[AR]T Walk with Apple – Review

Arcade Team at Apple Covent Garden

BREAKING NEWS: Chaos descends across the city of London. An unknown creature soars over Trafalgar Square. A giant leaps off a roof at Covent Garden, then disintegrates into dust. Ordinary people transform into comic-book characters, follow multi-coloured roads and stop to watch folktales being told in the trees. 

It’s pure madness, yet total entertainment. 

The [AR]T Walk by Apple superimposed colour and creativity onto a drizzly Friday morning.

We set off on the 1.5k walk, with ‘Beats’ headphones around our necks and the latest iPhone XR in our pockets, curious as to how the tech-giant Apple ‘does AR’.

Here are the four lessons for AR experiences.

1. Not everything needs an explanation

The meaning of art is tricky to pinpoint and often artists strive to create work that’s ambiguous. Add the fact that AR is relatively new to society and can prove tricky to get to grips with – art and AR combined is a challenging mix. But somehow, it worked, and I praise Apple for taking the risk.

As stand-alone digital art installations, we had little idea of what to expect. We were given a brief introduction to the artist and the name of the piece – for example Pipilotti Rist, ‘International Liquid Finger Prayer’ – then that’s it, we’re left to our own devices, quite literally.                                                    

We all hold up the phones and stand waiting for something to happen.

All of a sudden, a screeching bubble-like creature shoots upwards and we all try desperately to follow it.  The creature seems directionless – even the audio is purposefully distorted so we can barely make sense of the words. Nobody knows what it is, or exactly what it’s saying, and that was all part of the joyful, if slightly unsettling experience.

When developing an AR application, it’s important to distinguish between what the user can be allowed to interpret on their own, and what they have to know before they start. The  multiple functions and symbols of an AR application can be difficult for the public to comprehend – and Apple knows it.

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Pipilotti Rist, ‘International Liquid Finger Prayer’, in London’s Trafalgar Square

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Pipilotti Rist, ‘International Liquid Finger Prayer’, in London’s Trafalgar Square

2. Tell me only what I need to know

Before we set off, our guides provided a briefing session to familiarise us with the technology. 

The first skill we needed to practise: anchoring. We were asked to stand in a line and hold out our phones at eye level. We then opened the app and practised, one by one, turning our devices – slowly – towards a designated spot on the wall. 

This was a key function throughout the experience and each anchor activated the next digital art installation. However, it became tedious needing to constantly stop and anchor at a random point.

How could this be solved? Make the ‘anchoring’ motion more relevant to the artwork. 

The artwork was full of make-believe creatures and it would be interesting if, between art pieces, the users follow one of the creatures with their devices – moving at the same pace and direction. These movements of our device could automatically anchor the user. This would keep us within the digital art world and make the overall experience more seamless. 

The second skill: taking pictures and recording video. Our guides asked us to capture a photograph and a video using the buttons – a feature that we constantly used during the experience. 

These buttons were a faded white at the bottom of the screen and therefore quite discreet. 

Without the guide explaining what they were/what they are used for, we may have only noticed them halfway through the experience when photo opportunities would have passed or worse, not noticed the buttons at all. So it was worth getting clued-up before setting off.

3. The outdoors aren’t always great

As we walked through parts of London full of famous landmarks, the crowds became an issue. I found myself bumping into strangers and avoiding people who were trying to get a glimpse of what I was watching on my device.

So, could we put this experience indoors? Well, not without lessening the effect. Some installations relied on features from the outdoors. In Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg’s installation ‘This is it’, for example, we all needed access to tree trunks. When we held our devices up, the trees turned hollow to reveal a fairy-tale being told inside.

Just as we were all settling in, typical British weather kicked in and raindrops were falling onto our devices. We immediately had to put the phones away to protect it.

The darkening sky was the perfect canvas for Pippaloti’s screaming creature to fly around but whenever the sun came out, I couldn’t look up into the device because it was too bright. 

Unless Apple ensured that everyone was equipped with umbrellas and sunglasses before we set off – which is impractical to hold and store – the weather determined if we could have our devices out and held up.

To avoid user frustration, AR should work rain or shine. But for now, however all-powerful Apple are, they can’t control the weather. Not yet, anyway.

