Designing for Augmented Reality

Experience Design & Development

AR (Augmented Reality) superimposes 3D digital objects into a physical space, through the use of a smartphone or an AR / MR headset. Augmented Reality is a technique that has been around for over a decade, but because consumer smartphones have improved in their performance capability for computer vision as well as the rendering of computer graphics it has become popular in recent years reaching the media, marketing, and education industries.

There are different types of AR that serve different purposes. Some of them are still in early form, accessible to a limited number of consumers that own higher end mobile devices. At Conical what we find important is to learn how to design AR apps that are accessible to a wider range of users.

We have marker-based AR, which is considered to be one of the safer options when designing for AR. The reason behind this is because it installs an image that lives in the physical world into the app, making the computer vision of the mobile device look out for it and track it. When we place the phone or tablet facing the AR marker it triggers the 3D animation to appear in real time. The tracking is very consistent and stable with AR markers unlike Location Based AR, which often slides on the surface of where it’s being projected, breaking the suspense of disbelief.


Location based AR is useful for apps wanting to take users to different locations. The user is able to use their mobile device and point in the direction of where the location based AR content is going to trigger, but it often fails in tracking well, due to the fact that it’s using satellite information to estimate the placement of the 3D object in the physical world. Coordinates can oftentimes vary when syncing the phone’s GPS with satellite information. A technique developers have been using to get around this is to use 3D characters that fly or hover in the air, such as birds and fairies.

Pokémon Go is a great example of a well-executed and ultra-high budget location based AR app. Because it was supported in its production by the tech giant Google, it maintains a good level of geo-location - although the characters that are on the ground still tend to slide from their original position. Pokémon Go offers the option of experiencing the app in non-AR mode, which makes the interface more of a Google Maps UI style instead of relying on the computer vision of the phone’s camera. This means that the user is still able to interact with the app in location based AR rather than camera-based AR.

Simplicity is key. Have your target audience swipe through the screen or tap a button on the interface to interact with the AR app. Don’t clutter it with so many options that may turn them off, making users overwhelmed and not knowing what to do. If you want your users to feel motivated to use your app they need to clearly understand what type of action they have to do. Once they can take repeated action, you can reward them by unlocking different features on your app.

Understand that audiences are seeking experiences these days, not products. This means that you can leverage what AR has to offer to engage consumers with your product or service by having them engage with your existing content in printed form and further enhance it by using an AR marker that amplifies their experience of your product.

Remember to use narrative to engage your audience. We may be living in an age where technology is ubiquitous, but we have to remember that we’re interacting with emotional creatures as our target audience. Humans are hardwired to react to stories and narrative experiences is what gets them engaged with your app in ways that gets them talking and becoming advocates of your product or service. At Conical Interactive Studios we thrive in narrative and put strong emphasis in creating story-driven experiences for AR and VR. If you would like to learn more about our Golden Rules feel free to GET IN TOUCH.

It’s also important to take into account that your audience has different types of devices with different capabilities and features. Not everyone has the latest iPhone or Samsung phone, so it’s important to be aware that some of the higher end photo-realistic rendering and image processing capabilities may only be available exclusively for the higher end phones. A good way to get around this is by creating stylized characters and 3D objects.

AR development means mobile development. Each AR experience is packaged into an app, the same way most apps in your smartphone work. The processing time for an app is usually 10 days and up to 14 days when it comes to iOS devices.

At the moment, AR is widely accessed through smartphones. We have seen a rise in Virtual Reality headsets in 2016, but not in Augmented Reality headsets. There are a few companies working on hardware for AR headsets currently being used by early adopters and big companies. It will take a few years before AR headsets reach the masses and replace the smartphone, as it’s claimed by leaders in Microsoft and Facebook. The moment AR headsets or AR glasses become mainstream, we will be experiencing of our apps and games in a more seamless way.

Marker Based AR

Location Based AR

User Experience / User Interface

Experience Design is key when developing AR Apps. Just because the media and tech industries have been giving AR a lot of attention lately, it doesn’t mean that “making something AR” can make a great app. It still needs to undergo a meticulous design process developing intuitive UX (User Experience) and an easy to use UI (User Interface).

What is Augmented Reality?

Where Are Things Going?



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