The viral effect of augmented reality

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For the last months we’ve seen dozens of augmented reality applications. The technology has become so low-level that more and more companies and individuals are playing around with it. This results in a lot of funny and (sometimes) interesting applications. But the low-levelness also caused a good side effect: virality.

First: We, designers, get to experience so many new technologies and possibilities that we are easily bored… This ‘curse of knowledge’ blinds us, making us not see how the audience will respond. For example: for us the iPhone is the most normal device in the world, multi touch is something we know and we are already looking forward to the next thing. But ‘the masses’ don’t experience it like this, for them it’s still a novelty… and most of them see it as unreachable for now. Augmented reality is quite similar.

Designers may be used to the technology behind augmented reality and understand how an icon on paper can be transformed into a 3D animation you can move yourself. But we must never forget how our target audience thinks. For ‘the masses’ augmented reality feels like magic. They don’t think in technologies, but just experience the result. And when they do this, they are overwhelmed by the coolness of augmented reality.

Check out these video from somebody experiencing augmented reality for the first time:

For me it’s really important to keep the above points in my mind. The ‘curse of knowledge’ is very strong and can make a designer fail totally. What triggered this thought was an article I read on theory.isthereason where the writer referred to the great number of home made videos on augmented reality. When looking at the different video’s you see how people perceive the result they get. They don’t know how it works, just that it is really cool. So cool, that loads of them decided to make a video of it and spread it on the internet. Freely promoting companies and products, like the GE campaign. In the case of the GE augmented reality stuff, it resulted in a viral campaign (which I am joining right now): check out the number of videos people uploaded. Amazing.

For me there are two lessons: let’s stay curious and not be blinded by the ‘curse of knowledge’. And the other one is more direct… augmented reality is a great starting point for a viral campaign, since it impresses people.

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

6 comments on this article

  1. Michel Witter on

    Good thinking Jeroen.
    Besides thinking about designing for AR also think about ‘normal’ people.
    Though incorporating usability research —and personas ;) — should cover this. Not?

  2. @Michel: you would say so… but augmented reality is a typical example of technology driven innovation. So we should be aware of this.

  3. Low-level means difficult to use. High-level means easy. Layers of abstraction.

  4. Noah is correct, that kind of jumped out at me. Low level refers to something closer to machine code or the kernel. High level refers to the user interface, buttons and dialogs.

    Good article, I plan to reference it for a presentation I’m doing soon.

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