Augmented Reality

User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition


What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is a view of the real, physical world in which users find elements enhanced by computer-generated input. Designers create inputs ranging from sound to video, to graphics to GPS overlays and more, in digital content that responds in real time to changes in the user’s environment, usually movement.

Get an understanding of the difference between Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality here.

Augmented Reality – Revisiting Real-World Experiences with New Features

Augmented reality has science-fiction roots dating to 1901, but it was 1990 before Boeing’s Thomas Caudell described the term as a technology. Augmented reality differs from virtual reality. The latter involves isolating users in simulated environments – e.g., wearing fully-immersive headsets while moving to interact within preprogrammed settings. Conversely, augmented reality involves designing to add layers of digital elements over real-world views for specific purposes – e.g., using GPS filters/overlays on smartphone screens to find directions from street views. As increasingly advanced technology becomes more accessible, designers can offer more-lifelike 3D experiences where users interact directly with their surroundings. The term augmented reality is sometimes used interchangeably with mixed reality and there is an ongoing debate about what is covered by each term. A common understanding is that augmented reality bridges reality and virtual reality – however, with AR, digital content is overlaid on real-world views, not directly anchored to them (the computer-generated content cannot interact with the real-world elements shown). MR (mixed reality) is a more sophisticated AR form – enhanced content is anchored, and elements can interact with each other; Microsoft’s HoloLens, for instance, interprets the space in a room, thereby combining digital objects with the user’s physical environment. AR designs should interpret and respond to users’ head movements and body gestures dynamically, so users can act intuitively and freely without giving commands.

AR’s Expanding Appeal and Potential

The 2010s witnessed huge strides in AR, producing invaluable lessons and examples – with apps such as Pokémon GO (a GPS-oriented app “inserting” Pokémon characters into the users’ environment so they can find and fight them, etc. on device screens) and Google’s AR stickers (whereby users drop realistic images into their camera shots). Although entertainment largely drives AR’s appeal, AR’s mainstream future appears assured, letting us design to decrease both interaction costs and users’ cognitive loads as we combine information sources and minimize attention switches. While screen-based interaction remains the standard, we must work with a combination of traditional and immersive means to create AR experiences. Nonetheless, AR’s applications are invaluable – we can bring experiences closer to users and their actual environments, shifting from the “boxed reality” of 2D-based designs.

Augmented reality is going to change everything.

Tim Cook, Apples CEO

Taking Digitalized Steps in the Analogue World

Augmented reality’s extensive dimensions mirror extensive design considerations:

  1. Safety Remember users’ real-world contexts; don’t distract/mislead them into danger.
  2. Overkill Beware of drowning users’ senses with meaningless data; keep experiences contextualized.
  3. Environment Unlike desktop experiences, AR happens anywhere: aim primarily for users’ contexts vis-à-vis outdoors/indoors and moving/static. Regardless of setting, users expect pleasurable, user-friendly experiences. AR UX’s Rob Manson stipulates user scenarios:
    • Public – interacting with software, using the entire body
    • Personal – using smartphones in public spaces
    • Intimate – sitting, using a desktop
    • Private – using a wearable
  4. Comfort Make comfortable designs to prevent physical strains.
  5. Security AR data is rich; design to ensure users’ is secure.

To get started with AR design, you should:

  1. Familiarize yourself with AR terminology and a new form of information architecture.
  2. Constantly ask “Where are users?” and how your design will be applied and adopted.
  3. Remember physical constraints – users hold devices longer while seated, etc.
  4. Make interfaces automatic, so users needn’t prompt with commands. Consider voice controls.
  5. Use AR-software-creating resources (e.g., Apple’s ARKit) optimally.
  6. Offer easy onboarding.
  7. Provide clues and maximum predictability.
  8. Prioritize screen real estate.
  9. Design for accessibility.
  10. Design animations considering frame rates’ and processing power’s impacts on device compatibility.

Ultimately, understand what users, in various contexts, expect before trying to meet the experience demands. Conduct user testing covering all feasible conditions (lighting, weather, etc.).

Learn More about Augmented Reality

Learn how to design your own AR experiences with IDF’s course: How to Design for Augmented and Virtual Reality

Find some vital AR considerations here:

A specialist’s detailed take on the AR trend:

Extra tips on designing AR experiences:

You can see Apple’s guidelines for designing for AR here:

Literature on Augmented Reality

Here’s the entire UX literature on Augmented Reality by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

All literature