Designing Intuitive AR Experiences: Fundamentals for UX Designers Exploring Augmented Reality

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." - Steve Jobs 

As Steve Jobs pointed out, design extends beyond mere aesthetics; it encompasses functionality and user experience. And when it comes to augmented reality (AR), that's even more crucial. AR pushes UX designers to craft immersive and intuitive experiences that go beyond the visual while emphasizing the importance of user-centric design as a fundamental principle in all aspects of the creative process.    

This article covers many of the essentials of UX and talks about Interaction Design (IxD) for AR. XR (Extended Reality) represents an entirely new dimension in UX design. It's teeming with captivating opportunities and exciting challenges. How can we create innovative, immersive, and intuitive AR experiences that enhance user satisfaction and loyalty? Let's look at the basics of AR design.


Preparing for Your AR Design Journey

Many basic UX principles apply to AR design. UX Designers can take what we already know about design and tweak it to fit this new and exciting field. AR design has its unique features, but it's built on a solid UX design foundation. In other words, if you have a solid understanding of UX design basics, you’re already halfway there.

Do you recall your journey into UX design when you started striving to craft remarkable products and experiences? Whether you began as a UX designer or transitioned from traditional or web design, you had to adapt to grow. Now, as you take your first steps into AR design, how do you get started?

Here's an easy-to-follow plan:

  • Research basic AR concepts and AR design guidelines
  • Familiarize yourself with designing AR tech
  • Don’t shy away from hands-on experience


Crafting Intuitive AR Experiences

AR merges digital information with the physical world, enhancing reality with a captivating layer of information. It brings experiences to life, seamlessly integrating them into the real world. To begin the AR design journey, consider:

Context & Onboarding: Where does the experience take place? How do you smoothly introduce users to AR?

  • Give clear instructions, tips, and helpful tutorials
  • Encourage users to move around and explore
  • Be creative when keeping things informative, engaging, and user-friendly
  • Don't overload users with too much information

Environment: How do you adapt the experience to various settings?

  • Be clear about space requirements
  • Address tracking, distractions, and safety in crowded areas
  • Design the experience to be responsive to different space configurations and sizes

Movement: How can user movement enhance interactions?

  • Embrace user movement for interactive AR experiences
  • Design interactions that utilize physical motion for navigation and manipulation
  • Create smooth and intuitive movements to enhance user control
  • Balance movement to avoid straining device performance
  • Get creative with hints to guide users on where to pan their phones for optimal experience (animations, sounds etc.)

Safety and Comfort: How do you ensure a safe and enjoyable experience?

  • Keep it simple. Don't overload the screen
  • Put safety first. Remind users to be aware of their surroundings

Accessibility: How can everyone, regardless of mobility, engage with AR?

  • Everyone's welcome! Provide alternatives for users who can't move around, e.g., tap or bring something closer. Give users options to access targets or objects easily
  • Visibility matters. Ensure texts and instructions are visible from any angle on a contrasting background
  • Let users rotate and interact with objects if they can't physically move around
  • Make everything clear and visible! Make sure the text stands out, visible from all angles

World Space vs. Screen UI: When should you use UI in the real world and when should you stick to the screen?

  • World Space UI: UI mapped to the real world, perfect for displaying info
  • Screen UI: It stays on the screen, great for frequently used features such as the camera
  • Provide clear feedback and cues for virtual object interactions (visual, auditory, or haptic feedback)
  • Design a visually clean UI that integrates well with the immersive experiences
  • Minimize interruptions. Get users into the experience, and then get out of the way

Kickstarting Exploration of AR Apps

First, examine existing AR interfaces. What works and what could be better? Use the "I like, I wish, What if" method:

  • I like: Find two inspiring things you'd use in your AR projects
  • I Wish: Spot two areas for improvement
  • What if: Suggest solutions for those improvements

To start your AR design journey, try apps like Google Maps, Civilizations AR, or the web-based QUAY. They serve as excellent starting points as they demonstrate solid execution of AR using good UX and IxD practices.


Bringing AR Ideas to Life through Prototyping

Time to bring these ideas to life. Start with sketches on paper or use storyboards to brainstorm. Think about the problem, the story, and the key elements like environments and interactions.
Move on to 2D wireframes for a clearer picture and remember to think in 360 degrees since AR is all-encompassing.

Then, step into a 3D space by showing potential UI or AR objects within it. Fast prototyping is key, showing how the physical and digital worlds come together for an engaging user experience.

For a more detailed look, use video editing tools to create AR proof-of-concept prototypes. This adds a lifelike touch to your AR experience.


User-Friendly Prototyping Tools

As a UX and UI designer venturing into augmented reality (AR) design, extensive development experience isn't a prerequisite. Several user-friendly, collaborative, and designer-focused digital prototyping tools cater to your needs. They simplify the AR design process, enabling you to create, test, and iterate on AR concepts without complex coding.

Consider notable options similar to Spark AR and Adobe AR:

  • Lens Studio (Snapchat AR): This tool by Snapchat lets you create interactive AR experiences for Snapchat. It has templates, guides, and a community for learning and teamwork

  • Reality Composer (Apple ARKit): Part of Apple's ARKit, this tool is for creating interactive AR experiences for iOS devices. It's user-friendly if you're familiar with Apple's ecosystem

  • ZapWorks: This toolkit is your go-to for creating AR content. It has a studio for content creation and widgets for adding interactivity without needing to code. It’s great for versatile and collaborative AR design

  • Blippbuilder (Blippar): This AR design tool lets designers create interactive AR experiences without coding. It works for both mobile and web-based AR experiences. It has collaborative features and a user-friendly interface to bring AR concepts to life

  • Bezel: a powerful, collaborative tool that empowers designers to effortlessly craft 3D models, scenarios, and prototypes for AR and VR, all without the need for coding. What sets Bezel apart is its seamless integration with Figma, taking the design workflow to new heights

These digital prototyping tools are packed with features like Spark AR and Adobe AR. They're made to make AR design easy. Armed with these tools, any UX designer interested in AR can begin to create engaging, user-centric, and functional AR experiences.

Closing Thoughts

Embracing augmented reality is not just a leap in technology; it's a leap in how experiences are designed. UX and UI designers have the privilege of shaping the way users interact with this exciting new frontier. The fundamentals of UX design still apply, but it's in the nuances of AR that designers truly shine.

Armed with a solid understanding of AR concepts and powerful digital prototyping tools, you can craft AR experiences that not only captivate but also empower users in ways they never imagined.

As you embark on your AR design journey, stay curious, stay innovative, and above all, stay user centric. The future of design is here, and it's augmented.

Happy designing!



Augmented Reality Design Guidelines, AR Core


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