsoft Kinect or Nintendo Wii.

– Experiences where the user is situated in front of their computer and a webcam, usually sitting down on a distance of 3 feet from the webcam.

– Experiences where the user is standing up or walking while interacting with the environment using their smartphone.

– Experiences where users use wearables such as Google Glass or Oculus Rift. These experiences are personal and usually in a private environment that rely completely on visual and sensory senses.

By planning ahead and identifying your scenario before doing actual development, you will be able to sort out the design and tech requirements without the need to go back and start all over again.

2. Scout out the location!

Developing for AR is (completely) different from building a website. Developing a website consists of following a very generic set of conditions while conditions of an AR experience are very environment-dependent and challenging. By scouting the location and collecting details about the environment, UX designers are able to foolproof the whole process. Determining whether there is sunlight or shadows on the location or whether the experience will be based in an interior or exterior, will help to speed up the whole design process and ensure a better user experience.

Make your designs for small screens first!

Most UX designers have their desks equipped with new 27” Macs with sky-high resolutions. Still, there is a high degree of chance that most of their users will use much smaller screens. This means that viewing the app on a small screen requires clear typefaces that are easy to read. Colors must be high in contrast and have to be positioned in a way that does not the user´s view of their surroundings. This is especially important when designing for wearables. With wearable displays there is much less physical space and the risk of user having eye-strain and fatigue is much greater, especially in the long runs.

4. Don´t challenge your users physically

Eye strain is just one way of how a user can get fatigued and regardless of how much your users enjoy your experience, they will get fatigued when they walk around with their hands up holding a device. Also, walking around while staring at a small mobile screen without checking their surroundings is very dangerous – Pokemon Go app warned their users via splash screen that they watch out on their surroundings. Usually, if users are sitting down, they will be able to withstand a higher degree of interaction. This is especially true if their mobile device is held at chest level.

5. FPS is very important

Today´s AR experiences can go as high as 60 frames per second. While great, this level of animation requires a great processing power. Given the wide range of users´ mobile devices, UX designers have to find the golden middle between FPS and animation quality, and mobile devices. By taking the time to optimize the experience before going live, will ensure a better experience no matter the device.

Conclusion

For the last couple of years, Augmented Reality has been experiencing a tremendous rise in popularity. Due to considerable advancements in technology and drops in hardware prices, AR is now perceived as a technology of the future and is making its way on the market through numerous applications. AR is already transforming the way we see and learn from our surroundings but now it is starting to do even more – it is revolutionizing companies and their business models.
As the definition of AR is quickly moving beyond 2D and 3D overlays over reality to personalized experiences driven by context, AR is starting to combine contextual computing with AI, Big Data, machine learning, and social networks. These interconnections are necessary for delivering relevant and tailor-made experiences and present a huge opportunity for UX professionals that will lead the development of such experiences.

To conclude, AR will continue to require intensive studying of how humans interact with computers and studies about human body and brain functioning in general. All these studies will help to shape how UX strategy is applied to AR and minimize occurrences where users have to get out of their comfort zone or behave in an unnatural way.
While new, AR technology is here to stay and its usefulness in everyday life is increasing each day. As a new method of interaction, AR needs a strong level of understanding of the users, their expectations and needs. This is why it is of utmost importance for UX designers to ensure their experiences are created correctly and that they add value to the user experience.

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