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Torch's Practical Guide to Pitching AR Projects

Anyone who has tried to pitch a mobile AR concept — whether it is a Facebook effect, a brand new standalone app, or an augmented reality feature for an existing one — runs up against several obstacles, any of which can be a barrier to a successful outcome. The two biggest obstacles we hear, and face ourselves, all the time are a client’s lack of familiarity with 3D (the unfamiliar interfaces, limitations, and skepticism) and the cost to build a prototype still compelling enough to cause the client to move forward.

We have developed an approach to pitching AR projects, based on both our own experiences  and the experiences of designers to whom we’ve talked, that accounts for clients with all ranges of knowledge. This approach doesn’t break the bank, and more often than not, you end up with reusable elements  that further reduces cost and time the next go ‘round.

And one thing important to note: when we talk about pitching 3D concepts, we are using interactive, functional prototypes. No After Effects. No gimmicks. This is about handing the client an AR project they can use, interact with, and evaluate.


Use higher quality assets early

We have found that people go into a 3D experience with different expectations than when looking at 2D mobile prototypes. You need to sustain wonder while the person orients themselves. This does not mean expensive, animated models that cost thousands of dollars. It does mean being strategic.

High-quality 2D assets are far cheaper to make than even mediocre 3D ones. Use 2D assets as much as possible and focus on making each asset crisp and legible. And when it comes to 3D assets, spend a little money if you can. And by “a little”, we are talking in the $75-$150 range. Services like TurboSquid and Sketchfab have decent models for around that price.

Consider this Torch project showing a Kuka industrial robot with some product details, including a link out to a PDF manual on the company website. Most of the work was research, planning, and the making of static and animated 2D elements. The model cost $79 on TurboSquid and came in a variety of file formats including FBX and OBJ. We assembled all of these elements in Torch in about an hour. We can now add new models using the scene copy and asset replace in a couple of minutes. All in, we spent about four hours and came away with a project good enough to share with a client.

Use interactions and user controls, not rigged animations

Another way to create engaging prototypes (especially with Torch) without spending a lot is to use interactions and user controls rather than building animations into the model. Interactions like changing object colors, causing them to change sizes, swapping out alternate models, can accomplish two things: they educate the client on what is possible in AR and they keep the client engaged. Interactions give a sense of agency in an experience instead of passively watching an animation play out.

Interactivity engages the user, allowing them to explore.
Use interactions to show utility: Clicking on the Download Fact Sheet button opens a browser and downloads a PDF.

With our new user controls feature, we allow the viewer to spin the object as much as they would like without walking around it. Now we have something interactive, inexpensive to build, and – perhaps as important as any of these – surfaces the issue of accessibility (in this case, for people who can’t get up and move around a model).

Verify budgets

Whether the project is for an internal team or a client, take some time upfront to understand what the stakeholders expect to pay (in both time and money). This is especially important in these early days of augmented reality where we have found wildly varying expectations of what a project should cost. People index the cost to what is familiar -- web prototypes, videos, VR applications.

And cost is not just associated with the creation of the mobile AR experience. How will it be delivered? Will the stakeholder need a dedicated app? Web AR? Do they want to distribute their creation on Facebook, Instagram, or Snap? Will they provide the models? How much have they budgeted for maintenance?

We learned to hard way -- early on, a client asked for an entire mobile app with more than ten animated models, an asset processing pipeline, and ongoing support for what was effectively the cost to build the models. Excited by how perfect the use case was for Torch, we didn't push hard to get a specific budget. We overbid the project, even though the mobile AR creation amounted to about five percent of total cost (which was a cool silver lining). It was all in good faith and both sides learned from the experience. Now it is your turn to learn from us before you spend a lot of time and effort on a doomed pitch. Verify the budget. Expectations for mobile AR projects are all over the place.

Keep track of your time savings using Torch and use it in your pitch

We keep track of time to build a business case for Torch's lower cost of total ownership. This is an estimate for the recent hotel booking app prototype we built.

Using Torch saves you time but, more importantly, it allows you to bid less than traditional approaches and win more deals. It also means a client that wants you to update the app frequently or wants to update themselves can do it faster and less expensively using Torch. So share this math with the client. Build a business case around lower cost of lifetime ownership for apps  built with Torch. I know not everyone likes to talk about the business side but if you do, or if you think it can help win the business, lean on this advantage. And if you need help making the business case, contact us and we will help.

