Augmented Reality: A Branding Opportunity
Augmented reality (AR) adds virtual content into the user's world through different means of display technology. AR has been most commonly implemented for entertainment purposes, however AR provides an innovative platform for advertising and branding. Current AR branding strategies provide users with short, typically non-interactive experiences that rarely allow the user to accomplish anything beyond brief entertainment or educational elements.
The current lack of AR implementation in the high-end furniture retail market provides an opportunity for Knoll—a renowned modern furniture company—to be the first among its competitors to provide customers with a unique AR experience.
For this project, an AR prototype for a Knoll brand experience was developed to allow users to view and customize virtual furniture in their homes, and purchase furniture items or request upholstery samples of the products through the AR app.
Animated GIF of Augmented Furniture
This animation demonstrates a virtual Florence Knoll Lounge Chair appearing over the QR code, which the user has placed on their floor. The user would see the virtual chair appearing in their room through the AR application and Cardboard Device.
Target Audience for the Knoll AR Brand Experience
Since Knoll is a luxury brand with expensive products, the target audience for this AR application falls under the high-income demographic of consumers who are comfortable with technology. This AR experience appeals to Knoll’s tribe, especially those who have already decided to purchase Knoll furniture.
A brand "tribe" is a non-official measurement of a customer's devotion towards a certain brand based on their purchases. Luxury brands gain loyal customers through branding and the emotional desire of their audience. Luxury product consumers feel hedonistic towards their high-end items, and the products they own give them a sense of identity (Loureiro, S. C, and Kaufmann, 2016).
The timeline examined the customer's ideal journey upon receiving the Knoll AR kit. This initial prototyping helped keep the entire UX working towards the ideal goal of a customer placing an order, or at the very least, have a positive brand experience.
Sticky note maps were created during the initial phase of development, to understand the Knoll customer's full experience. One flowchart laid out the different ways a Knoll customer could learn about the AR experience, leading up to receiving the kit, and then mapped out the possible directions the customer could take while interacting with the AR experience. The ideal goal was for a user to make a purchase or order a sample.
The process of creating both sticky note maps described helped determined what tangible deliverables were necessary to produce a complete brand package for the full brand experience intended. The three necessary deliverables included the Google Cardboard device, a QR code for the user to place in their home, and the box that would contain the entire AR kit.
The Branded AR Elements
The Knoll AR Kit
The Knoll customer receives the AR kit by requesting it online or receiving it from a Knoll showroom. The package includes the Cardboard AR viewing device and Knoll calendar that doubles as a QR code for the app.
A Knoll branded Google Cardboard with a camera hole is included in the AR kit, allowing an AR experience that utilizes the phone's camera to show their real environment. As a bonus, the Knoll Cardboard can be used for any other downloaded Google Cardboard application.
The smartphone-based AR app requires a QR code to register the virtual furniture to the user's floor. The QR code is on the instructions page of the Knoll calendar, which the user must have in line of sight of her smartphone when using the AR app within the Cardboard. The customer gets to keep all of the contents of the AR kit.
Aligning Virtual Content
A QR code registers the position of the virtual furniture to the Knoll AR app. The app can determine the user's position and viewing angle of the QR code to accurately augment furniture into the user's world.
User Testing with Virtual Reality
70% of human perception is through vision alone, therefore it was important to experience the AR interface in a "real" environment (Schmalstieg and Höllerer, 2016, chapter 2).
Experiencing the Immersion through Virtual Reality
The interface of the AR furniture app is overlaid on a 360 degree image of a room. 360-degree images were viewed using GoPro VR player, a virtual reality (VR) video viewing software application. Using an HTC Vive virtual reality headset (pictured above), a user can experience the interface in a 3D environment. The Vive's head tracking allows the user to look around the room.
Although the Vive is a VR device, an AR environment can be emulated by immersing the viewer in a "living room." Pictured below is a screenshot from the GoPro VR player showing the Knoll application on the Vive. The user's vision stitches the two images together and perceives it as a 3-dimensional environment.
Testing the UI Prototype
The 2-D UI
Since the interface would appear over the user's environment, it was important to visualize how a disruptive a "floating" menu would be for the viewer. Non-selected items were displayed at a lower opacity, to prevent the user's vision of her real environment from being obstructed by non-selected menu items.
UI With Head Tracking
In this view, the user's straight ahead view is represented with a cross-hair that stays aligned to the user's head movements. The Cardboard has only one button, posing the design challenge of a simple UI for easy navigation. To select a menu option, the user needs to look straight at their target, then press the button on the Cardboard.
Virtual reality relies on head tracking, and realigning the virtual world to where the user is facing. Head-mounted AR devices (such as Google Cardboard) also utilize head tracking, and calculate the augmented information accordingly.
Mocking up the Final UI
The final UI followed the sleek, modern approach of Knoll's visual brand. The UI is displayed here without any background; in the AR device the background imagery would be the user's environment.
360 Degree View of the AR Experience
A short 360 degree YouTube video to demonstrate the interface appearing in the user's environment. To "turn" your view, click and drag within the video.
This video can also be viewed through a Google Cardboard, which enables head-tracking via your phone's gyroscope.
User holding a (Knoll branded) Google Cardboard to view the prototype. The prototype demonstrates how the interface would appear over an environment, however since it is a YouTube video utilizing the Cardboard feature, the buttons are not interactive.
Gif of each screen appearing sequentially. The background imagery would show the user's environment through the phone camera, but for this example, a gray scale image is used as a non-distracting way to view the UI over an environment.
- Loureiro, S. C., & Kaufmann, H. R. (2016). Luxury values as drivers for affective commitment: The case of luxury car tribes. Cogent Business & Management, 3(1), N.PAG. doi:10.1080/23311975.2016.1171192
Schmalstieg, D., & Höllerer, T. (2016). Augmented Reality: Principles and Practice. Boston: Addison-Wesley, .