Augmented Reality Experience Design & Storytelling: Cues from Japan.

Japan is known as a mecca of inspiration for designers. Michael Peng, co-founder and co-managing Director of IDEO Tokyo, recently identified several places in Japan to highlight some experiences that “wow” us as designers, innovators, and human beings.

As we imagine, create, and define the future of Augmented Reality, there are excellent design cues we can draw inspiration from in the examples listed and apply them to experience design in AR.

I’ve been working with AR for the past 10 years as a designer and researcher evangelizing this new medium and focusing on storytelling in AR (my Twitter handle is @ARstories). Here are 2 of my takeaways from Peng’s list with some ideas on guiding the future of experiences and storytelling in AR.

(*If you’re interested in the future of AR, and hungry for more, this post is just a taste; read more in my upcoming book.)

1. AR and Embedded (Micro) Stories in Things
(Peng lists this as, “1. Pass the Baton – Where Stories are Currency.”)

What does storytelling look like in the augmented Internet of Things and Humans #IoTH?

Appending the word “Humans” to the term #IoT is credited to Tim O’Reilly. He stresses the complex system of interaction between humans and things, and suggests, “This is a powerful way to think about the Internet of Things because it focuses the mind on the human experience of it, not just the things themselves.”

4fdbb8d1ea5c7a147e79e0d1f17a5e900bf46980be0c8264595d2dbebe04bf8e(Photo by Michael Peng)

Peng highlighted the second-hand shop “Pass the Baton” in his list, and noted how the objects for sale are carefully curated stories: a photo of the previous owner and a short anecdote is included on the back of each price tag.

Peng recalled his first visit to the store and commented on how, after reading the description on the back of the price tag on a bracelet (‘I bought this when I went shopping with my mom 5 years ago. It was a special day.’), he felt an “instant connection”, increasing the object’s value.

This approach humanizes the object for sale by embedding a micro story in the object and emphasizes the human experience. It becomes the focus of the experience: a collection of human stories, objects that are seemingly ordinary made extraordinary by the tales they carry.

Peng wrote:

I left Pass-the-Baton with a full heart and a head full of ideas for how to increase the value of products and experiences through storytelling. I wanted to find ways to experiment with the notion of inherent value by applying new layers of storytelling to everyday experiences and systems.

AR makes this possible.

AR gives us a new way to think about the stories embedded in objects. AR can help make the invisible visible and breathe contextual information into objects. Further, anthropomorphism can be applied as a storytelling device to help humanize technology and our interactions with objects. We have the ability to author an augmented Internet of Things AND Humans. What stories will we tell?

2. AR and Macro Storytelling as a Way to Offer Choices
(Peng lists this as, “4. D47 – Where Provenance is Celebrated.”)

Peng described how D47, a restaurant, museum, and design travel store, showcases the best of each region in Japan. For instance, restaurant patrons are asked to choose where their food comes from rather than selecting the things they would like to eat.

d7f77818ba40982332c52358ffc24d7cdd7721bbdbe636c2d0af288aa43b0e70(Photo by Michael Peng)

Offering a macro choice, in this case organized by region, is a way to engage the user in a larger story, providing a wider field of view in content, not just in the tech (which we also want a wider field of view in).

Like the example above of the second-hand store presenting a back story to an object, here the bigger back story is the starting point for curating and organizing content and experiences. It allows for users to explore experiences through a macro-level entryway to navigate to content that they may not otherwise encounter if starting at the micro-level. It provides another way to order and navigate through stories, which we can apply to AR experiences.

Peng wrote how visiting the store encourages him to think of ways to better celebrate the history and origin of the things we create. There is certainly a trend in retail and restaurants, for example, for greater transparency and knowledge of where what we consume is coming from, a growing demand for a more immediate “history” and “origin” of things that inform our choices.

What kinds of new experiences can we design in AR if we begin storytelling at the macro level and allow users choices from such a top-level of navigation?

One of the things that tremendously excites me about AR is that it is an entirely new medium, and for now, completely unchartered terrain with no conventions. There is an incredible opportunity here to help define a new era of human computer interaction. The focus has been on the technology to date and not storytelling. We need to shift gears immediately if we are going to create something lasting and meaningful beyond a fad. We don’t want to end up with a wasteland of empty hardware paperweights that are experience-less. In tandem with the development of the technology, we need excellent storytellers, designers, and artists of all types to imagine and build these future experiences. I hope this is you, because we really need you, now.

Is it? Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter. I’m @ARstories.

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