Look Around

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I love playing around with augmented reality. There's an enormous potential for AR to radically improve on the way we interact with others and the world around us. I wanted to create an AR experience that gifts people the ability to preserve the present moment in space. With the help of a talented developer, I set out to design, develop, and test an innovative way for people to share their memories and challenge people to look around and discover the stories embedded in the world around us. 

This case study outlines how my partner and I designed, developed, and tested our concept with two rounds of user testing. I used our findings and insights from our user testing to improve the design and user experience of Look Around.



Stories and memories are all around our walking life. From couples inscribing their initials on trees to simply watching someone scribbling away at a notebook in a cafe, we've all witnessed these precious moments but they flee as quickly as we notice them. Current social application allow us to share and save memories in time, but not space. 


Design Iteration 1

Since AR is an immersive experience, we knew we wanted to use a full-camera view so more objects could be in view and to encourage users to look around their environment. According to Jacob's Law, we needed to use a format that's familiar with users. As a result, we decided to use Snapchat's UI as a design proxy since they were the original pioneers of full-camera view experiences. With this consideration in mind, I drafted some initial sketches, which led towards a high-fidelity wireframes, and finally a full mock-up.


User Test Design

Performance based research | Within-group subject design
I handed off my design to my developer who integrated Apple's ARkit and we were able to get functional prototype. In this initial build, we gave users the ability to take photos which were posted in augmented reality at their current location in front of them. Other users were then able to discover the postings from other users.

With a functional prototype in tow, we decided to test our concept with real users using performance based research and within-group subject design. We designed a survey aimed at finding out more about our user test sample's lives as well as their general thoughts on the usability of the product. During the task portion, we gave users half-slips asking them to perform the basic functions of the product. We knew we did not want to be too prescriptive or heavy handed to ensure we're getting accurate usability results.  At the end of each post-task survey, we ended with a focus group in order to pull more detail from their post-task responses. 


User Test 1

We designed a pre and post task survey aimed at answering the following questions. If you're interested, you can view the full pre-task survey here and the post-task survey here. During the task phase of the test, we had users run the gamut of Look Around by posting photos in their area and having them look around for the photos of other testers.

-  Do users have a desire to know more about the moments of the past around them?
-  Are users content with the tools they currently have?
-  Does our current solution solve this problem?
-  How can we improve our system?


User Test 1 Results

After our first test, we compiled our results into an empathy map to find the contradictions between our initial assumptions and what we observed. We also dug deep into the pre and post task survey responses to mine for further insights about our audience and overall impressions of Look Around.

Through our user test, we learned that there were technical limitations with augmented reality and geo location. As a result, it created a bad user experience. Photos were displayed +/- 10 meters from where they were initially posted. We also needed to design a way to incentivize users to post photos and engage with each other's content because in it's current form there was no real driving force. However despite these limitations, our users had a great time playing with Look Around.


Design Iteration 2

With these key learnings and technical limitations in mind, we went back to the drawing board to come up with a better product design to improve upon the user experience. In this phase, we had to redefine our HMW question to hit at the heart of what we're trying to improve.

How might we incentivize users to post photos while also organizing them in a way that gets around the current technical limitations of GPS and augmented reality?


AR-based collages were the solution to our pitfalls. Inspired by Reddit's Place experiment, we wanted to give users a reason to unite and contribute to community based effort. We were able to aggregated photos in a more aesthetically pleasing way without jeopardizing the accuracy of GPS technology while incentivizing users to be a part of something bigger than themselves.


User Test 2

We decided to test our new design with revised questions. We used the same testing methodology as we did with user test #1. However, to answer our questions we needed to tweak the both our pre task and post task surveys.

-  Does the AR collage solution create a better exploration and discovery experience?
-  Since we're bringing all photos together, does our AR photo collage incentivize more engagement?


User Test 2 Results

Our testers had loads of fun with Look Around! People loved the idea of being able to see what their friends had posted and they felt like their photos contributed to something greater. Like our previous user-test, we again compiled our findings into an empathy map . With this round of findings, we also decided to extrapolate further with a user-need-insight chart in order to distill our findings.

Through this second iteration we learned that there were gaps between user action and system feedback when it comes to users posting photos. Our testers didn’t know that their photo was successfully posted to the collage. We also found that users had a difficult time feeling like their contribution meant anything. Users felt like their photos were lost in a sea of hundreds of others.



With the end of user test #2, we redefined our HMW phrase to address our tester’s pain points.

How might we give users better feedback and also highlight the importance of each user’s photo?

However, this is where the story with Look Around has taken a pause. We ultimately decided to carry on with other endeavors as it was taking too much time from our careers. But it was an extremely fun and challenging experience! Who knows, we may revisit this project in the future.