Augmented Reality

Your constantly-updated definition of Augmented Reality and collection of topical content and literature


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:

Learn more about Augmented Reality

Take a deep dive into Augmented Reality with our course How to Design for Augmented and Virtual Reality.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are quickly becoming huge areas of technology, with giants like Apple, Microsoft and Google competing to provide the next big AR or VR experience. Statista predicts that the worldwide user base for AR and VR will reach 443 million by 2025, meaning that it is becoming increasingly important for UX designers to know how to create amazing VR and AR experiences. Designing for 3D experiences will require completely new ways of thinking about UX design—and the question is, are you well equipped to tackle this new field of design?

The good news is that while AR and VR hardware and software is changing dramatically, UX principles and techniques for 3D interaction design will remain consistent. It’s just that new opportunities and sensitivities will present themselves to designers and developers. This course will give you the 3D UX skills to remain relevant in the next decade and beyond. You’ll be able to create immersive experiences that tap into the novel opportunities that AR and VR generate. For example, you will need to bring together key UX concepts such as emotional design, social UX, and gamification in order to create an immersive AR or VR creation.

AR and VR need to be easy to use in order to provide users with experiences that wow. Avoiding common usability mistakes and applying the principles of storytelling will help you carefully craft 3D experiences that delight, intrigue, amuse, and most of all evoke the response you intended. You’ll need to engage users in first-person narratives by making use of spatially dynamic UI’s, including gaze, gesture, movement, speech, and sound—often used in combination.

During the course, you will come across many examples and case studies from spatial and holographic interface designers. You will master how to create immersive 3D content for AR and VR that provides rich user experiences. The course offers exercises and challenges throughout, all aimed at helping you and/or your team practice your emerging or existing AR/VR skills. You will be taught by Frank Spillers, who is a distinguished speaker, author, and internationally respected senior usability practitioner with over 15 years of experience in the field.

All literature

Augmented Reality – The Past, The Present and The Future

Augmented Reality – The Past, The Present and The Future

Augmented reality has come a long way from a science-fiction concept to a science-based reality. Until recently the costs of augmented reality were so substantial that designers could only dream of working on design projects that involved it – today things have changed and augmented reality is even available on the mobile handset. That means des...

  • 7 months ago
How to Design Gesture Interactions for Virtual and Augmented Reality

How to Design Gesture Interactions for Virtual and Augmented Reality

Gesture interactions have become an easy and convenient form of interaction on touch devices largely because we have developed conventions for how gestures should be performed. In virtual and augmented reality, gestures are also a very natural way to interact with digital artifacts and menus, but we don’t have as clear conventions for how to des...

  • 3 months ago
How to Create Design Plans for Virtual and Augmented Reality Experiences

How to Create Design Plans for Virtual and Augmented Reality Experiences

Whenever you design something new – be it an interface, service or a product– you should start with a plan for what you want the user’s experience to be like. Having a clear goal for what you want the user to feel and achieve during the interaction will help guide you through the myriad of different decisions you need to make during the design p...

  • 7 months ago
How to Use Voice Interaction in Augmented Reality

How to Use Voice Interaction in Augmented Reality

The user experience with augmented reality applications is at its best when it’s multimodal. As much as possible, users should be able to use gaze, gesture and voice in a seamless blend to create an interaction with the digital world that’s as natural as interaction with the physical world -but with all the added action possibilities that the di...

  • 11 months ago
Less is (Also) More in Virtual and Augmented Reality Design

Less is (Also) More in Virtual and Augmented Reality Design

One of the most exciting things about designing virtual and augmented reality experiences is all the things you’re able to do as a designer. You can take advantage of all of the user’s senses in design, you can create first-person stories, and you can overlay reality with any virtual object you can come up with. To a large extent, only your imag...

  • 7 months ago