The Problem with Mobile AR UI

By Dylan Scott

There’s a fundamental problem to designing a user interface in augmented reality for mobile devices.

Essentially, we are creating a small window into an edited, distorted world in front of you, one with a viewport that’s only a few inches wide and made of glass. Not an ideal situation for interacting with a 3D space.

When we work in AR, we modulate scale in a few different ways all at once.

First, we ask the user to look through a lens to reveal the world in front of them, a miniature mirrored version of what their camera sees. Then we blow it up, by implying the world they see on the screen is in fact as big as the world they see in real life.

Traditionally the approach to creating an interface for this kind of magic window is to emulate something closer to a video game H.U.D (heads-up display), except in this instance, it is interactive. For showcase videos or demos, this approach may look great, but the end user experience is not ideal as you are ultimately interacting with the screen rather than the world beyond it.

Here are just some of the examples of advantages when moving the user interface into the augmented world layer rather than keeping them in the screen layer:

1. Screen-space.

We eliminate the worries surrounding screen-space real estate that traditional UI’s have. When you anchor the user interface element into the augmented world you eliminate the need for scrolling, as you can just walk or look to the other end of the UI panel.

2. Context.

Instead of worrying about user flow and how to transition from one UI state to the other, the flow is already built into the world. If a user goes up to a real world or augmented reality object and selects it, the user flow has already been well established before we even reveal a UI element.

Users know exactly what object they are selecting and more importantly what the intention is.

3. Immersion.

When you keep the UI elements in the augmented world you eliminate the immersion ruining, split-second thought of the screen between yourself and the world.

When we think of designing a UI for mobile AR we should play to the strength of the format of having a whole virtual world in front of us, instead of the weakness of it being stuck on a screen.

Thinkingbox is a global creative collective shaping the future of brands through craft and curiosity.

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