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Pipilotti Rist, ‘International Liquid Finger Prayer’, in London’s Trafalgar Square

4. My arm hurts

An AR app depends on user interaction, but that doesn’t mean you can ask too much of them. Designers need to be aware that users need moments for the phone to come down, or even go away – and the interaction still needs to flow with those breaks included.

For any AR designers, it’s worth testing: how long you can hold out a phone in front you at eye-level or above? For me it was around 30 seconds, and my fellow walkers seemed to agree. The final two experiences both asked us to hold our phones up high for up to two minutes, which necessitated switching hands, propping up our elbows or employing other tricks to make it more comfortable.

How to ensure the experience is ache-free? Either place breaks into the experience, or cut down the length of time we need to hold our phones in an upwards position. Otherwise you’ll have some pretty uncomfortable users.

I had little exposure to AR before joining Arcade – but experiences like this make clear that AR is already far more widespread than most people realise, and the exciting reality is that society will very soon be using it on a regular basis. And not just for [AR]T Walks.

Digital Reality: Welcome to the new normal?

Girl Playing Wizards Unite

I’ve always had a bit of an issue with names like ‘augmented reality’, ‘virtual reality’, ‘immersive technology’ and the like. They sound exactly what they are: dreamed up by technology geeks, inspired by science fiction, designed to sound futuristic and literally unbelievable. The result is a lexicon that makes some salivate – you know who you are – but puts many others to sleep. Some in my industry will find this hard to believe, but this type of language, for some, is eye-rollingly dull, off-putting and maybe even a bit intimidating. “This isn’t for you” is the perceived message – in most cases the very opposite of what it is trying to achieve.

So I, for one, am delighted by recent developments where the tech is being relegated to its rightful place in the narrative – i.e. almost invisible. The tech industry often gets a bit carried away and forgets that the experience is king, not the technology.

Google to the fore

Google is leading the way, first with the introduction of its 3D search functionality. Without any big fanfare, it has added a ‘View in 3D’ option to its mobile search. No app download, an incredibly simple interface and within seconds you can be face to face with a giant panda, amongst many other animals (the range of 3D objects is due to expand dramatically). There is still an ‘AR’ tab, but it is a pleasantly understated presence. The result is an experience that makes it seem as if occupying the same physical space as a digital giant panda were the most normal thing in the world – which, as it turns out, it sort of is.

They followed up by announcing that AR functionality is being embedded directly into YouTube, so users can seamlessly engage with content they are watching, such as trying on cosmetics during a YouTube tutorial. Early screenshots show that the focus is on the experience – ‘AR’ is nowhere to be seen.

And Google’s good work is set to be compounded by the arrival of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the latest ‘planet-scale’ offering from Niantic (by absolutely no coincidence at all, an ex-Google company). Niantic’s monster hit, Pokemon GO, is often cited as the game that introduced AR to the mainstream but, as anyone who’s played it knows, the AR elements are far from integral to the gameplay. Harry Potter appears to be different – AR-driven gaming is fundamental. But like the Google examples above, the important bit is the experience and how good it is, not how ‘AR’ it is.


A recent Deloitte report on immersive storytelling uses the phrase ‘digital reality’ to describe immersive experiences, as distinct from ‘physical reality’. I like it. It might only be a small nuance to some, but the world is already so familiar with the notion of ‘digital’ – and a sense of familiarity is exactly what the immersive tech industry needs from the audiences it seeks to engage.

It seems to me that we are gradually realising the truth: AR and other immersive tech are simply new creative tools that we can use to solve old creative challenges. Incredible, mind-blowing tools, but still just tools. Tools for digital reality. How very normal.

Google AR Panda
Hello, Panda
MAC Cosmetics Try On App
MAC Cosmetics 'Try On', coming this summer. Image: Google
Harry Potter Wizards Unite
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite by Niantic

When it comes to immersive, get your strategy right and the rest will follow

Right now, one thing immersive technology tends to do pretty well is make headlines. It’s new, different, unusual – a shiny plaything for marketing departments, artists and tech geeks to mess about with, creating content and experiences designed to make editors see clickbait and readers obligingly click. But where’s the depth?

