10 Tips for Designing Immersive Augmented Reality Experiences
One of the many exciting things about joining Enklu last year, and working in immersive augmented reality, has been the opportunity to explore the newly emerging design considerations of this innovative technology. In honor of Immersive Design Week, here are some tips that I have learned from our work creating world-class immersive and interactive 3D holographic experiences.
If you're not a mixed reality world builder, or are not one yet, don't worry. Anyone can become an AR creator on day one with Enklu. Enklu Cloud is our easy-to-use, fun-to-use, real-time, multi-person, collaborative 3D holographic world building platform. It seems like magic, but we're happy to show you how we do it.
Tip #1: You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression
For practical purposes, you will likely want to onboard users in a designated area in the experience. As you put a headset on them and they get their first glimpses into a new holographic world, make sure they are set up to have a moment of “WOW!” Provide enough clear space where they are standing and use good framing of the scene so they are not immediately overwhelmed or confused. Add interesting content in the distance to encourage them to explore this 3D environment.
Tip #2: Know Your Audience
During these early days as we are building awareness of immersive augmented reality for consumers, it is often many users first time experiencing a 3D holographic world. This is a fantastic moment and it is such a delight to introduce people to this technology, but there is also a limit to how much people can take in at one time. Keep their experience level in mind as you are deciding which interaction mechanics and content to include.
Some audiences, like those for product demonstrations, are just looking to be wowed but don’t want to learn complex interactions. Gaze interactions work the best for them because they rely on what people do intuitively and require very little tutorial. For more dedicated gaming or entertainment audiences, multiple interactions and a deep learning curve are more appropriate because they love investing time for bigger pay-offs.
Tip #3: Feng Shui and Spatial Planning Rules Apply to Holographic Worlds
You probably wouldn't put a table right inside your front door positioned across the entrance so it's blocking the path into the house. These same considerations should be made when creating a world out of holograms. Technically, the user can walk right through a hologram, however our minds are trained to keep us out of danger so we don't walk into tables or hurt ourselves. You want your users to comfortably navigate an environment. Create footpaths and other clear spaces to guide their movements. The mind believes what it sees. One time I was quickly walking through an experience and I ducked beneath a big tree branch, and then laughed heartily when I remembered it was only a hologram!
Tip #4: Keep It Simple
The interaction techniques available to mixed reality developers are increasing every day, and you might be tempted to include every trick in the book. You can overwhelm people with too many new mechanics to learn, or end up using too much of their valuable exploration time with lots of instructions. What is the goal of your experience? How long will users be exploring? Is it a 5-minute demo or a 30-minute multi-player experience? Include the appropriate amount of tools, content and narrative for the context.
Similarly to video games, introducing more than one new concept or mechanic per area is too much. Instead of throwing many complex interactions at your users all at once, teach them something simple which they can experiment with in new ways. When they discover a new method of interacting with their environment without you needing to teach them, they feel a sense of agency, and you haven’t overloaded them with learning.
Tip #5: The World is Not Flat
It is technically possible to include ‘flat’ things like pages of websites or videos playing inside an experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea or a good use of immersive technology. It's a bit like dangling a poster of your favorite band in the middle of your bedroom instead of mounting it on the wall. Look for opportunities to bring 3D elements and effects into the experience. Instead of a flat icon of a phone use a 3D phone object, or insert a 3D looking glass to represent search. The ability to interact with familiar 3D objects and tools instead of flat screens is one of the powerful capabilities of spatial technology.
Tip #6: Include Audio and Musical Cues
Audio is an important tool for enriching immersive augmented reality. Use sound effects consistently throughout, such as for a navigation interaction, or when the user has achieved something. Ambient backgrounds enable a sense of place but still support the users experience of the content. Using different background audio for different parts of the experience can help reinforce the user journey. It’s also helpful for the host because you can hear clues about what the user is experiencing. Localized audio elements that are triggered when the user is in a certain part of a scene can really reinforce the narrative or bring a rich texture to the experience.
Tip #7: Enable Users to Choose Their Own Adventure
A lot of narrative writers are accustomed to writing linear scripts. There may be times when it is necessary to lead a user through a linear progression, however one of the wonderful things immersive augmented reality enables is for the user to navigate and engage with the holographic world as they wish. You can't totally predict the sequence of the topics they're going to explore, or even that they will explore all of them, so craft your narrative content so it can be delivered in non-sequential pieces.
Tip #8: Resist the Urge to Voiceover
This topic comes up a lot, especially when working with subject matter experts who are used to creating videos or written copy. At first, it may seem like including a voiceover to explain content would ensure users absorb every single piece of information, but there are few problems with this approach. If users are required to listen to a vocal track, they are limited in their ability to engage in real-time conversation with each other, or with a subject matter expert like a brand ambassador or salesperson.
A second challenge is that you'd be forcing the user to stay in the experience for a certain amount of time, instead of giving them the agency to engage with the content as they wish. It can be a frustrating user experience to feel like you are trapped in a narrative that you can't get out of. In fact, it may backfire and result in them exiting the experience before they do a thorough exploration.
Tip #9: Beware the Uncanny Valley
It is possible to have near photo-realistic replications of everything, including human figures, in holographic form. It is a phenomenal feat of technology, but we might not actually want that kind of fidelity most of the time. It can be off-putting and distracting when something is trying to be real but not quite pulling it off. Consider the increasingly lifelike robots possible today. People want to know they are engaging with a robot, no matter how human-looking it is, and they are also going to want to know when they are interacting with a hologram.
Tip #10: Sparkles are Always Appropriate
Admittedly this may be a personal preference of mine. Sparkles are definitely a signature of content created by Enklu. Sparkles and other visual effects have the practical benefit of providing visual depth clues to help your user navigate their environment. They can also be used to draw attention to certain elements, such as to highlight new features or lure the user towards taking an action.
Regardless of the subject matter, immersive augmented reality technology truly has a magical feel to it. We can use this technology for many practical applications, but we are also creating worlds that bring awe and inspiration to many. It’s such a privilege to create immersive environments using this technology. I recommend celebrating this new creative canvas for humanity by tossing in some sparkles whenever you can to keep the magic alive.
What do other mixed reality developers out there think? Do you have suggestions for others creating immersive holographic worlds?