AR in UX design: From Design Principles to Best Practices
What is AR in UX design? Learn about the design principles for augmented reality and best practices to create a successful interactive experience.
Written by RamotionJan 9, 202315 min read
Last updated: Aug 22, 2023
The nature of products and services is changing in the modern world. The introduction of new digital platforms, tools, and techniques has opened avenues for designers and developers alike to create more interactive products, thus revolutionizing the user experience. The boundaries between reality and the virtual world are getting blurred, providing a highly immersive experience for users. The implementation of mixed reality and extended reality in digital environments has enabled designers to create a unique experience for the audience. In this regard, virtual reality and augmented reality appear to be the future of digital interaction design. While virtual reality involves the creation of an entirely new, virtual environment where the users get immersed, augmented reality makes use of the environment and context that the users are familiar with, reshaping it to enhance the user experience.
In this article, we focus on the nuances of augmented reality (AR) and how the principles of design apply to the creation of an environment that is an extension of reality. For UI/UX designers in today’s industry, it is important to get some understanding of the concepts and best practices of AR in UX design. This will not only help in staying updated with the market trends but also provide inspiration for future design projects. Adding augmented reality projects to your portfolio will also give you more opportunities to work in an AR design firm, where there is even more room for learning and improvement.
In the next sections, we introduce the concept of AR in UI/UX design, followed by the important design principles that are applicable to AR experiences. The article also includes a list of design guidelines and some of the best examples of AR apps.
- Understanding AR in UI/UX design
- Important UX design elements for AR
- Augmented reality UX design guidelines
- Great augmented reality app examples
Read along as we explore this interesting and exciting design topic.
Understanding AR in UI/UX design
Augmented reality (AR) refers to the practices of using the real-world context, mixing it up with virtual elements, and creating an immersive experience. This practice is becoming more and more common in digital products and services, primarily because of its impact on user engagement and interaction. An AR environment is frequently used in the design of games and learning experiences, as the details of the interaction are extremely helpful in improving the overall experience.
What is AR in UX design?
Augmented reality (AR) is used by designers to create an experience that is a mix of the real and virtual. Designers can use real-world elements and contexts to create an immersive experience for the users. AR elements can be of different types, such as sound, video, animation, and an extension of real-world objects.
For UX designers, augmented reality presents a lot of opportunities. If, on the one hand, AR improves the level of user engagement, then, on the other, it also helps in creating a multimodal experience, leveraging the full capabilities of digital environments. The future of digital UX design holds a lot of promise for AR, particularly as more and more organizations are aiming to create mixed-reality experiences.
Advantages of an augmented experience
An AR design solution has a number of positive impacts on the user experience. The immersive experience and interactivity improve user satisfaction, thus enriching the overall experience. There are several reasons why modern digital platforms are leaning toward augmented reality design.
Benefits of the users’ context
One of the best aspects of AR is that it makes use of real-world contexts. This means that the designers do not have to create an entirely new environment from scratch, as is the case with virtual reality. Instead, the user’s context can be used to create an augmented experience with virtual objects becoming a part of the real world.
Reduced cognitive load
When it comes to the design of user interfaces, it is highly recommended to reduce the cognitive load as much as possible. This is one area where AR can be of great help. When the designers create immersive experiences in the user’s real-world environment, the context that they are already familiar with, the level of familiarity throughout the experience increases. This means that the users already feel comfortable in their environment, and, therefore, do not feel overwhelmed.
Multiple sources of information
Just like VR, augmented reality experiences give a lot of freedom to both the designers and users. For the designers, it becomes possible to make use of multimodality, i.e., the use of different resources to improve the experience. This includes the use of pictures, 3D objects, animation, sound, and other such elements. From the users’ perspective, the information is coming from different sources but it is not overwhelming because the entire environment serves as one whole unit, dedicated to the creation of a unified experience.
Important UX design elements for AR
Almost all the basic UX design principles, such as aesthetics, visual hierarchy, consistency, and empathy hold true for augmented environments. However, the implementation of these principles and their importance can vary when creating AR experiences. For UI/UX designers, it is important to understand how the basic design elements apply to AR design. To get a better understanding of UX for augmented reality, let us look at some of the most essential design elements that play a key role in the success of an AR experience.
How do UX design principles work in AR?
