This article responds to The Augmented Designer panel discussion, which took place during NYCxDESIGN 2019, and which was sponsored by Augmented Review, ID8TRS, the IDSA, Hardware Massive and Superventures.
The opening remarks were delivered by moderator Stephan Clambaneva
The Inflection Point: Design and AR/VR
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have revolutionized product design. Because of capabilities like high-end visualization, infinite capacity for computing, limitless connectivity, affordability, and characteristics like remote collaboration, both the design process and high-level product development are on the verge of significant advancement.
And with mobile-augmented AR/VR, the technology has been made widely, publicly accessible, denoting a turning point the industry has been anticipating for years. As the efficiency of AR and VR surges forward, yet another inflection point is upon us – one whose significance feels as momentous as the internet boom.
Ori Inbar, Founder of Super Ventures and Co-Founder of Augmented World Expo, recognizes why finally, in 2019, these technologies are on the verge of exponential growth. He points to four distinct market indicators:
Tech giants' investment: Billions of dollars of investment from the likes of Google, Apple, Lenovo, and Microsoft have removed previous barriers to usage.
Corporate trend: 70% of enterprises have either implemented AR/VR or plan to do so. Interestingly, they're using it regardless of whether or not they have complete faith in its ROI, because they're recognizing that their competitors use it, and it's become a necessary asset to keep pace with them.
Critical mass: There's an extraordinary base of consumers and usage through mobile-AR. As of today, the grand total of AR-compatible devices is estimated at about 1.05 billion, with just as many users. Even if some interaction is only through low-level platforms such as Pokémon Go or Snapchat Lenses, the education and familiarization is wide-reaching.
Further foreseeable growth: Additional powerful investment has occurred at an all-time record high in new AR/VR technologies. (The sector received $7 billion in investment last year alone.) Analysts only predict the industry's expansion from here, including influence beyond experiential and into real use cases.
Implications and Implementations
AR/VR as a tool and new medium for designers is not only about better, faster, cheaper design; For Product Designers it will mean an opportunity for more empathy – a connective tissue between design, its practitioners, and its community of user-consumers (that is, clients and non-designers). The technology also signals opportunity for more design in context and, last but not least, it will enable non-designers to step in during the course of the design process to engage with it – to even complete it.
Bleeding edge companies are starting to explore even further how their businesses could be disrupted using AR/VR, and have been researching how human-centered design and design thinking can enable the technology to solve problems.
With AR/VR, technology is no longer a middleman, interpreting our intent; there are no longer the limitations of the X-Y movements of a mouse, or those of CAD tools. Your natural hand gestures and the way you interact in the real world become the UI.
These mediums allow for full immersion, enabling designers to operate in augmented contexts that can maintain the nuances of behavior, action, and intent. And crucially, they open up a world of possibility for designers to design, create, innovate and problem solve directly in 3D. What you see in your mind's eye can now take form right in front of you.
A few recognizable usage trends among adopters of the technology are identified as follows:
Augmented communication of business cases: This capability allows companies to support a complex business case by enhancing it with the appropriate contextual information through more realistic visual and other communications systems.
Powerful multisensory experiences: Allowing companies to engage consumers and clients on an emotional level in turn paves the way for deepened relationship and connectivity.
Contextually supported case studies: Similar to augmented business cases, this allows for more robust systems of communication to support disparate stakeholders in their collective decision-making.
For Marcel Botha, Founder and CEO of 10XBeta, the increased possibility for workflow optimization strongly supports another reason for AR/VR implementation in the design process. He provides the example of collaborative design validation apps (such as Augmented Review, listed below), which are easy-to-use workflow tools for customers who are not necessarily tech savvy, thus removing the challenge to train the client to use a new platform.
Echoing a similar point of view, Leonidas Trampoukis, Founding Partner of LOT and Objects of Common Interest, states that the tech's most exciting attributes relate to user efficiency, remote work, and cross-disciplinary versus traditional ways of working. He suggests that in these senses, AR/VR may be a particularly impactful tool for boutique design studios.
For Botha, AR/VR also enables him to put concept into play very early on in the design workflow. He points out that at the preliminary design stage, the technology is highly effective in communicating a vision; a working concept that customers can play with and latch onto may be more efficient and effective, at this stage, than hyper-realistic renderings.
Overall, it's all about which level of precision designers need for each stage of their process. Because although, as we've acknowledged, the tools and technology exist, the next challenge is figuring out which ones work most effectively for each project touchpoint.
The Augmented Designer: Our Role in the AR/VR Evolution
As advanced as these technologies are, they are no doubt in the early stages of their evolution. Anticipating where that evolution will take us, Inbar sees mobile AR as a stepping stone toward the true future of design. It's at its most powerful, he predicts, when it can be experienced hands-free (though that technology is not quite yet widely accessible). A smartphone, then, offers us a window into the AR/VR world, where it's going, and how it can service us.
Additionally, Botha shared that to keep up with the evolution of the technologies and their capabilities, 10Xbeta adjusted its office infrastructure to accommodate experimentation with AR/VR. Also informing that adjustment was the inching of AR/VR into the mainstream. Soon, their usage will be the norm, so the earlier adopters will be advantaged with having become more familiar with them.
Designers – boutique and large studios alike – owe it to themselves to invest moderately and continuously into exploring new apps, software, and hardware, in order to figure out which solutions and services are most beneficial to their operations. After all, this new tech, like most tools for creativity, is not one-size-fits-all, nor are it or its implications completely predictable.
In closing, a key takeaway from the panel was the collective belief that this is the time for designers and content creators to shine. The challenge, then, is to define what "good" design is, and how these new tools can get us there; and to designate what amounts to the best and most just form of interaction in a world which surpasses the keyboard and the mouse. Because the frontier will continue to expand. New AR/VR techniques will continue to emerge, forging paths for new methods of design. With this expansion in mind, the panelists' urgent call to action was for designers to take the lead on this progress. The Augmented Designer is most certainly already here, and it is their – our – time to act.
What tech are the panelists using?
As AR/VR technology continues to evolve, its accessibility ever increases. For now, here are some vertical apps that the panelists have flagged as incredibly productive for designers and product developers, to name only a few of the many available:
Gravity Sketch is a platform for ideating, visualizing, and communicating concepts in real-time through VR.
MindeskVR allows for 3D model reviews in VR, operating natively from CAD systems.
Augmented Review, a collaborative platform, streamlines the design process using AR.
VRify.io offers a real-time web-VR service for assembly and disassembly.
You can watch the full recording of the panel discussion published on YouTube: