User Experience in Augmented Reality (AR)

A mobile screen capturing a plant with AR
A mobile screen capturing a plant with AR
A mobile screen capturing a plant with AR

A (Very) Quick Intro to Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality abbreviated ‘AR’ is the integration and overlaying of digital content into a users real-world environment, in real time, augmenting their real-world experience.

The concept is not new with first instances of augmented reality used in fighter craft in the 1990s but called a ‘Helmet-mounted display’ (HMD). AR is not to be mistaken for Virtual Reality (VR) which generates a completely virtual environment for users to interact with and totally excluding the real.

AR has found its way into users hands and in mainstream use. Notably, Pokemon Go released in July 2016 which achieved 100 million downloads by August 2017. The revenue from the app reached $268 million by August 2017 and with the proven capability to generate significant revenues and enhance workflows AR is set to transform many industries.


Hardware remains a significant challenge with Google being first to market 2013 with its Glass headset and despite creating a huge amount of interest Google shelved the project just a couple of years after launch. The reasons for the V1 demise were a combination of poor marketing, high price point, no clear use cases and others e.g. privacy issues. Google relaunched Glass with it’s ‘Enterprise Edition’ aimed specifically at business users – this looks to be a more successful venture.

Fast forward to 2016 and Microsoft launch the Hololens a fully functional PC elegantly integrated into an untethered headset featuring a visor containing the display. Microsoft is enjoying more success with the Hololens, the price point is (at the time of writing) high but the software giant has a more coherent business strategy that has led to better adoption and innovation by the business community.

Other players in the market include Magic Leap, Epson, Vuzix, Meta and Garmin all with solid products and more refined business cases indicating that AR is set to break into industry sooner rather than later. When a manufacturer, likely Apple who have a proven track record of stellar design, can make an AR capable headset that looks like a stylish pair of prescription glasses AR will become mainstream.

Sector Applications

When AR is mentioned Pokemon Go or Snapchat may spring to mind first. But AR isn’t just made for the entertainment or gaming sector; according to Lumus is expected to achieve potential sales of $11.6b by 2025.

Healthcare, Manufacturing, Education, Retail & Marketing are seen as areas where AR can create impact. It is estimated that revenue from AR/VR within the Healthcare sector could be upwards of $5.1b and engineering sitting just beneath with $4.7b in revenue. By providing workers with real-time information when they need it and by removing the need for them to reach for a computer whilst on the job, it promises to make work safer and faster.

The immediacy of AR has meant that it is regarded as a breakthrough technology for healthcare. Accuvein is using this technology to help locate veins more accurately on the first try. Nurses and Doctors use a handheld scanner to project over skin and show where the veins are located.

Beyond the Screen – Considerations for UX

Augmented Reality offers new ways in which to interact with data and the environment surrounding them presenting new creative opportunities for UX (user experience) designers to explore.

Removing the constraint of a screen for viewing and interacting with content is game-changing. AR also presents a number of challenges to designers including the absence of a common set of interaction standards; predominantly due to the sheer scale of applications that can make use of AR and the variety of application uses.

AR allows any surface to become a display. One notable use of this is Snapchat and how they are leveraging AR to drive deeper engagement with their users e.g. the availability to insert 3D models into the real world. This allows the model to become part of the recorded clip through the app with users able to drag and drop it onto surfaces around them. This may be a gimmick based use for AR but nevertheless is a playful example of how AR can be implemented and enjoyed. Snapchat has been lapping up the success boasting 191 million daily users during the first quarter of 2018, and only dropping to 188 million daily users during the second quarter.

UX designers have to be prepared for this rapidly growing technology as it becomes more mainstream and gaining an understanding of a new design paradigm is crucial to delivering great experiences to users. Some key considerations:

  • Making it a human experience rather than a technology one.

  • Understanding the context that the technology is used in e.g. manufacturing.

  • Gauging the level of augmentation – how much is too much?

  • Simplicity is important.

  • Designing for a narrow depth of field.

  • Prioritizing the user’s line of sight.

  • Remembering that AR is a sensory experience – sight, sound, touch.

There are many factors to be considered when designing for AR. Designers must take various external and environmental factors into account, like where the application will be used, to help create a user-friendly experience. This is even more so important when the tech will be interacting directly with the environment. For example, how will the application work in different forms of lighting? Experiences will be determined by the context of use, a manufacturing worker with a Hololens will be interacting with applications differently to a health worker using AR within a tablet. Additionally the type of hardware utilised will influence design decisions.

However, all of these use cases benefit from uncluttered interfaces. To keep the user engaged with the application and feel immersed it relies upon an uncluttered setting. By leveraging this it helps limit distractions whilst the user is interacting with the physical world through the AR application. By only displaying the relevant information needed for the user to complete their goal, it helps indicate what information is important to them.

Keeping it familiar is also essential to provide a seamless and enjoyable User Experience. Within an unfamiliar atmosphere, people will seek to use familiar gestures or actions. By utilising this it keeps the adjustment period for using an AR application down to a minimum by implementing the same gestures and/or actions. Apps like Ikea Place and snapchat still use familiar gestures allowing users to intuitively download the app and begin using it immediately.

Although there are other such factors that should be taken into consideration, the 3 listed above begin to help shape parameters surrounding AR. Helping define these principles should help improve UX across the board for AR applications. &nbsp ;

Closing Thoughts

There is no doubt that AR will rise in popularity and constitute a paradigm shift in digital experience, a shift that UX design professionals will need to navigate, explore and establish practices for best use of this exciting new technology.

If you would like to know more about AR and how it can be used within your organisation we’d be happy to open a conversation with you to see if we can assist.

Got an idea? Let us know.

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