Important elements to consider when designing an AR experience include:
- User interface
The environment plays a key role in the design of augmented reality experiences. The problem of the environment needs to be understood from two perspectives. One is the creation of virtual elements that become embedded in the real world. These parts of the environment are the ones that the designers can control. The other perspective is that of the user’s environment or the real world where the interaction takes place. This aspect is not entirely in the designer’s control and it can also vary from context to context. As the users move from one place to the other, the nature of UI design elements changes, thus impacting the overall experience. It is also important to consider the differences between the public and private environment where the comfort = of users can determine their level of satisfaction with the overall experience.
The design of an immersive experience in an augmented environment must be cognizant of the changing nature of the interaction. When using an AR product or service, the users are almost always on the move. For example, when playing a mobile game, the users can be walking, riding a bus, or even running around to complete some tasks. Additionally, since the interaction happens in AR, the boundaries between the virtual and real environment are loosely defined. The users are interacting with both the real and virtual worlds at the same time. The real movement of users and the movement between the real and virtual environment need to be considered while creating an AR experience.
For all web and mobile applications, it is helpful to think of users as learners. This means that the overall experience should be designed as a learning experience, one that guides the users throughout their interaction. One of the most important areas where this guidance is critical is onboarding. When the users interact with an application for the first time, it can be a little tricky to understand the interaction and features of the app. This is where onboarding is extremely helpful. The importance of onboarding gets even more pronounced in AR apps where the users have to understand how to interact in an entirely new environment. Therefore, UI/UX designers must give due attention to the onboarding process in the design of augmented experiences.
No experience is complete without interaction. It is when the users interact with a product or service that the affordances and features actually come to light. This aspect is equally important in AR environments. However, the nature of the interaction is different, given that the experience is only partly real. When it comes to interaction design in AR, the designers need to focus on the micro as well as macro levels. In augmented reality, it is critical to ensure that the users require little physical input to accomplish their tasks, otherwise, they might get overwhelmed.
The design of the user interface is critical for any AR environment. This includes all the elements of design, such as visual hierarchy, typography, and aesthetics. When it comes to the design of AR user experiences, the interface is quite dynamic, and, therefore, requires a lot more attention. The designers have to be aware of the context, environment, and design of virtual elements that become a part of the user's real-world experience. The design, therefore, needs to be holistic and comprehensive.
Augmented reality UX design guidelines
When working on any design project, it is always a good idea to start with the basic principles of UI/UX design. AR applications and experiences are no different. The entire design process, when it comes to the creation of immersive AR experiences, revolves around the comfort and satisfaction of users. All the interactions must be created in a way that the needs of the target audience are always at the core of the experience.
What are some AR UX guidelines for designers?
Some guidelines for AR UX design are as follows.
- Consider different user contexts
- Focus on the holistic experience
- Optimize the experience for user safety
- Ensure optimized experience for devices
- Maintain visual clear space
- Stick to the principle of visual hierarchy
- Provide clear instructions and help
- Focus on direct interaction where possible
- Make good use of audio elements
- Learn from existing AR designs
The following design guidelines can help in creating a better AR experience, making sure that the app’s primary purpose is not compromised.
Consider different user contexts
The needs of the users can vary based on the context in which they are interacting with the app. Therefore, UI/UX designers need to take care of the possible environments in which the target audience can use the AR experience. This is where creating personas and use cases can be extremely beneficial. However, the nature of these use cases can vary, as the designers not only have to consider interactions in the physical world but think beyond real-world environments.
Focus on the holistic experience
Just like any other product or service, it is critical to focus on not just one interaction, but the overall experience of the users. This is where understanding the overall user journey and all its breakpoints can be helpful. The user experience starts way before the actual interaction with an AR app or immersion in the environment. Similarly, it lasts longer than the interaction has ended. Therefore, the designers must focus on all aspects of the user experience.
Optimize the experience for user safety
In all the virtual and augmented environments, user safety becomes highly important. When users interact with an AR application, they might not always be in safe situations or can get into certain accidents while interacting with the app. For example, if someone is playing a game on a mobile phone while walking on the street, they might risk getting hurt. The AR experience, therefore, must take these dangers into account, and ensure that the users do not get hurt.
Ensure optimized experience for devices
It is impossible to design the same level of AR experience for all devices and platforms. One of the major responsibilities of designers and developers, therefore, is to optimize the experience for different devices. This might also mean that some devices are preferred over others. However, it is important to be transparent about this, so that the users know which AR apps work on which platforms.
Maintain visual clear space
Similar to any other digital experience, it is critical to maintaining visual clear space when designing an AR experience. When new physical objects are immersed in the real world, the nature of the physical space around the users is modified. The key task of designers, in this case, is to ensure that the users get enough breathing space while also enjoying the overall experience. The principles of minimalist design and aesthetics can come in handy when focusing on maintaining visual clear space.
