Setting parameters

‘Making something in virtual reality’ sounds sort of vague so I decided to set my project some parameters. While I can see a fully immersive VR experience getting serious traction in gaming and entertainment, it’s too isolating an experience to hold much appeal for me.

VR date

I can’t wait to go on dates like this in the future. Source: Shitty stock photo

What interests me is Augmented Reality or AR; where a computer-generated image displays over a user’s view of the real world through glasses or a lens.

AR has some potentially exciting uses. This mind-map provided a good starting point for my thinking:

How we might use Augmented Reality

How we might use Augmented Reality (click to enlarge). Source: Mogens Skjold

The problem I would like to solve is accessing information safely and easily while on the move. Throughout the day I extract my phone from my bag to read emails and messages, check my calendar, locate things and navigate around town. This typically involves me rummaging through my giant work bag, locating my phone, unlocking it and then trying to read from the small screen while walking. Living in central London I’ve fallen over countless times and had three theft attempts by the guys on mopeds who ride onto the pavement and make a grab for your phone (try harder next time, losers). If this information could be displayed in front of my face it would improve my safety, my work-life and my commute.

Augmented reality would involve wearing a lens or headset, which practically speaking would need to be remembered, charged and worn each day. I’m excited to see a number of VR glasses currently in development, (though these are the only pair I’ve seen so far that don’t make you look like a glasshole).

Luke Wroblewski recently posted on the ‘value to pain’ ratio of wearing an AR headset to establish at which point the headset’s value outweighed the pain of charging and wearing one. He suggested some examples which could prove compelling enough to make wearing an AR headset worthwhile for the user.

What would augment reality? Source: Luke Wroblewski

Twitter responded with some cool suggestions for AR prompts which provided me with more inspiration. Some made me laugh (I love you internets):

With this in mind, here are the things I would be willing to wear an AR headset for:

  1. Email/Whatsapp/calendar notifications. These could either disappear after a couple of seconds or display full text when promoted by a tap or voice command.
  2. Contextual commute notifications telling me my tube station is closed or suggesting a faster route.
  3. Location-based prompts that tell me to do something at a particular place (ie. buy milk when I’m standing outside the shop).
  4. Estimated waiting time/availability in cafes/restaurants. Then reviews to help me choose which to eat at.
  5. Product reviews and price comparisons while buying from high street stores. I regularly pull out my phone in shops and check Amazon reviews before purchasing in-store and to check if something is potentially cheaper online and if it’s favourably rated.
  6. Finding where you need to go in a crowd, whether your seat on the plane, in the theatre or your friends at a festival.
  7. Where is the nearest empty car parking space? Then, can I park here? Parking signs in London are borough specific and sometimes confusing.

Who is the user?

My starting point for any product design process is to define the end user – in this case it’s ME. It’s rare to be able to design something for myself, this seems gloriously self-indulgent. To profile myself:

  • Tech level: High, early adopter. Macbook for work, iPad on the sofa, iPhone on the move.
  • Channels: Twitter for work/tech, Facebook for friends/family.
  • Motivations: Making commute and work-time fast and efficient to free up more time to spend with my family.
  • Frustrations: Freelancer/contractor so always on the go. Often travel to client offices and project meetings. Impatient, time-poor, appreciate and willing to pay more for fast service.
  • Needs: Efficient access to latest information on the go.

I’m all set. Now just to work out where on earth to start…