Radio Johnny: Joe Lamantia on Augmented Reality

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Today on Radio Johnny Jeff Parks chats with freelance experience strategist in Amsterdam, Joe Lamantia on the emerging topic of Augmented Reality and how this discipline is acquiring tremendous interest with thought leaders and various industries around the world.


Augmented Reality is one of those technically driven coinings that tries to describe the composition or make-up of the set of experiences of some real world elements, say a video feed, with directly computerized elements.

It [Augmented Reality] really does have potential to change the world; to change the way we see everyday life. I’d like to see that take shape and take fruition maybe a little more quickly so I’m trying to accelerate the evolution of the medium itself by gently suggesting that content creation is key.


Joe Lamantia talks about the emerging topic of Augmented Reality and how this discipline is acquiring tremendous interest with thought leaders and various industries around the world.

Joe shares his insights about how “Ubiquitous Computing” and “Everyware” have helped to frame this discipline, as well as the need for creators of AR to focus their efforts on content creation when building future solutions.

Show Notes

UXMatters Article: Inside Out: Interaction Design for Augmented Reality
Joe Lamantia Blog Post: ARrested Development: The Content Creation Barrier For Augmented Reality
Joe Lamantia Blog Post: Geek to Chic: The Cultural Branding of Augmented Reality Experiences
Joe Lamantia Blog Post: “Interaction Design For Augmented Reality” In ReadWriteWeb


A special thanks to Jeff’s sister Suzanne Lowry for providing transcripts for Radio Johnny! More on the way soon…

Jeff Parks: So Joe, we’re talking today on radio Johnny were talking about augmented reality. I guess this is a fairly new idea and there’s a lot of buzz about it lately that you’ve been experiencing. Maybe you could talk to our listeners about what augmented reality is all about.

Joe Lamantia: Sure, so there is a lot of buzz and you’re really seeing it pop to the surface in many ways today. Even just recently back in the spring, six, eight months ago, but the idea has been around for a long time. It started from an engineering point of view back at Boeing in the early 90’s, and there’s been a lot of academic research around different aspects of it: technology, software visualizations from that early start and on going. So a lot of folks that you see who are talking about augmented reality, or designing for it or creating experiences and tools, there sort of new to the game and I’m very much in that class. Some other things that made it interesting for me is this potential new media out there and it’s kind of ready for shaping, but folks at the user experience and in the tradition learning communities even broadly with digital media is not really on their radar or it wasn’t until very recently. And so I thought it would be interesting to see what prospective that I could offer as someone who has a fair amount of experience doing Internet and digital media stuff. Kind of coming in from the outside.

Jeff Parks: You wrote a great article in UX matters about this idea. And there’s a couple of buzz words that are floating around quite a bit in the tech world over the last couple of years. One is: Ubiquitous Computing and the other is this concept that Adam Greenfield I believe started around this concept of “Everyware” and I think there’s a lot of miss understanding between those two concepts. Can you describe those and maybe how they relate to Augmented Reality?

Joe Lamantia: Sure, So ubiquitous computing is the term that was coined by Mark Liser and a couple other folks at Xerox park, again a while ago, were going back to the 90’s maybe the 80’s even. And the idea is essentially that even though you think of the computer as something that is physically embodying; it’s a separate device and tool. You interact with it now as a stand alone piece of hardware, that eventually computing power and computing technology and information processing will kind of fade into the background, and it will be distributed. So it won’t be something that’s locked up, even the phone where it’s something that you hold in your hand that’s gonna be a part of the walls and the air and all of that. And that was still a device centered in a computing center framing of the idea that life would be permeated by information processing, and these new capabilities that we had; Greenfield decided to take that and involve that and talk a little more on that experience of what that would be like. So he’s building on the traditions and neogisms that there’s hardware, and software and he’s saying if it really dose becomes a part of the world around you then it’s not directly perceptible in a physical sense then it’s “everywhere”. And that’s quite a turn around, and I like it, so I use that. I think it captures the essence of what it will be like to be the person who is working with or using or having life experiences effected by this kind of broad permeation of technology. It’s all of the places and the relationships that we have. And then ubiquitous computing is not going to go away anyway, right? (Jeff Parks: Laughing, right!) So it’s a lot easier to say everywhere and then people can say “oh ya!” so that’s the first two.

