To be clear from the start I would to say that in this presentation I am not propagating the usage of the augmented reality per se, yet discussing the approaches to design of user experience through this technology as a framework. This presentation is also about digital thinking, its challenges and opportunities. The following research project has been carried out over the course of just under a half a year at the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute.


Natural progression

As a society, we currently live in, what is described by some, as the Third Wave of computing or Ubiquitous computing. The First Wave was defined by the mainframe computer era (many people, one device) and the Second Wave, so-called PC era (one person and one device). In the current era of Ubiquitous computing we are seeing the presence not only of multiple computing devices around us (such as desktop computers, smartphones, wearable gadgets) but also the presence of the paradigm where computing is made to appear anytime and everywhere. Such computing can occur using any device, in any location, any time and in any format.


When we look around ourselves these days even in the most mundane setting: such as on a bus, we see the majority of people being engaged with some kind of mobile device in their hands. Using devices for peer-to-peer communication, image sharing, staying in touch with latest news is default in our society. However, what we often neglect to consider is that the devices themselves offer potential beyond the average usage. Equipped with location-based tracking, spacial recognition and wireless communication capabilities our mobile devices open up many possibilities.


What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality is an approach to the interaction between humans and the environment and its associated technology. Three factors need to be present: the digital information is displayed in the physical environment in contextualised manner in real time.  Historically, the usage of such technology stems largely from aviation and engineering.



If some of you want a quick way of trailing some AR - I recommend the latest IKEA catalogue. You can add furniture to your home in seconds.


Rise of the global interest towards other realities

Conceptually, AR falls into the realm of the digital environment, something which is seeing a strong commercial acceleration in the market of latest immersive technologies. The usage of virtual and panoramic content by such institutions like the National Geographic, the BBC or Discovery Channel  for educational purposes has been expanding. Head-mounted sets such as Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear have been increasing their presence on the market worldwide in the last couple of years and will continue to do so. There are also ways of experiencing immersive technology with just a phone as well. For example, Google Cardboard makes it easy to obtain a low-cost experience, by placing your phone into a goggle-shaped piece you can see on the screen.


In 2007, Wagner [1] concluded that no Augmented Reality-based project was practical enough for the mass market. In the past Augmented Reality experiences were associated with  hardware-heavy set ups or desktop computers.

 In 2009 Wimbledon in conjunction with IBM  released their beta version of the mobile application, enabling the visitors of the courts to locate both sporting and refreshment facilities around the venues. The project saw its full launch in 2010 Wimbledon competition. Nevertheless, until 2011 not many commercially successful AR projects were about.  Amongst the early adopters of the technology in public sphere were: the Louvre, Powerhouse (Australia), Exploratorium (USA), Museum of London, the V&A.

The Sydney project was about navigating through the city with the helpful directions and overlaid information regarding city landmarks. V&A - mirrors reacted to the visitors with the changes in display depending on their proximity. Museum of London - overlaid images from the public archives and allowed the user to slide them on top of the current views.


That has changed over time and the following diagram shows the appearance and the life span of the UK-based projects in the public sector, with the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Museum being at the forefront of the development. Moreover, what you can see here is that the Oyster Card can actually show you the updates about the Tube services, and 4 sporting AR apps came out for London 2012. Locally, we are seeing Newark’s initiative of last year to be promoting AR as part of its town trail where scenes of Civil War come to life, Nottingham Castle and its Riot project, an archive initiate came from Lincoln too. Yet before we look at some examples closer, let’s consider the following:


Functionality of a system is defined by the set of actions or services that it provides to its user.

Usability of a system with a certain functionality is the range and degree by which the system can be used efficiently and adequately to accomplish certain goals for certain users.

With that in mind I would like us to consider the sense of purpose of any user engagement.



When I was looking at the usages of AR technology, the following categories of applications appeared. I have removed some from this list due to their irrelevance to the subject, for example, AR is currently being used to treat the spider phobia in patients. What is interesting here is the multitude which AR has found in the recent years. So I encourage you to think about exploring opportunities for user engagement which lie in juxtapositions of those individual categories.

<elaborating from the slide>

E.g.  (The Urban Tapestries software platform allows people to author their own virtual annotations of the city, enabling a community’s collective memory to grow organically, allowing ordinary citizens to embed social knowledge in the new wireless landscape of the city. People can add new locations, location content and the ‘threads’ which link individual locations to local contexts, which are accessed via handheld devices such as PDAs and mobile phones.)


Let’s look at what AR experience actually consists of..


The current framework has been established based on the mechanism in which AR systems operate and include the principles from user-centred design practices. These principles guide the design of any AR experience:

                                        How is AR promoted?

Where is AR found?

What triggers AR?

What happens during AR?

What is offered via AR?

What can one do with AR?

What follows after AR?

Let’s look at some examples as to how it works in practice:


Kansas City grand railway station celebrated its 100th birthday with the offering, in which people would spend an hour in the building discovering hidden content as they walked about the city. The content was suggested to them through the wireless technology. As they approach the sections of the building, old photographs, videos and a newly recorded narratives were presented to them. The content was highly contextualised and presented the significant events which occurred on location, however, some of it was accessible remotely.


Another example, this time from the UK, with David Attenborough. You would go into the Natural HM, and unlock the content in certain locations only. It featured the rotating 3D models of archaic animals, as well as placed those animals in the setting of the museum.


After looking at at AR technology examples: the following components were established:

<read off the slide, explain>


Let’s look closer:

<read off the slide, explain>

The majority of the experiences fall into the following categories: name combinations.


Missed Opportunities

Interesting focal point for me are those components particularly. Public authoring, user generated triggers, movement and sound as trigger. There are hardly any examples in this area, one of which being the Voice Beacons.

Voice Beacons - Science Museum

With the help of the app, you can locate 40 chandeliers which store voicemail messages curated and crowd sourced from the visiting public.



A successful implementation of AR experience depends on multiple factors. Beyond the technological and logistical challenges, one of the biggest challenges is to create the sense normality from the interaction with the digital content, which seamlessly fits into the overall experience and social norms. In the paper “Magic Moments in Situated Mediascape” Reid highlighted the importance for design which rests on the “unexpected connection between the physical and the virtual worlds”, thus helping the users to see past the technology and immerse themselves into the experience. What is also certain is that, a clear statement of intent, a notion of surprise and the richness of the pay-offs can lead to better user engagement.


These are only a few issues both AR developers and users face.


Further opportunities

Beyond the approach to design as shown above and putting the sense of purpose at heart of any offering, the following concepts need to be explored:

users to modify AR experience: select the relevant content and create your own AR content;

distribute AR content;

ability to leave digital footprints;

ability for the AR content to transform over time: time of the day, time of the year;

ability of the content to become adaptable in the new environments.

create experiences based on the multi-modality of inputs from the user (e.g. haptic and voice).

Author: Vika Nightingale