In humanities there is this everlasting struggle between the macro- and micro-perspective oriented approaches. Some say you have to look at the big picture and deduce from there to a social phenomenon. Others take a single action or one social agent and try to construct their general theory from small to big. Personally I favour the emergence approach, but this blog is not dedicated to universal theories and the related discussions.
This blog is dedicated to augmented reality and as far as I can see it in my own stats, feeds, alerts, requests, discussions and so many other indicators it represents quite well, what is going on out there. The correlation between small and big is quite significant in a blog. Although we are far away from saturation and – so called – killer applications, augmented reality is not such a niche anymore and the demands for blog articles are going in the same direction as the requests for software in this market. And because I want to cover a groundbreaking software release I also wanted to do something different for my blog this time. Thus, I went for an expert talk and usability test of the corpus delicti “Unifeye Design” – the first professional augmented reality software tool for non-programmers – with Matthias Schroeder from SCHROEDER + WENDT User Interface Design and this is what we have talked about.
Picture: The GUI of Unifeye Design and that MINI again.
Matthias is founder of Magdeburg based SCHROEDER + WENDT, business developer, designer and member of the Usability Professionals Association (UPA). Besides his interest in intuitive and sense-making information and interaction design he is an augmented reality enthusiast. And, although he would deny, an AR expert! Actually he started blogging and thinking about augmented reality clearly before me. Please note, that we were not in a question-and-answer mode, thus I just transliterated parts of our session. We hereby want to start some exchange about this topic and maybe publish more facts from the sub-tasks like GUI design, possible applications or results from the BETA-test surveys bit by bit.
augmented reality in the spotlight
Matthias´ first impression was – and lucky us: “I have never seen an AR software like this before. It must be the first one for non programmers, right? I think it could enable almost anybody to play around with this technology”. But who is this anybody, who needs a tool like that? We both were of the opinion, that for example designers and advertisers could use this interface to get in first touch with augmented reality. Actually this is what Unifeye Design is all about. The demand came from the market. More and more companies are interested in augmented reality, but not everybody understands this technology in detail – and its vast possibilities. Not to mention for example customers of agencies, who haven´t heard of augmented reality before. And when we proclaim, that an advertising campaign or a presentation of context sensitive product design is more fascinating and more informative, we should give the enablers of such measures a tool in their own hands! A simple example, which has happened last week during my stay in Hamburg with the guys from Die Bildproduktion – after a trial phase, some playing around with the tool and brainstorming they had so many fantastic ideas. They just blasted me away. And I was not the only one, because we went to one of their customer agencies and they were so excited to see running customer projects augmented with yet another dimension. They needed to see something specific and they did!
Of course we are still focussing on this “almost anybody”, because you definitely need some experience in for example photoshop or a 3D software. But Matthias said something very interesting: “maybe now the second movers come in. OK. But what if one day these tools are so simple and compatible, that really anybody could interact, work and play with AR. With very own content and the number of ideas out there”. This opens your mind! and you start thinking about “the creative cloud”. I am wondering what my nephew would do with his own augmented reality. Or Woody Allen. Or this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7GGkKpBR-g
This leads to the the next and final part of our talk – a session, where we went through the GUI of the software and Matthias made his comments and suggestions. I will not enclose the complete result of the usability and interface design analysis, but I want to cover the most interesting parts. These which might interest augmented reality enthusiasts and newbies willing to also try out the demo-version of Unifeye Design.
First of all, I have to admit, that Matthias found many things that need to be improved. But he wanted to evaluate it as one very professional visualization software following the standards in form and function he would implement, when doing a job in his own company. And he took the perspective of somebody with absolutely no experience in AR. Thus not having seen a movie or demo or something before. Said and done by a guy who described his work as “we want people to have fun with interfaces, even when they are doing their annual tax declaration.” So, these people at SCHRODER WENDT strive for the maximum usability and interaction fun. Thus Matthias found many small and medium things to be improved, but please keep in mind that we were sitting in front of our public BETA demo version. Another premise was, that he had a user in mind, who never had contact with 3D-programs or augmented reality before, which Unifeye Design is only peripheral – it´s mainly addressed to information designers, thus professionals. Nevertheless, maybe in a couple of months or years AR is so common, that there are more and more people doing their first steps. We still have this creative cloud in mind.
So I listened carefully, when Matthias went through the GUI following his standard procedure, when evaluating a software and we even reacted on some of the stated points. For example: there is a better getting started documentation now, we produced some video tutorials, enclosed FAQs to the related website and we made some usability tests with a more heterogenous target group. We want to improve Unifeye Design now step by step, day by day.
Furthermore we were talking about the definiteness of icons, tab based approaches, GUI based help and explanation, the logical assumption of function segments, the relation between the operation fields, methods to improve the workflow and many other elements of usability and interaction design. You will find many nice examples at SCHROEDER + WENDTS website and blog. With the conclusion, that for example our AttrakDiff result is not optimal and that the simplicity and the look and feel need to be improved.
Finally you – yes, you the reader with enough involvement to follow this long article – come in. This article addresses AR evangelists and enthusiasts, to go to the website: www.metaio.com/design , download the software and check it out. We would love your feedback! And turn this article about developing a “normal” user oriented augmented reality software into a never ending story. Until everybody can participate in an augmented world…
Thank you very much for your patience.