And then augmented reality, again the name will change here, although it’s the term that we have for the moment. Augmented reality is again one of those technically driven coining that tries to describe the composition or the makeup of a set of experiences that combine some real world element, say for example video feed, with directly computerized elements and so you hear it framed either in terms of computer graphics and 3D rendering digital content are injected into live video feed or video screen and then you see the combinations of the two. So my face maybe with a funny mask on it for the Transformers promo that was out a little while ago, or alternatively maybe the combination of augmented reality in terms of video and computer content into kind of projected fields. So it’s not necessarily me looking at the screen but maybe me actually looking out into the real world, and there are some computer introduced elements that are kind of classic 3D projection.

There’s two good ways of looking at it. For folks who are interested, but haven’t yet, I recommend them taking a look at a lot of the covers that Bruce Sterling has been doing around augmented reality for a while now. Back in August at the Layer 2.0 launch announcement, Bruce did a retrospective and a look ahead at what’s in store for augmentative reality birthing industry. He said “we need a definition, lets pin this down.” He suggests, it’s very simple it’s a real fun video with 3D computer graphics driven by some information source that is overlaid and mixed into that. That is a medium based view, so it’s defining augmentative reality in terms of the stuff that makes it up, that’s one way to look at it.

A second, and this is a broader definition and I wrote about a piece of it in that original piece for UXMatters is what I wrote from Robert Rice. He’s been around for a very long time on augmented reality space. He says it’s very simple, it’s not just video it’s the mixing any experience that comes out of overlay or mixing in computer information of making real life. What I like when you put those two definitions next to each other is that one of them talk about the medium so literally the delivery channel, and the other is more human centered, it talks about the experience you have where all the stuff that you do on radio live is going to be informed by information.

It could be displayed visually, but this is something with potential with this could also be auditory, I mean your ears work. And we move a lot of information around that way. So there’s all this other aspects of human experience that are going to be effected by this and he says that’s augmented reality too.

Jeff Parks: Yes, it’s interesting actually you showed me a few articles on you ported a lot of different videos which will incorporating into the show notes people on Radio Johnny. One of them was that I downloaded recently was this Yelp application on the iPhone where it looks out into the world (and I think this is what you were talking about) in terms of an example of augmentative reality where you see different tags or different systems to show where you’re at. I think another example was of a subway system, to show you what subway to get on at a certain point. I think it was in London? I might be wrong, I’m not sure. So that’s the idea.

Another one you showed which I’m going to really date myself here because there is a video game place where you go as kids in North America called Chucky Cheese and I absolutely loved this place as a kid. There were video games everyhwere, this was before the Xbox and Wii. Way back in..well I was born in “73” so gives you an idea. There is a great video on there in Singapore I believe, a wearable learning augmentative reality experience about human Pac Man. I thought that was really interesting, so there is a lot of talk about video games even today and the interactivity between video games, so this could be another step.

The Wii gets you involved physically you were talking about the auditory elements of it before. But now were looking at potentially moving beyond the controllers to literally going out to the real world and playing games, which would be wild, I think. And it has huge implication in terms of not just video games but how we interact with each other as people.

Joe Lamantia: Definitely, very much so. Those were a set of examples that I thought would be kind of good touch points for folks who are maybe getting started understanding what is this. What I liked about that collection, is that yet again it kind of gives you a different range of experiences that you can have of augmented reality how the systems deliver it, the way it interaction with people, and so you get this slice across that big pool of effort that’s been going on for a long time that sort of collects itself under the umbrella of augmentative reality, there’s all different applications for that. From medical to engineering from design to architecture informational, marketing, advertising, purely entertainment and there is a whole lot activity happening around there. And that collection of examples is meant to give people a taste for some of the very different things that are happening under the heading augmented reality.