The last couple of days alone have seen the iconic Marina Abramović’s MR-enhanced The Life exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries dismissed by at least one prominent art critic as a pointless perversion that hurts your eyes in a one-star review, and, separately, Magic Leap offer an AR experience for a very small portion of the crowd at a London Fashion Week show. The ten lucky (?) punters got to experience – well, what really? A bit of distracting CGI fluff hovering above the catwalk? None of this is to denigrate the technical excellence of either Tin Drum or REWIND, respectively, but to ask the key question: why?

Pioneers, in technology and elsewhere, are duty-bound to applaud innovative exploration of any kind. But we have to ask at what point the experiment is ready to emerge from the lab – at the moment much of this just feels too early, and risks fixing in people’s minds a perception of immersive technology as nothing more than peripheral gimmickry. The reason is because too many immersive experiences fail to answer the ‘why?’ question with much more than ‘because we can’. 

Gerrit Jacob, London Fashion Week

As with all work in the commercially-driven creative industries, immersive tech must, to borrow Simon Sinek’s oft-repeated mantra, start with whyWhy are we doing this? Why does the world need it? Why us? Why here? Why now? Why in this way, rather than any other? Only with those questions clearly and satisfactorily answered can you create an immersive experience that goes deeper than an eye-catching headline. 

Get your strategy right, and the rest will follow – headlines and all.

The magic window in your pocket

Abstract universe silhouette showing kids imagination

Imagination is one of humankind’s most powerful tools. We’ve all experienced those moments when your imagination has been sparked into life – by a book, a game, a song, a conversation, even a word – and your mind is suddenly full of ideas, images, sounds, people or places that weren’t there a minute before. Your mind’s eye takes over, and makes things that only exist in your imagination feel as real – maybe even more real – than the world around you.

Technology, and the content it serves to us, are sometimes accused of being the enemy of imagination. They do all the imagining for us; they dumb everything down; they show rather than inspire. We watch, and we move on. When something takes root in our imagination, we take it with us through our day – but so much content is instantly disposable precisely because it shows too much.

At its best, however, technology can open new windows onto our world that simply weren’t accessible before. By giving us just a glimpse, it can make us believe in things that are invisible, and spark our imagination in new and incredibly powerful ways.

If you want to see this in action, simply introduce a child to Pokémon GO and watch as they discover a new world that exists in the space around them. Once they see a Charmander, Drowzee or Rhyhorn in their house, on their street or in their local park, their imagination takes over. The phone is where it starts, but once it goes away the idea that a Pikachu could be around every corner, or sitting, right now, in their classroom, has become their thrilling new reality.

Phone showing Pokemon Go

This is the power of imagination laid bare, and it’s a beautiful thing, sparked into life by the combination of geolocation and augmented reality. Our phones stop being merely screens, distracting us from the world around us, and become magic windows onto hidden worlds.

Used like this, technology is the enabler of imagination, not its enemy. In the face of justified concerns about excess screentime, we have to ensure that technology is a positive, healthy addition to modern life – and this is exactly how we do it. Getting people out into the world, making phones as unobtrusive as possible – things we look through, not at – and helping us and our children be more creative, not less.

Niantic, the developers of Pokémon GO, work on the principle that “when the digital world and reality come together, something magical happens.” They deserve great credit, not just for creating a great game, loved by millions around the globe, but for the way it fires our imagination so vividly.

Like them, we are creating experiences that use technology to get people moving, coming together to connect with the world around them. Technology at its very best. Just imagine that.

5 principles for responsible AR to address screen time phobia

Augmented reality and the great screen debate

Screen time. We hear a lot about it, almost exclusively in the context of how best to limit it. A small but growing number of resorts, restaurants and other visitor destinations are making the news for offering incentives to customers who lock their phones away, more and more apps are designed to help us (and our kids) spend more time screen-free, and Apple has even launched a built-in screen time limiter with iOS 12. All of which throws more fuel onto the good tech / bad tech fire – and the debate continues to rage.

As practitioners in augmented reality, we are challenged regularly about mobile screen time by concerned clients: “but I want my kids to use screens less, not more” or, “won’t this just make people walk around with their screens in front of their face all the time?”

These are fair challenges, and the immersive technology industry – especially those of us focusing on the mobile side of things – needs to take them seriously. It’s not enough to wave them away with platitudes about how engaging, entertaining and rewarding the experiences are. The truth is, in a world of mounting concern about digital addiction and the antisocial behaviours mobile devices can foster, it doesn’t matter how great an immersive experience is; if it means promoting more time glued to our screens we are only going to encounter more resistance.

