Making the unreal, real: designing for ‘extended reality’
New extended reality tools will allow marketers incredible design capabilities, says Frog Design president Andrew Zimmerman. But can brands offer a seamless experience across a series of digital, augmented and physical touchpoints. Here’s what they need to keep in mind.
When it comes to brands, more than ever people are interacting with an extended experience that plays expansively in both a digital landscape as well as a physical one.
While current prescribed social distancing has accelerated e-commerce adoption, these newly formed consumption habits will persist in a post-pandemic world. This leaves us with the challenge of redesigning the retail experience – and rethinking the possible applications of new technologies.
Even though AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) have both been around for some time, the emergence of what we call ’extended reality’ (which is comprised of augmented, cross experience, mixed and virtual reality) is finally experiencing enough traction as an alternative to in-person experiences. With that in mind, the design community needs to embrace these new capabilities in designing for the new needs of consumers.
Lessons from retail and the auto industry
VR (virtual reality) and AR usage has already begun to rise in retail as VR hardware has become higher quality, less expensive and less bulky. The launch of native AR platforms like Apple’s ARKit in 2017 enabled powerful AR visualization to exist in the pocket of every smartphone user. Since then, AR try-before-you-buy experiences for products like glasses in the case of Warby Parker and makeup for experiences built by L’Oreal and Sephora have become more sophisticated and widely adopted. Companies like Wayfair and Lowe’s (named Fast Company’s most innovative AR/VR company in 2018) have made significant investments in 3D scanning capabilities, which have allowed them to create differentiated immersive buying experiences incorporating thousands of products.
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Meanwhile, the auto industry has built luxury connected car buying experiences that seamlessly weave together touchpoints that include traditional online platforms, engage cross experience (XR) in a remote form, and may end in a high-fidelity VR experience in the dealership. Audi, for example, has 1,000 global VR deployments that enable high-end virtual car configuration experiences in dealerships, giving buyers accurate simulations of purchasing options. Recent advancements in XR game-engines mean users will be able to run these high-fidelity visualizations at home across product categories.
The physics and lighting built into game-engine driven XR visualizations will allow consumers to explore products in highly dynamic and customizable ways, enhancing comprehension of fit, feel and scale of everything from clothing to automobiles.
Designers need to take an extra step with XR
To design for this, we take a holistic approach we call convergent design, which carries across all of an organization or brand’s digital, physical and service touchpoints in a consistent and evocative manner. This translates into more than simply designing magical touchpoints, but also lays out the entire customer journey from digital app, to service to retail space and all the ways a customer transitions between them.
Designing for this new era will require companies to break out of siloed digital experiences that often only work in online environments or applications. They will need to organize and think convergently by building capabilities and teams that can truly integrate digital, physical, and spatial experiences together so that users can interact and traverse between these modalities intuitively and seamlessly – from home and eventually, elsewhere. This will be fundamental for ensuring AR experiences, interactions, and behaviors are delightful, frictionless, and work as a convergent and connected system, rather than a series of fragmented experiences.
For retail brands and beyond, only a truly convergent design approach will unlock and drive innovative ways to create experiences, connect and engage with their customers, and deliver true value across platforms. We recommend you keep three considerations top of mind when designing for these experiences:
1. Solve for real, human needs. It’s important that you don’t implement a solution purely for the sake of new technology, but that you leverage that technology to extend the capabilities of the users while solving for their actual needs.
2. As mentioned in the opening, XR is comprised of a variety of emerging technology implementations. It’s important to look for ways to blend and blur those lines of distinction, creating solutions that allow individuals to context switch between the digital, the physical, and the unique XR modes as needed.
3. We are a diverse and global people. It is important to actively design with accessibility practices and understand the access that these emerging technologies may provide or how they may introduce new limitations for participants. How can you create solutions that help and not hinder the users?
Designing in a post-coronavirus world will be challenging for sure. But perhaps making the unreal a reality through improved XR tools and a little bit of design magic will help us take the first step towards an exciting new future for consumers.
Andrew Zimmerman is president of design and innovation consultancy Frog. He gratefully acknowledges the contributions of his frog colleagues Sean Rhodes, Alexis Flores and Charles Yust to this article.