A World of Pure Imagination: How to Build an AR App

UX/UI Design
A World of Pure Imagination: How to Build an AR App

A guide on how to build an AR App: User Experience and Augmented Reality

Once upon a time, on the third planet from our glorious Sun, someone said “The future is now, old man!” and decided to enhance our everyday reality with something new. 

I think everyone remembers 2016 when PokemonGO made the world go crazy and became a worldwide phenomenon by bringing augmented reality to a mass audience. 

It had its own usability issues in the beginning, but it was something really interesting that everyone could use. 

What is this Augmented Reality in simple words? 

Augmented Reality is an advanced technology that merges the real world by overlaying digital imagery on top of it. Components of the digital world blend into a person’s perception of the real world. 

The best-known example of augmented reality, which has existed for a long while and is the most familiar to the majority of age groups, is the car parking assistance system:

AR has had massive success over the last few years, and the opportunity to explore user interactions with the physical world are limitless. Our devices are really windows to another world. 

Often put together, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, have many things in common, like the real-time contextual response to users’ actions and interactions with the environment.

But, while VR immerses the users into its virtual environment, AR adds to the real world as it is. And unlike VR, which requires special equipment, we can experience AR just by using mobile devices

Ikea Place

How does the user experience differ from the usual applications and applications with AR? 

UX designers are more used to designing for a mouse, keyboard, and various touchscreens. But designing for AR is different because designers will likely have neither option at their disposal. Still, the physical interactions will be device-specific and non-standard. 

What do we need to think about while designing AR apps?  

Maybe we can best explain this with an example. So, let us say we got a request to design a mobile application that lets you explore the archeological museum with AR features as a guide.

First, let’s pretend we already have done some user research, and we have enough data to start designing some wireframes (but still keep in mind we didn’t, and this is a purely fictional app in a fictional world).

A purely fictional app example

Before we continue with our example, a little disclaimer is necessary: it’s important to find out and confirm if AR is the answer to the user’s problem, and not only do it because it’s a cool thing to have – it will only lead to poor user experience, and that is why discovery and research are the most important phases we should never skip, just like leg day.

The famous last words, “You don’t have to do it because everybody is doing it” are pretty much true here. 

How to design augmented reality UX?

Designing UX for AR is more challenging as designers need to think through spatial experiences by immersing users in real time and considering users’ needs while making the flow intuitive and user-friendly

We are not constrained by device size but by the human eye itself. When designing a new mobile application, we usually draw within the defined frame, which is perfectly fine when developing regular apps.

Still, when building an AR app, we should remember that these rectangles do not limit AR, so the interface should be flexible and not limited to a box. 

Let’s show this on our museum app example: 

While designing an AR app, it’s important to consider several factors: the environment, content, safety, security, and comfort.

As AR experiences can happen anywhere in the real world, environmental criteria are maybe the most important role to consider when building an AR app. Rob Manson of AR UX has categorized situations in which users can find themselves: 

  • Intimate space
  • Personal space
  • Private space
  • Public space

Museums fall into public spaces, so we should design them accordingly.

I remember playing PokemonGO the first time it came out, and I almost got hit by a car. Twice. On the same day. Often, the users are so into AR apps that its easy not to think about their environment.

Designers must carefully consider users’ safety and be mindful of not distracting them from dangers. Also, users should be comfortable using the app and not feel physically and mentally overwhelmed. 

We can include some form of timed alerts in apps to remind users to be careful. An example where we also reuse a familiar element:

Don’t clutter AR application content. The users should be immersed in the experience, not the other way around. Many users never had the chance to use AR applications, so there should be an onboarding process planned with tips that they can use to learn how to use the application. 

Designers should reuse familiar patterns wherever possible and use existing knowledge to help users perform their tasks more successfully. It is essential to know when to invent something new but use enough familiarity not to overwhelm users. 

With this blog post, we covered some basic user experience advice and examples to keep in mind. Of course, there’s much more to consider and learn while designing apps with AR. One great guideline regarding AR applications is Apple’s Augmented Reality, which can be found in their Human Interface Guidelines.

In conclusion, no matter which platform we are designing for, we should always design a smooth and consistent experience with humans in mind. 

Credit where credit is due: all photographs that have been used as a part of examples are from the Unsplash.


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