Jeff Parks: And it was interesting, I was reading your blog too about how there’s a couple different things happening. There’s actually a AR consortium that’s been started, but one of the biggest challenges that you were talking about in terms of AR at least initially is content creation. Why is that?

Joe Lamantia: I see a couple of area’s that need attention, from the prospective of a mature or a well developed medium. And the one I chose to kind of emphasize, at least the one that I wrote on recently, is content creation, and that’s because pretty simply we learn a lot of lessons with publishing with the Internet with this exceeding generation of media that we’ve been kind of creating as a society. And one of the big lessons is that it’s value really comes out when a lot of people can quickly, easily, and simply create meaningful content and then share that with one and another. So it’s not difficult, the barriers to entry when creating compelling, interesting stuff are low. So you don’t need specialized 3D rendering soft wear. You don’t need to be able to do really complex mathematics in order to create experiences for your friends and family.

All of these sorts of things are barriers to entry! The value, the diversity, the kind of cultural significance that it impacts of the medium takes off when it’s much easier for people to create stuff so, here we are doing Radio Johnny using tools that are essentially free or costs next to nothing. And 30 years ago this would have been a substantial technology and engineering effort.

And it certainly had been happening this way with us in distributed locations with you in North America and me here in Europe. That same evolution is going to be key to making augmented reality that’s something relevant. Right now it’s defiantly hot, there’s a lot of hype around it, it gets buzz, it’s flashy, but how many people are actually doing it? or how many people are actually getting real value out if it? Not as many as could be. It has a real potential to change the world, to change the experience of every day life. And I’d like to see some of that take shape and take fruition a little more quickly. I’m trying to accelerate the evolution of the medium itself by gently suggesting content creation is really key here.

You can see in fact that their efforts around the other way. So let’s see, Layer, a leading visible, AR company application they had a couple content creation tools available. And then Junaio is the latest offering from Metaio which is a German based company that’s been doing augmented reality which has been around for a long time. You can see a couple videos of using their new tool to do things like in embed, moving 3D objects that move dinosaurs and sort of fun stuff like this; inside the landscape right around using your global phones the idea is you can quickly and easily create augmented reality content using the tool you have in your hands, so the same tool you have in order to experience that with.

So it’s a round trip quick and easy content creation and I’m sure that there are many, many other offerings on the way that will this content creation, but I think it is one of the central ones. Right now, unless you’re deep in the marketing group or you work for some interactive creative facility, it’s a little bit hard to create meaningful stuff that would fall under the heading augmented reality that you can quickly and easily show friends.

Jeff Parks: Exactly, and as you were saying we are talking on Skype right now and the great thing about this, although this is an audio podcast we’re actually doing a video so you know most of the communication is body language, at least effective communication so I mean, it’s the ability to read and interact with you as I’m talking to you,and the same thing with AR I would imagine a lot of the things that you talked about; even medical community, maybe you get sick and you’re over seas and you have something that needs treatment all the time it would be nice to have one doctor communicate to the other to make sure that’s in line.

And just like you said the implications are massive and I guess that’s what makes this such an exciting new field because the possibilities really are endless, in terms of how we can help humanity. It’s getting away from the tech end of things like you were saying. And it’s really empowering people and really help others, whether it’s navigating their way around from a “everyware” prospective or whether is looking at the text, like you said medical solutions to help others heal faster or to share ideas. I don’t know, maybe this is way off… does this notion fall into the opportunity like the semantic web, Tim Burners-Lee was talking about at TED and how to pulling all the different data points together, perhaps the cure for cancer is online, and maybe that’s over selling it, I don’t know.. but is there a way for AR to help people at that level? Or is it something that is pie in the sky right now?

