One of the biggest challenges for digital designers is creating something that actually works well for the people who use it – because these days User Experience (UX) is king. And with more and more companies beginning to use Augmented Reality, in everything from retail and marketing to architecture and medicine, that challenge is stepping up a notch. The blending of the digital and physical realms means that a user’s experience is becoming more complicated.
However, this also brings some great opportunities, as it will force designers to be more involved in the process of discovering how users behave and will give us a much fuller three-dimensional understanding of a user’s reality – which could be great news for UX design all round. So if you want to make the most of those opportunities, and make sure that you’re developing an Augmented Reality app that really works for your users, here are some of the things you and your designers need to be aware of…
AR involves a completely new type of interaction – it’s not simply physical, it’s not simply digital. It involves both elements equally. So designers will need to be much more open to users and prioritise communicating with them, gaining early feedback and not waiting until the product is almost on the market. It really involves a complete change of mindset, not just a bit of adaptation.
With AR, users aren’t just looking at screens – they’re performing actions. So the design focus needs to be on influencing user behaviour, helping users learn and working out how you can best enable them to gain the skills they’ll need to take physical action.
When you design for AR you have to think about how to construct digital elements that will overlay on physical elements – think Pokémon Go on steroids. And, although you’ll have some knowledge of it, you can’t completely control a user’s environment and context. So you need to think about how the elements you’re designing can be adapted to different environments.
AR is very different from regular software products for mobile or desktop, because it comes with a 360-degree interface – or, if you prefer maths terminology, a ‘z-axis’ – a graph in three-dimensional coordinates that’s usually oriented vertically. When you combine all the axes the result is a 360-degree representation. Designing like this isn’t as complicated as it might seem at first, but it will require a bit of new learning and plenty of practice – so make a start now.
Don’t be put off though – although AR presents new challenges for UX, there are a lot of skills gained in standard digital UX that can still be put to use for AR, and you’ll find a lot of familiar patterns, interactions and gestures. For example, the most common actions a user will employ during their interaction with the app will still involve things like rotating, tapping, swiping, speaking and facial expressions. Also, just as with websites, anything the user needs to use often must be put in an easy-to-spot and easy-to-reach place. Like when you create a search option on a website and place it in the top right corner, because that’s where users are used to finding it. So it’s not all completely new and different from designing web interfaces.
Ultimately, it’s important not to be frightened by AR and to instead see it, and indeed everything related to Artificial Intelligence, as a positive thing for UX. Because all these things are being created for the user’s benefit and are designed to reduce their cognitive load – i.e. make their experiences easier and better. So UX design should naturally embrace those opportunities and not oppose them.
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