5 Crucial UX/UI Principles for Designing Augmented Reality (AR) Apps by@amirreza1asadi

5 Crucial UX/UI Principles for Designing Augmented Reality (AR) Apps

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Amir Reza Asadi HackerNoon profile picture

Amir Reza Asadi

XR Designer | Technologist | Futurist | HCI Researcher | The Conceptual Planner

1. Do Not Underestimate the Customer's Device Limitations

It is essential to understand the capabilities and limitations of the target device and platform. The two main types of consumer AR devices are head-mounted devices and handheld devices.

Many AR startups prefer to design apps and games for handheld devices. There might be several reasons.

First of all, there are more than one billion AR Enabled devices on the market. It sounds great from the marketing point of view, but do they use AR too?

Secondly, more developers are familiar with Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore, so it seems more straightforward to develop for handheld devices. It looks good to use handheld devices for prototyping and research purposes, but you should not forget that it might not be viable to market an app designed primarily for HMD (head-mounted display) devices to handheld AR Users. For example, the 3D UI elements are not usable with handheld devices. Your iPhone neural engine can detect the movements of your fingers and their collision with the virtual elements, but the user should hold the iPhone with another hand. This is not an experience that a user can endure for long minutes. However, the HMD AR users expect to use their hands for interacting with the user interface (Direct Manipulation).

After deciding that you are planning to design an application for the handheld or HMD users, it would help to consider the limitations of devices in each category. Battery capacity, power usage, and sensors are among the primary criteria you should consider. An AR application may work on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 13 similarly, but this application may drain the battery of the iPhone 6s. You can not count on the iPhone 6s users for increasing the app retention rate. Also, if you are designing for HMD devices such as Magic Leap or HoloLens, you should consider the field of view, and It limits the accessible environment for your users.

2. Create Personas for AR Users

You may have designed great non-AR mobile applications. Still, those experiences may not be applicable here because you are bringing a distinct type of interaction, requiring a new understanding of user behaviors. So it requires a different approach towards observation.

Forget the previous user personas. You may want to invite some participants to test the prototypes of your AR app, but It wouldn't be helpful because you are controlling the testing situation. You should collect information about user behavior in an uncontrolled environment; you need to observe the users' interaction with touchpoints in a genuine way (do not forget privacy concerns and ethics). You need to know:

  • The lighting of the user's environment.

  • How much time do they stand per day?

  • How much time do they sit per day?

  • How much time do they use their devices while lying?

  • How much time do they spend outside?

    Then you can create personas based on these new findings.

3. Self-Criticism: Why AR?

Before creating any feature that utilizes augmented reality, you should ask yourself,

"How can AR enhance the usability of this feature?"

β€œHow is AR-Based experience is better than non AR experience?”

In many cases, startups try to transform applications into AR experiences without considering the AR limitations and providing any helpful functionality. AR can be both an opportunity and a challenge. AR can create an extensive interaction space for the users, but technical limitations can challenge users. For example, it is hard to use AR apps at night, or the user needs to wait for AR sessions. Moreover, AR consumes more energy and computing resources. So criticize yourself before the users blame you with one-star reviews.

4. Expand the Role of Audio

People use wireless earbuds more and more. By using earbuds, the user will have access to personal experiences. Nosey people may look at your mobile screen, but they can not hear what you listen to with earbuds. So, do not forget that voice-based UI. It is going to be normal to wear AirPods all day.

However, designing Audio feedback and voice-based UI is a tricky task. The users do not like robotic sounds, and they do not enjoy getting bothered by too much noise from your app! Thus, you should design the audio experiences wisely.

image

5. Gradual Innovation & Skeuomorphism

Your investor may expect more and more features, and you may be willing to design numerous features for your app to show off your creativity. But do not forget that they need time to learn all these new features. Desktop users may spend months learning about using your app, but mobile and tablet users give you just a few minutes. So use familiar gestures and design patterns. For head-mounted displays, you can use 3D skeuomorphism. According to Wikipedia, skeuomorphism refers to a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues (attributes) from structures that were necessary in the original.

image

Apple used to apply skeuomorphism in early versions of its operating systems. You can apply skeuomorphism in Head-mounted XR experiences by using familiar objects and structures. For example, you can use a desk for productivity apps.


