How Augmented Reality will change design

We all know that the pen is mightier than the sword, but what about the stylus? Numerous fields within the design industry depended on analog tools to flesh out their ideas and creative endeavors. Technology changed that, from drawing tables to tablets, to technical pens and type books. The tools that dominate the design industry are in a constant state of evolution. The emergence of augmented reality creates new and exciting opportunities for design. Although the technology is fairly new, many parts of the industry stand to benefit from this tech, including architecture, industrial design, fashion, entertainment, and graphic design. In addition, it has the ability to transform where and how you create.

Prototyping

Before products are made, it is important to test both its aesthetics and functionality by prototyping; this is true of most disciplines in design. Augmented reality can change how this process is approached by introducing prototyping in a virtual environment. It can also lower the cost of traditional prototyping by eliminating the need for some physical tools. A company called Shaper has engineered a handheld CNC machine that uses AR technology to bring designs to life. CNC Machining is a process used in the manufacturing industry that involves the use of computers to control machine tools. The tool, called Shaper Origin, uses a touch screen mounted to a motorized drill to precisely cut various materials. The tool comes with software built in or can be used with existing software such as Fusion 360 by Autodesk.

Architects have used a variety of tools to make plans for buildings, but augmented reality is about to thrust them into the future. One issue most architects face is translating digital designs to physical space; a service called Augment, could be a solution to that problem. Augment allows you to showcase your designs in a mixed reality environment using a smartphone, tablet, or desktop. With this, an architect could easily showcase his designs to anyone with a smartphone. Not only does it increase productivity, it also helps the digital to physical transition easier than ever before.

Fashion is also due for a technological revitalization. Since fashion designers dabble both in analog and digital tools, the transition to augmented reality won’t necessarily be a smooth ride. Luckily, the adoption rate of tech similar to AR is growing quickly. For example, shoe brand Converse, took a peek into the future with their augmented reality app. With the app, users can preview what it's like to wear the iconic shoes by pointing their smartphone at their feet. The app composites a Converse shoe graphic over the user’s shoe. This is one of several applications that derive from AR technology.

The entertainment industry uses this tech for both creating and as a platform for games and apps. Microsoft’s Hololens is one of the most popular AR headsets. With Hololens, game designers have the chance to expand their creations beyond the 2d screen and bring forth new experiences. An example of augmented reality in games is Pokemon Go. The app uses phone cameras and Google Maps to composite Pokemon directly into the world around you, where you can then interact with them, leading to a whole new level of immersion.

Because of AR, game designers are faced with a new challenge; safety. Because it is a mixed reality environment, there are objects in the real world that need to be visible to the player. It would be terrible if all the press surrounding a new game is about how users are injuring themselves (although the headline “Teens tripping over new game” would probably perform pretty well.)

To make AR experiences work, they need to feel like a natural extension of the user’s environment. Things like color variations, type sizes, and UI elements are some aspects to consider. Creating content for augmented reality isn’t yet as researched as creating content for 2d screens. Students at the Royal College of Art have broken through that block and figured out a way for designers to sketch in 3D space. What began as a concept, has turned into a product called Gravity. It consists of a headset and handheld device that allows designers to draw in the air around them. This opens up the world to all sorts of creative options.

Uncharted Territory

The nature of augmented reality brings about numerous questions designers have yet to answer. They will have to think outside the box, or in this case, the screen. With no guidelines, rules, or workflows, its content and how it is created will take some time to perfect. Some problems that present themselves are:

  • Who, what, and where will this content be viewed?
  • How will interaction take place?
  • What are the design limitations to adhere to?
  • Do features add value to the experience?

Some questions are similar to those designers ask themselves everyday, but others need additional thought. The technology depends on the environment around the user so it can display information upon real world objects. The more R&D takes place, the easier it will be to create enjoyable augmented reality experiences. The majority of experiences already released are grounded in reality and are successful because of it.

Breaking Free of the Screen

The dive into the digital age has made us dependent on monitors and tablets, desk areas, and offices that can sometimes interfere with the design process. With AR, designers aren’t tied to a desk, office, or monitor. They could design on the go and collaborate with elements in the real world, which will likely introduce a new source of inspiration.

Sharing Experiences

In design, you tend to share your work pretty often. Whether it be to a fellow designer or a client that requires “something they can touch”, sharing designs is a big part of the work process. But what if you could instantly share these experiences using augmented reality? Designers would be able to share and collaborate with ease. In addition, it would also change how we interact within the workplace by providing instant feedback to designers. We all know how difficult it is to get individuals in the same workspace to collaborate and solve difficult problems; by working in augmented reality, the physical divides are removed almost instantly. Clients will be able to see the progress of projects up close and personal. This in turn can help provide clear communication between designers and clients.

Augmented reality is still in its infant stages, but it shows great promise. Despite the multitude and history of other tools, there is no denying the rise of augmented reality. The design industry and the tools we use to create will never be the same.

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Written by
Javier Rojas 25 Jul 2017

I'm a 3D designer / graphic designer that is new to the industry and learning the ropes. I mostly do 3D related work but dabble in everything design related.

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