Include UI that orients and guides people through the experience

Especially for anyone new to AR, the first moments in an experience can be disorienting. Our own user research shows folks don’t always know where to look, or don’t realize they can move around. People have to unlearn the sedentary UX patterns of 2D mobile apps so they can begin to move, explore, and discover. Why not help them out?

Remember the "click here" days of the Web? Eventually everyone knew that a link was clickable and the "click here" prompt became redundant and uncool to do. We aren't nearly there yet with augmented reality so provide simple, easy to ready UI guiding a new user to “Stand Here and Look Up,” “Tap Here,” or “Move Around and Have Fun.” This not only helps make the experience more valuable, it is a safe way to teach people some of the rules of AR UX.

Adding some UI elements like arrows and text cards can be the difference between confusion and delight, and ultimately the difference between a project moving forward or not.

Use scenes to demonstrate progressions and present alternatives

If you have a concept that requires many state changes and unique interactions, rather than making one big monolithic project—time consuming, expensive, more prone to buggy behavior in demos—choose moments to highlight. When planning the project, determine which combinations of interactions and assets represent the major beats or convey the essential ideas of the project.

Scenes in Torch are one of its more powerful and flexible features. Scenes can be linked together by interactions to tell a cohesive story or they can exist as discrete elements. You can duplicate an entire scene and tweak the copy to test minor changes and new approaches or you can add elements from two scenes (including interactions) together using the Copy/Paste quick action tools.

Treat Torch scenes as storyboard cells and give the client an idea of what the coolest parts of the app or experience will be like without building all the connective stuff — transitions, enter-scene interactions, etcetera.

Scenes are also a way to present alternative concepts. Everyone has had a client who asked for A but you know B is better. Build Idea A but present Idea B in another scene.

Share early and often

One advantage you have when using Torch or similar tools to build your pitch prototype is that you can share concepts and get feedback fast. Our Kuka project took about eight hours to complete—about half of that was research and 2D asset creation. It is the first draft of an app.

Mobile AR is easier to share than VR projects. Take advantage of this fact to share concepts with stakeholders early and avoid surprises late in the process.

We could share it via video or, if we want to start educating the client about AR, via a publicly viewable project link. If you don’t want to expose your early work to a client because they’ll get distracted in the minutiae, share similar projects and ask them what they like and don’t like.

But most of all, use Torch’s sharing features to gather feedback and educate the client on what is possible earlier rather than on the day of the big presentation. By that time, you have sunk all your time in and all that work could be undone by mis-set expectations.

Recycle your best work

Once you’ve got a portfolio of concepts, even fragments of behaviors or vignettes, you have a resource that can reduce the time and cost to create pitchable concepts. As one designer pointed out, this is not much different from tuning your portfolio for a particular client pitch. The figure above shows the animated circle marking the center point of the scene that focuses attention on the Kuka project. It’s been used twice before and will be used again. The 2D text cards? From our growing AR design kit— a Figma board with assets we know are legible and lightweight enough for 3D. Almost everything in this experience has been built before, and remixing the content is a breeze in Torch.

This circle animation is a mainstay of our product visualization concepts. It focuses attention to where a product will appear, the file size is small, and it stands out against  most floors.

We recently discovered here at Torch that most of the team kept one or two projects where they stashed things they liked or wanted to reuse -- palettes of reusable elements that we go back to over and over. We recommend you do the same. It will save you time and help you develop a signature style.

As mentioned in the section under scenes, it’s easy to copy and paste objects and their interactions  into a new project (Copy/Paste help article). And even when copy and paste won’t work for some reason (the model sizes are different, the number of elements differs, recreating the underlying behaviors is always much simpler when you can examine them in action than it would be creating them from scratch.

The world is yours for the making

One final thought: spatial computing is new, expectation for what it can do and how it can deliver ROI are all over the map, and until recently, most people couldn't really tell you what they want from augmented reality. You are likely to be the most knowledgable person they know when it comes to mobile AR, VR, or anything 3D related. It might feel to you like you are just making it up as you go along because you probably are. We all are. That's what is awesome about an early market. If you are thorough, thoughtful, and curious, and you stick to at least some of the keys we shared here, you will earn two things more valuable long-term than money -- you'll earn experience delivering projects that help define an industry and you'll gain insights into what plays well in the market.

I'll end with a familiar Steve Jobs quote, not because it is profound (it is) but because you could not find a better way to describe the opportunity in spatial computing today.

Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.

Now go! Build something cool! And get paid fairly for your labor….