1. Do Not Underestimate the Customer's Device Limitations

It is essential to understand the capabilities and limitations of the target device and platform. The two main types of consumer AR devices are head-mounted devices and handheld devices.

Many AR startups prefer to design apps and games for handheld devices. There might be several reasons.

First of all, there are more than one billion AR Enabled devices on the market. It sounds great from the marketing point of view, but do they use AR too?

Secondly, more developers are familiar with Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore, so it seems more straightforward to develop for handheld devices. It looks good to use handheld devices for prototyping and research purposes, but you should not forget that it might not be viable to market an app designed primarily for HMD (head-mounted display) devices to handheld AR Users. For example, the 3D UI elements are not usable with handheld devices. Your iPhone neural engine can detect the movements of your fingers and their collision with the virtual elements, but the user should hold the iPhone with another hand. This is not an experience that a user can endure for long minutes. However, the HMD AR users expect to use their hands for interacting with the user interface (Direct Manipulation).

After deciding that you are planning to design an application for the handheld or HMD users, it would help to consider the limitations of devices in each category. Battery capacity, power usage, and sensors are among the primary criteria you should consider. An AR application may work on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 13 similarly, but this application may drain the battery of the iPhone 6s. You can not count on the iPhone 6s users for increasing the app retention rate. Also, if you are designing for HMD devices such as Magic Leap or HoloLens, you should consider the field of view, and It limits the accessible environment for your users.

2. Create Personas for AR Users

You may have designed great non-AR mobile applications. Still, those experiences may not be applicable here because you are bringing a distinct type of interaction, requiring a new understanding of user behaviors. So it requires a different approach towards observation.

Forget the previous user personas. You may want to invite some participants to test the prototypes of your AR app, but It wouldn't be helpful because you are controlling the testing situation. You should collect information about user behavior in an uncontrolled environment; you need to observe the users' interaction with touchpoints in a genuine way (do not forget privacy concerns and ethics). You need to know:

  • The lighting of the user's environment.

  • How much time do they stand per day?

  • How much time do they sit per day?

  • How much time do they use their devices while lying?

  • How much time do they spend outside?

    Then you can create personas based on these new findings.

3. Self-Criticism: Why AR?

Before creating any feature that utilizes augmented reality, you should ask yourself,

"How can AR enhance the usability of this feature?"

β€œHow is AR-Based experience is better than non AR experience?”

In many cases, startups try to transform applications into AR experiences without considering the AR limitations and providing any helpful functionality. AR can be both an opportunity and a challenge. AR can create an extensive interaction space for the users, but technical limitations can challenge users. For example, it is hard to use AR apps at night, or the user needs to wait for AR sessions. Moreover, AR consumes more energy and computing resources. So criticize yourself before the users blame you with one-star reviews.

4. Expand the Role of Audio

People use wireless earbuds more and more. By using earbuds, the user will have access to personal experiences. Nosey people may look at your mobile screen, but they can not hear what you listen to with earbuds. So, do not forget that voice-based UI. It is going to be normal to wear AirPods all day.

However, designing Audio feedback and voice-based UI is a tricky task. The users do not like robotic sounds, and they do not enjoy getting bothered by too much noise from your app! Thus, you should design the audio experiences wisely.

image

5. Gradual Innovation & Skeuomorphism

Your investor may expect more and more features, and you may be willing to design numerous features for your app to show off your creativity. But do not forget that they need time to learn all these new features. Desktop users may spend months learning about using your app, but mobile and tablet users give you just a few minutes. So use familiar gestures and design patterns. For head-mounted displays, you can use 3D skeuomorphism. According to Wikipedia, skeuomorphism refers to a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues (attributes) from structures that were necessary in the original.

image

Apple used to apply skeuomorphism in early versions of its operating systems. You can apply skeuomorphism in Head-mounted XR experiences by using familiar objects and structures. For example, you can use a desk for productivity apps.

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