Instead, we have to play our part in reassuring society that the innovative, engaging experiences we create have a positive impact on how we engage with the screens in our pockets. Responsible, socially-aware design and development is key, which is why we at Arcade believe in a set of principles that help us achieve just that:

Windows, not screens

To us, your device is a magic window onto an invisible world. The content is not in your phone, it is in the physical environment beyond your phone. Our experiences are designed to make the device as unobtrusive as possible – something to be looked through, not at.

Heads up

Most mobile content is viewed ‘head-down’ – neck and eyes extended downwards, device pointing towards the floor. Our augmented experiences raise the gaze and reacquaint you with the world around you, at eye-level.

Put it away

We design narrative-led, connected experiences that create a virtuous circle of engagement between the physical and digital worlds, which don’t rely on your device throughout. A specific location triggers a digital experience and, when it is complete, your phone goes away again until you reach the next one.

Healthier habits

Mobile usage is not created equal. Immersive experiences like ours are designed to positively shift people’s usage patterns, substituting those that isolate them from the physical world to those which meaningfully engage them in it.

Primacy of place

Lastly, Arcade was founded on a fundamental belief in the importance of place in the digital age; augmented reality is simply the tool we use to foster a deeper connection with, and appreciation of, the world around us. The physical environment drives the technology, not the other way around.

By adhering to these principles, we at Arcade – and the immersive tech industry as a whole – can respond to the challenges that are coming our way with confidence and conviction, that locking phones away isn’t the answer; making them part of our healthy engagement with the world around us is the key.

#augmentedreality #screentime #playableplaces #arcade

It’s beginning to look a lot like spatial

Man flying through space

As usual at this time of year, the design press has been bearing gifts – all kinds of shiny new rebrands, some just launched, others from ‘Best of 2018’ revues. And one thing really stands out: space.

Microsoft Office Icon Redesigns
Microsoft's new branding for their Office Suite

Take Microsoft Office’s first rebrand for five years. Universally lauded, it made most people immediately look down at the icons on their desktop and go, “Woah, I hadn’t noticed how old they look.” The reason is not because the old icons are especially outdated, it’s because the new ones are just so, well, new.

Or this week’s WPP rebrand. Shimmering, glowing, growing, shifting. Viewed top-down, viewed in perspective. Dynamic. New.

New Brand Logo for WPP
WPP's new brand - the colour palette is forever-changing

And what does new look like? New is physical. New is distance. New is perspective. Not the awful drop-shadows of the mid 2000s that were everyone’s guilty pleasure, but actual depth. In both cases, you feel you can step inside. Dive in. Microsoft even constructed the icons physically before they created the digital assets, and the result preserves their genuine third dimension.

The reason for this, I’d suggest, is because they are both being heavily influenced by spatial design. And this is only set to grow.

At a time when immersive technology is offering ever more innovative, exciting ways to engage with the spaces around us, it seems pretty clear that cutting-edge innovation and design is going a bit spatial-mad. Two years after Pokemon GO sent us out into the world to hunt down digital creatures (and a few months before it happens all over again with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite), 2019 is set to be the year of spatial – in gaming but everywhere else too. Museums, galleries, theme parks, events, music festivals, universities, workplaces and many more – all embracing immersive tech and the spatial mindset it requires.

Remember kids, spatial isn’t just for Christmas. It’s here for good.

And we couldn’t be happier.

Ready Visitor One….? Why it’s time to say goodbye to the ‘visitor’​

Ready Player One Film Poster
As a part of the Commonwealth Games that took place in Queensland earlier this year, the legacy group launched an initiative called ‘Be My Guest‘. Its aim was to positively shift the mindset of the local tourism industry in terms of the way it consciously and sub-consciously treated its consumers.
Gold Coast 2018 Banner

Referring to standard industry monikers such as ‘passenger’, ‘visitor’, ‘customer’ or ‘tourist’, it points out that, “from these definitions, people will be treated with varying degrees of personal care, according to the way they are viewed.” They go on to encourage every host to consider their audiences as ‘guests’ – because we are taught from a young age that guests are special, to be afforded special privileges and treated exceptionally well.