Joe Lamantia: To be honest, I really don’t know. I suppose that anything is possible. What I like about AR is that it is a new space and yet we already have this tremendous collection of cultural capital that we’ve created by building the Internet. In terms of the roll that augmented reality might play it looks like a great way to do a combination of things. You can create a visualization platform that links information, cyberspace, the metaverse, choose your term. You can link that with a physical space in real experience that’s happening in someones hand, or addressing in terms of context and location. So, it looks like a great way, not just having excess to the Internet and the information layer that’s kind of permeating reality right now, but bring the two together in a meaningful way so it’s relevant and directly part of your experience of where ever you are whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re connecting to relating to, in real time. And that’s very exciting, and who knows what will come out of that!? Space ships to mars, cures for cancer, Id’ settle for a little more sunlight here in Europe frankly, that would be great!

Jeff Parks: Well that was a choice you made me friend (Joe: Laughing) You chose to move up there! (Jeff:Laughing)

Joe Lamantia: Indeed and fortuitous because there is a great deal of work around this medium, actually right here in Holland. That was not something I was not aware of when I was thinking of moving here. So I got lucky that way.

Jeff Parks: You also wrote in your article, Designers should be aware of a few things. You said that “ Designers bare in mind, mixed reality is not natural. Design always shapes a mixed reality experience, in some way mixed reality constructed experience requiring AR creators answer two very important questions when defining the particulars of any augmented experience. The first is how inside out should this reality be? In other words to the extent of degree. And the second is, How should this reality of inside out of the prospective of form. Can you elaborate on the importance of these questions to create an effective AR experience. I mean I know this is new, so What are your thoughts on this?

Joe Lamantia: Sure, so I think it’s really important not to lose the idea that this is suppose to make experiences more valuable, more relevant, more usable, more meaningful. more social, more whatever. This is true of anything, any work, social, entertaining, that sort of activity you’re taking on. If you’re digitizing it, or processing it using information technology just for the sake of doing that? Then you kind of lost sight of the purpose. The purpose is to make something more personal, more valuable, more accessible.

So the idea is, especially at an early stage the meeting is evolving, people are excited keep this lessons in mind that we learned from before. So when we looked at taking social interactions and business processes, entertainment genera’s all these different things that people do. When we look and thinking of taking them on line there was kind of a lot experimentation and that’s fine, that’s appropriate, along the lines of well we could do this, and that’s great, I’m sure you could but it’s not really going to last it wont stick unless it makes that experience more valuable, more relevant in some way.

So, if you want to think strategically if your an interaction designer or a user experience person, and a client comes to you and says “oh hey, I’ve heard about this augmented reality stuff and I want to augment my dog.” (Jeff: Laughing) Great lets talk about that for a second. Is that really going to be valuable and useful? It’s no problem to experiment. it’s just a giant RND effort, but if we’re going to invest resources in this lets just take a moment and make sure that it’s really going to add to an enhanced experience of some kind. And then you can go to the form question and then we can look and say, okay how are we going to augmenting this. It could be very simple. Very simple kinds have changes have tremendous impact on the the feeling the flavour and values of the interactions that people have.

Jeff Parks: So, if I was a designer and this conversation, there are other articles that I have read, and it has really started to peak my interest about learning more about this field. Do you have recommendations for designers about where they could go to look either online or for organizations that people might want to contact or look up.

Joe Lamantia: There are many voices talking about augmented reality at the moment. So I would suggest looking at it in two or three levels. One level would be to just scan the main stream media, look at the Twitter streams, look at all the stuff moving around various feeds to the Internet. There is a lot of examples of the new stuff that’s coming out. So BMW releases a car reality to augmented reality? “Ya” and people running into the apps the iPhone, the iTunes stores, all the time. And you constantly get pointers about those extreme feeds so that will give you a sense on what’s happening right now. Then on another level to take a look at it maybe more foundation and background. There are a lot of good books written by a series HCI, computer engineering folks etc. that will tell you all about how to design and create mixed reality experiences of small scale and of large scale.