Stick to the principle of visual hierarchy
Another important practice regarding visual design in AR is the focus on visual hierarchy. It can be challenging to maintain this hierarchy in an augmented or virtual world where the context of users is not static or constant. However, if the design of virtual elements is consistent and the personas are well-defined, the principle of visual hierarchy can be implemented in AR environments.
Provide clear instructions and help
As mentioned above, all mobile applications provide a learning experience. This is particularly true for augmented experiences, such as an AR app. From the onboarding process and clarity on the app’s requirements to the mode and nature of the interaction, the users need constant guidance. It is important that these instructions are clear and helpful to the users. Another thing to consider here is that sometimes the AR app might get long user sessions, where the users may not require constant instructions. In such cases, the instructions should always be readily available but not always present so the users can interact with freedom.
Focus on direct interaction where possible
In any augmented reality experience, the immersive and interactive nature is highly important. If the users are not getting a good immersive experience, AR would lose its purpose. Therefore, the designers should try to focus on direct interaction as much as possible. Physical input in the form of 3D rotation of objects or the changing nature of objects about touch and other hand gestures can add value to the overall experience. The presence of direct interaction can also prevent physical strains, increasing user satisfaction.
Make good use of audio elements
Sound is a key sensory element that can be extremely helpful for AR experiences. Along with physical objects and a mix of real and virtual objects, audio elements can play a significant role in enriching the user experience. When characters and objects are accompanied by audio effects, the experience appeals to one more sense of the users, thus the level of immersion increases.
Learn from existing AR designs
For UI/UX designers working on AR solutions, the existing apps and other digital products are always a great source of inspiration and learning. Many designers are creating quality AR experiences and publishing them on various platforms. When designing UX for augmented reality, these existing projects can serve as helpful resources.
Great augmented reality app examples
There are several augmented reality applications that can serve as the best examples of UX design in AR. Developers and UI/UX professionals have used their design skills to create highly immersive experiences for the target audience, which then resulted in the success of these augmented reality apps.
What are some of the best AR app examples?
Some examples of the best UX AR experiences are as follows.
- Google Lens
- Pokémon GO
- IKEA Place
Some of the best UX AR applications are presented below.
When it comes to modern technological solutions and digital experiences, Google is one name that always comes to mind. Google Lens is one of the best examples of providing a simple yet powerful AR experience. With the help of this tool, Google has given more freedom to users, when it comes to tasks such as searching, translation, shopping, and a lot more. The use of multimodality is one of the best aspects of Google Lens, where the users can detect text, and images, and also make use of audio elements to get a better experience.
Pokémon GO is one of the games that took the AR world by storm. The popularity of the game and the quality of the experience made everyone think differently about augmented reality and the details it can add to an interaction. Pokémon GO changed the gameplay experience and became one of the most popular mobile games. The best aspect of this game was that it used the context of the audience and blended it with the virtual elements in a perfect way.
Another unique AR experience can be found in IKEA Place. IKEA created this AR mobile app in 2017 to give users the ability to see new furniture in their homes. This adds to the comfort of the users, provides direct interaction with things they might want to buy, and helps them make an informed decision. The seamlessness of the interaction makes it one of the best AR experiences that the designers can learn a lot from.
InkHunter is one of the simplest AR applications, taking care of a small but quite important concern for the specific target audience. With the help of this app, users can see tattoos on their skin, look at them from different angles, and then decide whether they want to get it. The level of user control and the ability to play around with tattoos just with the help of an application makes it a highly interactive and satisfying experience.
Just like Pokémon GO, Snapchat is one of the older platforms to adopt augmented reality. This social media application allows users to create and recreate images and videos using virtual elements, embedding their own avatars in a virtual environment, and creating a unique collection to share with their friends. Snapchat makes great use of audio elements and animation to provide an enriching experience to the target audience.
Augmented reality, just like virtual reality, is the future of UI/UX design. Modern organizations are making rapid progress and always looking for ways to engage users. Virtual environments provide a great opportunity to revolutionize user experience, and this is something that every business is looking to take advantage of. Whether it is the design of games, entertainment applications, or learning platforms, augmented reality has a lot of potentials. Therefore, modern designers need to learn new skills and techniques so that their projects are more interactive and helpful for the target audience.
In this article, we covered the basics of UX design for AR experiences. The guidelines discussed above can be used as a checklist to create effective experiences. Similarly, the examples of AR applications shared in this article can serve as an inspiration for aspiring designers.