Challenge, Drama & Social Engagement: Designing Mobile Augmented Reality Experiences

Gene Becker (Layar)
Focus on Mobile
Location: 2010 Level:
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 12 ratings)

Mobile augmented reality adds digital overlays and interactivity to the physical world using the sensors and display of your smartphone. Design of mobile AR experiences is complex and takes us well beyond the browser-based web. This session will give you a mix of practical knowledge and new ideas for creating AR experiences, drawing from web design, 3D graphics, games, architecture and stagecraft.

The next generation of mobile augmented reality applications will go well beyond simply overlaying points of interest, floating post-its and 3D models on the video display of your phone. Mobile AR is becoming a sophisticated medium for immersive games, situated storytelling, large-scale visualization, and artistic expression. The combination of physical presence, visual and audio media, sensor datastreams and social environments blended together with web services offers tremendous new creative possibilities. However, the design challenges of creating engaging, exciting and compelling experiences are quite significant.

Research on the design of technology-mediated experiences has shown that compelling experiences often involve a mixture of physical and mental challenge or self-expression, a sense of drama, sensory stimulation, and social interaction. These elements can give us a physical “buzz” by activating the release of adrenaline, endorphins and related neurochemicals.

Mobile AR puts us “where the action is” — in motion through the physical world, surrounded by other people, in a stimulating environment. AR applications additionally provide challenges, stories, information and communication. Factors that AR experience designers need to consider include:

  • Goals of the AR experience
  • Users’ cognitive model of the system
  • Physical environment and context of the experience
  • Social context of the experience
  • Design of interaction models and experience mechanics
  • Story, goals and outcomes
  • Immersion and flow
  • Design of visual and audio assets
  • Non-player characters (“AIs”)
  • Tracking and analytics
  • Technical capabilities and limitations of the AR system
  • Managing the production process (designing an AR experience has much in common with producing a movie on location)
Photo of Gene Becker

Gene Becker


Gene Becker is founder and managing director of Lightning Laboratories, a consultancy focusing on strategy and action for the Connected World of ubiquitous computing, augmented reality, social media & the internet of things. At Hewlett-Packard’s technology research unit HP Labs, Gene led advanced research and business development for Cooltown, a web-based platform for mobile and ubiquitous computing that was a key part of HP’s turn-of-the-century technical vision. Also at HP Labs, Gene led the creation of utility computing services used in the production of DreamWorks Animation’s feature films Shrek 2 and Madagascar, and co-founded a new cloud services business unit within HP’s Services business sector. Gene was worldwide Director of Product Development for extreme performance and mobility brand Voodoo PC, where he built the engineering and product management teams and led development of award-winning products including the HP Blackbird and Firebird liquid cooled gaming systems and the Voodoo Envy carbon fiber notebook. Gene studied engineering at MIT and computer science at Stanford, in the days when you had to go to a special room to use the computers.

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Picture of Gene Becker
Gene Becker
05/07/2010 2:53am PDT
Matthew Sell
05/07/2010 2:45am PDT

Can you post the link for the HP concept demo for augmented reality game?

Scott Lum
05/06/2010 7:23am PDT

great content and ideas. AR has a lot of Wow factor but most marketers don’t see much lasting value based on existing use. You’ve provided a good roadmap for integrating storytelling and flow into the AR experience. There’s hope for AR just yet.

Picture of Gene Becker
Gene Becker
05/06/2010 1:36am PDT

Thanks to all who attended, I enjoyed our conversation. Feel free to contact me on twitter @genebecker or email for follow-ups!

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