So if you were really thinking seriously about it then defiantly take a look at those. Amazon, Wikipedia all those usual resources will give you a very good list of bed time reading. (Jeff :Laughing) that should keep you satisfied a long time.

Jeff Parks: Wow, that’s a hell of a work load to go to sleep with man, that’s pretty heavy, but I get your point. That’s something else that we could provide people on the show notes, maybe you could send me a series of links that would help people connect with others around the world and other resources that you can recommend having people look up?

Joe Lamantia: I’d be happy to! And then there’s a third level as well. It’s not real time, but current analysis in consideration that’s happening. So I write about it, a lot of people are writing about augmented reality and their experiences with using it from marketing or using it for communication, whether it be a mobile device, and their doing it just a little bit behind so it’s not necessarily what’s about today, but it’s “oh, I did this six months ago and this is what I think about it.” And those are valuable because they have little more prospective on it.

Jeff Parks: Just out of curiosity is there future conferences coming up in 2010 where people will be touching on this a little bit more? My focus of course is in North America where you hear about a lot of conferences going on in North America because it’s where you can get to quickly. It’s harder to fly twelve hours across the globe to get to a place. So I’m just curious whether there are any event’s or work shops practice in Europe or anywhere in the world where people are able to connect more about this more in person.

Joe Lamantia: Indeed. There is an annual gathering of “the faithful” and it an international conference and it’s called ISMAR (International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality and I think the 10th addition just happened in Orlando down in Florida a few months ago. The next one I believe is going to be in Korea, and there is a lot of activity in this industry effort around augmented reality in Korea, no surprises. Those folks seem to be ahead of this sort of thing from us for a while, so that’s kind of the top tear that’s when everyone gets together.

There are a lot of Internet, technology digital media and other sorts of conferences that are obviously picking up on augmented reality so you can see tracks around it that you know, web2.0, and these sort of existing mystery events that are a little bit closer to home maybe for folks who are who are doing interaction design, user experience design, these sorts of things. You get people that say “oh you should do something on augmented reality for our event!” For example Kevin Chang is going to maybe running a session on augmented reality some of the work that he’s been doing and designing for it, at interactions down in Georgia, I think February. (Jeff: Yup!) so, interaction 10, and you’re seeing more and more of it pop up. It’s kind of like the wave is coming so even folks that don’t necessarily even want or need or have the resources to go to a different focused event there going to be carrying on more than likely and the new and interest to them pretty soon.

Jeff Parks: Well in addition to people that may be commenting on this particular conversation, what’s your blog again? Can you let everyone know what your blog is Joe?

Joe Lamantia: You can read my latest thinking at If you Google me I pop up as well, and then you might see some references that I put out in other pieces, references that I put out in various places. So lots of places having a good start at “”. (Jeff: Laughing) and then go from there.

Jeff Parks: Thanks Joe! Obviously a new and exciting field, lots to learn from everyone around the world it’s great that these ideas are taking off and that you and others are open in the community into sharing ideas. So I really want to thank you for taking the time to join me today on Radio Johnny, and wish you all the best with all your endeavors up there in Northern Europe. Hopefully the sun will come out a little more often then not for ya.

Joe Lamantia: Yes, my pleasure and I’ll look forward to seeing a little bit more sunlight.

Jeff Parks: okay, thanks again Joe, Cheers!

Joe Lamantia: Cheers!

Jeff Parks

Jeff is the co-founder of DIGIA UX Inc. and actively collaborates with industry professionals from around the world through his involvement with Boxes and Arrows and Johnny Holland. Jeff is also leading workshops on Information Architecture and User Experience Design over at Follow the UX Leader, in addition to volunteering his time as a Mentor and Member of the Board of Directors for the Information Architecture Institute.

5 comments on this article

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  4. Jim McWethy on

    I love listening to Joe talk about anything UX related. True thought-leader in the field of experience design, strategy, thinking, etc. I’m one of those former colleagues Joe left back stateside… nice to be able to listen to Joe as if across the table over steak tips at Dukes in Watertown.

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