March 29th 2018

The Magic Lens

by Josh Kimnell

Good morning (how do I know when you're reading this blog?).

Whilst browsing online I came across this website It’s a gallery of interface design from games and movies. Primarily science fiction. Showcasing the design work that helps us as the audience to understand and believe the imagined tech on screen. On the site you'll see plenty of heads-up displays, holograms and spatial UIs. It’s a cool collection in its own right, and I recommend you browse around a little bit if that's your thing, but really it’s just setting me up for this effortless segue...

Which is to say that given some filmic predictions we’re already some way into the future. According to the 1992 film ‘Split Second’ (with Rutger Hauer) London was partially submerged due to global warming in 2008. And we’re all familiar with the vision of the year 2015 in ‘Back to the Future Part II’. And whilst the hoverboards, aliens, and flying cars have yet to emerge, we are actually dealing with some pretty great technology when it comes to mixed-reality experiences. That's AR... or according to Wikipedia, "the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations where physical and digital objects co-exist." With Apple's ARKit underpinning the next wave of augmented reality apps, we expect to see AR becoming more and more meaningful for brands in 2018.

Here at FoF, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Interface design and user-experience in an augmented reality context. Working out how to go about building rich, compelling and comfortable AR experiences.

Here are some thoughts in the form of one of those lists that you find on the internet.

1 - Real(er) is better

Not every AR app will require you to place items into 3D space. But where you do, we’ve found that using high quality 3D assets and physically based rendering (PBR) to achieve believable virtual materials, reflections, shadows all help to blend your interface into the real world.

2 - Keep it minimal

This is where the reality of AR diverges from the fantasy AR you get in movies. AR in the movies is designed to make the character (user) look super-smart by throwing a whole bunch of data at them at once in a complex interface. In reality, as with any interface design job, you actually want your AR UI it to be concise, accessible, and to not fry your users' brains. One thing to consider is the way in which you present the user with UI elements - It’s best to do this ‘in context’ (think of this as in 3D space) rather than in 2D screen space.

Y’know what, have an image:


3 - Accessible language

This is another principle that has been around forever and really applies to any interface design. You don’t want your developer writing the error messages for your digital product. It’s even more important in AR as for most people these are going to be new and unfamiliar experiences / concepts and they won’t understand your terminology.


This helpful table from Apple demonstrates the point.

Do Don't
Unable to find a surface. Try moving to the side or repositioning your phone. Unable to find a plane. Adjust tracking.
Tap a location to place the 'name of object to be placed'. Tap a plane to anchor an object.
Try turning on more lights and moving around. Insufficient features.
Try moving your phone slower. Excessive motion detected.

In a way it's similar to brand TOV. You wouldn't want bland, unimaginative copy that didn't do a great job of communicating your message. Well, same here. Applying care and attention to error messages and UI copy helps your user understand your app and want to use it.

4 - Your user will use your app in the worst possible conditions

Limited space, low light, no flat surfaces. There’s not a lot you can do about that except to try to handle failure gracefully. If your AR experience isn’t going to work for your user, explain (in plain language, see point 3) why that is and what they can do about it. If it is viable, consider operating a limited feature set for different environments.

5 - Don’t get your user to walk in front of a bus

We’ve seen the lengths a 47-year-old businessman will go to in order catch a virtual Pokemon. AR experiences are compelling to the point that you will be able to encourage your user to move around their environment whilst the majority of their attention is on your app. Always be mindful of their safety. Slow, gradual movements are largely going to be safer than big sudden movements.

We’re anticipating some big things for mixed reality brand experiences in 2018, stay tuned.

Signing off for now.

  • J