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Designers, Get Working with AR – Workshop

There has never been a more exciting time to work in mixed reality (MR) and spatial computing. Consumers have powerful augmented reality devices in their pockets (their ARKit and ARCore phones), they’ve experienced the delight of AR layers like Snapchat face filters, and users and brands alike are dreaming about what else is possible. What’s next?

As a researcher and educator, I’ve spent the last two years teaching virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) classes for UX designers of all skill levels at design conferences like UX Week and UX Strat. Through these courses and workshops, I saw a painful truth. While the industry was figuring out key technology and hardware considerations, designers were left on the edges, waiting for more market clarity, fewer barriers, and yearning for a quick way to get started.

Get the skills to design in AR

To help designers and brands start working in augmented reality, on January 24th, I’m partnering with Torch and 52 Limited to host a half-day workshop, on interaction design in augmented reality. You’ll leave the workshop with a foundational understanding of spatial design principles and a functional mobile AR prototype. This will be an accessible learning environment so even if you’ve never worked in 3D before and AR is new to you, please sign up.

In December 2018, I partnered with Torch on a version of this workshop with UX designers – Here’s a quick recap of the workshop, how the designers worked in 3D, and some key takeaways from the day. Remember to get your early bird tickets today.


Inform, direct, delight

I’m a behavioral scientist by training and have worked in XR for two years working on the social dynamics in Virtual Reality. I get excited about mobile Augmented Reality because how accessible the technology is since it leverages devices that most people already own. To start our workshop we reviewed three live use cases for augmented reality that add unique value to simple ideas. Each project conveys new or additional information through engaging and spatially-relevant tactics – which cognitive science shows can improve learning, attention, and memory.

The Statue of Liberty’s Torch - New York Times

The New York Times created an AR experience inside of their current NYT app that lets people tour the Statue of Liberty’s torch up close. This annotated tour of the torch is very appealing and helps viewers learn more about the history of the torch (it was shipped from France to the U.S. in 1885) or 19th-century manufacturing processes (it was originally made of solid copper and had zero lights included).

New York Times interactive Statue of Liberty from @MartySwant on Twitter

Wayfinding in historic buildings - Torch AR

Wayfinding is another very accessible use for augmented reality. Here’s an example from Torch CEO Paul Reynolds. Paul’s office building used to be four separate buildings that have been attached and combined in a warren of modular creative spaces. Finding the Torch office can take a while if you’re unfamiliar. For our December 15th workshop, I sent the participants this video ahead of time so they’d be familiar with the building and would have fun getting to the workshop.


Underwater delight - ARQUA!

Showcasing the capabilities of AR as a platform is a piece from Oregon-raised and California-based artist Cabbibo. Cabbibo published an app called Arqua where users can build their own aquariums – adding fish, plants, coral, and other objects to their underwater world. The result is an experience that gives people the ability to create scenes that evoke wonder and delight.

ARQUA! by Cabbibo

I gave people an AR design tool–they made a cat planetarium

To begin the workshop, we started with an overview of key AR design concepts like blocking, occlusion, parallax, and more. Then, we moved to existing use cases and the unique value of AR affords through concepts like true scale, shared 3D context, and space as an organizing tool If you’re interested in learning more about these basics, there are great online resources available. I suggest starting with the Google AR guidelines.

In a group augmented reality prototyping session, I asked people to trim a holiday tree in the AR prototyping tool Torch. The goal was for everyone to join a single collaborative project and then add objects, interactions, and experience the capabilities of the app. 

This is what I thought I would get.

My expectation of what an AR tree trimming would look like.

But this is what I got instead...

The reality of collaborating simultaneously with 15 designers.

However, AR collaborating with 15 designers became a little too chaotic. So while the environment was filled with 3D models, the tree in the workshop did not get a lot of decorations on it.

For the hands-on segment of the day, I gave the designers a brief to create something in AR that would leverage the design affordances of 3D objects, embodiment, and integrating the real environment. Teams created an awesome range of experiences, including wayfinding guides, a zoo, wayfinding AT the zoo, and a planetarium for cats (aptly named a “cat-etarium”).

Astrocats – an augmented reality "cat-etarium" from Scribble Tone

Takeaways from the workshop

Workshop participants dived into AR and quickly began applying their design skills to this new medium. They put the concepts into action and tested out some complex ideas. After a short acclimation period, these designers quickly:

  • Embraced the storytelling capabilities of AR and built a narrative using digital objects
  • Incorporated the real environment in digital experiences. In one of the zoo experiences, a team placed digital rodents near the actual trash cans in the room.
  • Built different types of interactions that were triggered by the user’s gaze, tap, or her position in the room.

Participants left with a broad understanding of the capabilities of augmented reality as well as hands-on experience working with interaction design for AR. I look forward to seeing more AR experiences from each of these participants.

Start the New Year with New Skills

If you are interested in learning more about how to apply design principles in AR, use cases from diverse industries, and start creating in AR yourself, sign up for the next training on January 24th. Register today – scholarships are available.


Jessica Outlaw, M.S., is a culture and behavior researcher in immersive tech and the founder of The Extended Mind. She uses behavioral science to help XR companies build and test experiences. She does research in digital worlds, app design, and gives trainings to new and experienced designers. She is a 2017 winner of Oculus Launch Pad and her insights on safety, spatial design, privacy and the UX of VR can be downloaded here.