Mobile AR Internet Forum
How might Internet memes and meme culture take shape in VR & AR?
Team and Timeframe
This was a solo endeavor--Notable is my Master's Thesis project. I did research, writing, UX/UI design, prototyping, and user testing over the course of six months. I worked with one developer to create a testable coded prototype using Unity and ARKit.
Unity & ARKit prototype
User flows, UI style guide, information architecture
Animated concept videos
Notable is an exploration of mobile AR as a creative medium, as well as an experiment showing what a social mobile AR app might feel like to use.
This is where mobile AR falls on a spectrum of digital reality.
I began this project with one goal: to use mobile AR technology to explore new types of online social interactions. Narrowing it down further, I focused on "places" online where Internet users have fun and interact with one another: Internet forums.
Notable is an Internet forum imagined in the medium of mobile AR. Notable uses Internet memes and the aesthetics of the early Internet as a jumping off point for exploring social interactions in the mediums of mobile AR and VR.
Internet memes can be thought of as digital artifacts that showcase core elements of social interactions and online digital cultures. Notable builds on this premise to consider what Internet memes and meme culture might feel like in a different digital medium.
Mobile AR allows users to unlock an infinite number of "layers" in their daily, physical landscapes.
Before coming up with the concept of Notable, I spent time researching both Internet memes and the current state of mobile AR and VR. The goal of this research was to more deeply understand how memes impact social interactions online and to discover how mobile AR and VR can support new types of social interactions. You can read more about this phase of the project in my research paper.
Using a comparative analysis table, I analyzed the interaction features of several social media platforms. The goal of this was twofold: to understand the ways that micro-interactions effect the entire user experience and performance of an app and to consider which interactions might be useful when translated into mobile AR.
I created and grouped different types of questions to assess the interactions and features of the most popular social media platforms in the US.
Design Process & Defining the Concept
After conducting research, I defined my problem: mobile AR is a new and robust technology, but very few social experiences exist that utilize it. With this insight, I brainstormed, prototyped, user tested, and iterated on the concept and execution of Notable.
The principles of human-centered design formed the foundation of my approach to Notable.
Throughout my research process, I sketched out many different concepts for a mobile AR internet forum.
Iterating on my sketches allowed me to synthesize the information I gathered during research. Sketching especially allowed me to process the information I gathered in my comparative analysis chart. The goal: figure out exactly which kinds of user interactions and product features would not only make sense for a social mobile AR app, but would also be delightful.
Notable wireframe sketch.
Notable wireframe sketch.
Notable wireframe sketch.
To begin validating my idea and receiving feedback from users as soon as possible, I brought my initial concepts to life with several different animations.
Animation allowed me to prototype a user journey with more than just wireframes. It also allowed me to incorporate a key aspect of my app's experience: the physical environment. Animating my concepts was an efficient way of gathering feedback from people and illustrating the context in which someone might use my app.
Once I refined the main interactions of Notable, I created high-fidelity wireframes for testing. I designed the core user flows of Notable:
User places a post in their physical environment
User finds a post and leaves a comment
User finds a post based on physical location and leaves a comment
Notable allows users to leave different types of 3D content--text, images, animations--for other users to find and comment on. Users can up-vote, comment, and see which posts are most popular. Keeping Notable light on product features allows for the experimental, speculative nature of the app to be the focus of the user experience. It also keeps it lightweight, low-key, and upbeat.
Below are wireframes for the journey of posting in the physical environment:
User testing for Notable occurred in two phases:
Testing the concept
Testing the technology
The goal of user testing was to identify an MVP for the final coded prototype.
Users raised important questions for me to consider as I continued to iterate on my ideas:
"How long do my posts last in the physical space?"
"Who can comment on my posts? And how will I know?"
"How does mobile AR work?"
Before coding my own prototype from scratch, I put together an AR graffiti app using ARKit, Unity, and open source code in order to get a preliminary temperature check on user reactions to the experience of social mobile AR (separate from Snapchat and Instagram filters).
Testing with the graffiti app allowed me to understand how users felt about leaving marks in their physical environments. I asked users to write a message in my app and narrate their experience. I conducted short interviews afterward. Testing the graffiti app raised many questions:
"How do I do this?"
"Can I see my message again?"
"This is hard to do."
"I can't pay attention to the real world and my phone screen at the same time."
I tested in multiple types of physical environments, ranging from public to private. It became clear that using mobile AR to interact with public space and other users was a difficult and annoying task for the majority of my users.
Internet Forum Inspiration
As I continued to iterate on my concept, I pared down the features of Notable. The Internet forums of the early days enabled many types of rich social interactions, despite the fact that they were low-fidelity and light on features. Notable translates this minimalism into mobile AR, allowing users to explore a new frontier of personal computing.
I described my MVP to my developer using the storyboard below. The storyboard focuses on the core interaction behind Notable: a user leaves a “note” in their physical environment, and someone else can find that note. Together, we created an interactive prototype using Unity and ARKit that showcases this interaction.
Mobile AR technology is not currently in a place that can support the full vision of Notable. Notable can only be fully realized when multiple users can access the exact same digital environment at the same time. The technological infrastructure that enables this type of experience is called the "AR Cloud." Currently, it's difficult to create social mobile AR experiences because the technology is mostly equipped to handle one user at a time. GPS technology provides a type of AR Cloud, but it isn't very accurate, and cannot be used very well indoors.
Constraints on Content
Notable is a social media platform. Though many positive social interactions can be had on social media platforms, they still invite Internet trolls, hate-speech, and other types of excessively negative activity, no matter the creators' original intention. Anyone creating a social media platform has a responsibility to deeply consider how to answer this question: what types of constraints should be put on user generated content?
I chose to answer this question through design. I designed roadblocks to to prevent trolling activity. For example, posts only last 12 hours, unless they are up-voted enough times to keep them around. As time passes, the posts get smaller and smaller, until they disappear at hour 12. The goal of this feature is to have users self-filter content. My assumption is that mostly positive content would prevail. This would need to be user tested in a detailed, deep-dive way later down the line--but the spirit of this feature is one that aims to diminish trolling and hate-speech activities.
AR and Public Space
User testing showed me that mobile AR can be a stressful technology for users, because it is very difficult to simultaneously focus on a screen and the physical world. For example, users felt annoyed and overwhelmed when trying to leave graffiti messages in public, especially when there were other people around. This challenge is one that mobile AR will have to deeply reckon with as it matures.