It is undoubtedly true that the names we use for groups of people have an impact on our behaviours towards them, and that ‘guest’ cues many positive attitudes that ‘visitor’, for example, does not. But, thinking of visitor attractions specifically, does it go far enough?

In order to continue to thrive and grow, museums, galleries and heritage sites are having to engage increasingly tech-savvy audiences whose expectations of the ‘IRL‘ experiences they choose are rising every year. Despite best efforts, traditional approaches to audience engagement, curation, interpretation and exhibition planning risk falling short with experiences that remain static, flat, linear and impersonal, and invite audiences to be little more than passive observers. That treat them as visitors, the same way they always have.

The ‘Be My Guest’ initiative defines a visitor as “One who visits a place or person, socially/as a tourist; is not permanent, does not belong to the area; a passer-by; not local.

It is becoming clear that, as an attitude towards our audiences, this simply isn’t good enough if we are to meet their rising demands. They – we – live in an experience economy characterised by increasingly blurred lines between the physical and digital worlds, where we carry supercomputers in our pockets that keep us topped up on entertainment-fuelled dopamine every few minutes. As a result, our expectations of everything we do and everywhere we go are changing. We want to be active participants, feel immersed and part of the experience and, most importantly, have fun.

Which means we don’t want to be visitors. Or even guests.

We want to be players.

‘Play’ should not be mistaken for frivolity – it is a fundamental, even profound motivation, and is being given a prominence in culture like never before, fuelled in large part by technology.

If we stop thinking of the people turning up at our sites as ‘visitors’ and start seeing them as ‘players’, we will start to build experiences with more of the characteristics of games: competition, challenge and reward. This is the interactivity and dynamism we crave; by making places playable, and designing them for players, not just guests or visitors, we can equip attractions to reassert their relevance in the digital era.

Visitor attractions: it’s time to say goodbye to the visitors, and hello to the players.

Kids using SEA LIFE Junior Ranger AR App

What on earth is Arcade? A perspective from our new CSO, Alex Book

Alex Book in Arcade Office

A few months ago, of my own free will and being of sound mind (or as sound as it ever was), I handed in my notice as Strategy Director at one of the world’s pre-eminent branding agencies, to join what is, essentially, an augmented reality start-up.

Except it’s not really an augmented reality start-up. Or at least, that’s not why we’re doing it. Instead, Arcade is a collaboration of like-minds with complementary expertise who share a vision of reconnecting people and places through play. Immersive tech – and augmented reality in particular – is simply the perfect medium to achieve it.

When Jon en Simon first shared this with me, I found it irresistible. Let me briefly explain why.

The reason I first got into branding was an article by the irreplaceable Wally Olins on the then-nascent discipline of place branding. In it, he talked about the importance of good branding (as opposed to logo design) as one of the most important tools in enabling places to tell their stories and become the places they wanted to be. I’ve been fortunate to work on a variety of place brands and other visitor / tourism categories and, through Arcade, I now get to come at this from a whole new angle.

And the timing couldn’t be better.

Places – by which we mean cultural institutions, heritage sites and other visitor attractions – are under threat. Report after report highlights that visitors (i.e. people like you and me), increasingly spoilt by being able to carry an entire universe of information and entertainment around in our pockets, are demanding more from the places we visit. Blinded by the screens in front of us, we stop paying attention to the beauty and fascination of the physical spaces around us. They fade into the background and lose their distinctiveness – their sense of place.

We at Arcade want to change that. Not by forcing people to put their phones away; quite the opposite. We want to give these magical machines a positive role in reawakening us to these incredible places and the wonders within. We want to turn them into windows that reveal hidden worlds, make walls talk and give places a whole new way to capture our imaginations. We want them to guide us, challenge us, entertain us and sweep us seamlessly from one experience to the next.

In short, we want them to make places playable.

We augment reality to make places playable

This is what we’re all about. We augment reality to make places playable. Because by becoming a Playable Place™, public cultural spaces can reassert themselves in this booming, digital-led experience economy, and re-introduce us to their spirit. Their soul.

Their sense of place.

So that’s who we are, that’s why I’m here, and if you share my excitement about the possibilities of Playable Places™  give me a call.