WebAR: from idea to finished project

The first part of our series "Behind the Tech" is about the different development phases of a web AR project. What should companies look for when deciding on an AR experience? And what considerations should be made before starting the project?

AR Experiences can turn the customer journey into an extraordinary experience. But how is this effect created? Hardly anyone knows the work behind the creation of Web AR. In our series "Behind the Tech", we therefore provide insights into the work of a web AR designer and show how many possibilities there are that companies can use.

Advancing into new dimensions and changing the laws of reality has always been a dream of man. Time travel, excursions into fantastic worlds or journeys to distant planets and parallel universes - countless science fiction novels and films are based on this.

Immersive digital technologies are bringing this dream a little closer. Above all, virtual reality and augmented reality allow direct interaction with virtual objects and spaces, where there are no limits to the imagination.

The fact that such experiences are inspiring is particularly evident in the example of augmented reality. In the past two years, it has been much more successful in marketing than virtual reality. That's why big brands and companies have also discovered the topic for themselves and are already using it for impressive marketing campaigns. But what makes AR successful?

Augmented reality with benefits in practice

In contrast to virtual reality, in which a user is completely immersed in virtual space and no longer perceives anything of his or her environment, augmented reality merely extends reality with virtual objects. In everyday life, this is usually much more practical. Especially since even simple devices such as a smartphone are sufficient to enable augmented reality experiences, for example, via an app or a visit to a website on a mobile phone.

High-resolution displays, powerful cameras, GPS sensors and above all powerful processors in the phones create perfect experiences. Web AR, i.e. navigating to a website in the browser to start an AR experience, means that there is no longer any need to install an app to enjoy an AR experience.

The fact that everything runs smoothly and "by itself" on the browser recently also has to do with the fact that tech giants like Google and Apple have optimized their mobile browser versions specifically for augmented reality experiences. They also released their own augmented reality SDKs called ARCore (Google) and ARKit (Apple). "SDKs" are a kind of toolbox for creating AR experiences. This allows developers to create augmented reality apps in a much shorter time, as not every project has to be programmed from scratch.

How companies start their own web AR project

Currently, however, only a few companies in Germany have their own in-house VR or AR units that can develop their own solutions independently with the help of such building blocks or completely natively. As a rule, this is reserved for specialists in agencies.

So that you can discuss your project with them on an equal footing, we have compiled a roadmap for you below that can help you develop your own Web AR project. It shows you which project phases are usually to be expected and gives you insights into the work of the developers.

The preliminary work: From the idea to the concept

As with any other creative project, a good, viable idea comes first with Web AR Experiences. Since the laws of the real world do not apply in virtual reality, you can confidently put them aside. Fly into molecular structures, show gigantic buildings on a business card in the third dimension or develop your own fantasy world around your brand.

Whatever you come up with will be scrutinized by the development team and checked for feasibility. The conceptual integration should not be neglected either: Think about what you want to achieve with your Web AR experience, which target group you want to address and why. As soon as you have worked out a final concept with the agency, you should have the experience presented to you again in a storyboard that is as detailed as possible. This minimizes the risk that the flow of the finished story does not correspond to your wishes.

Realistic vs. abstract

You should also discuss the visual style of the experience with the agency in advance. Do you want a very realistic look, for example, because you want to explain a highly technical product like an industrial machine? Or do you want your augmented reality to be less detailed and almost comic-like?

By the way, in the latter case, the expert speaks of low poly, which refers to a low polygon count, i.e. only a few geometric surfaces that make up the 3D objects. The more detailed an object is, the more polygons it consists of. As far as the look is concerned, you can choose between many different styles and moods. Here, too, you make the decision about the appearance and laws of your world!

Storyboard: avoid pitfalls, control costs

Your finished experience will usually be visible on the relatively small screen of a smartphone. Therefore, at the latest in the storyboard phase, you should define which information is actually important and will contribute to making your experience a success. Experience has shown that possible neuralgic points are very small font sizes that can no longer be deciphered by the user on objects. They disturb the impression rather than providing added value by compulsively communicating the last message or product information.

But small objects also like to "disappear" next to larger objects that you see fullscreen or almost fullscreen. Therefore, refrain from unnecessary details. Even if all possibilities are open in virtual realities, here too less is sometimes more.

What brands should look for before starting a project

Define very precisely which virtual objects your world needs. The answer to this question has a significant impact on the cost of the project. Are many 3D objects so generic that the agency can buy them cheaply from 3D web portals, such as TurboSquid or the Unity Store, or do the designers need to model them specifically for your application?

When buying, it is also important to check whether the 3D assets are "gameready". "Gameready" here means optimized for use on the web or even "games" and ready for immediate use. As a rule, such assets are less highly polygonized so that the developer does not have to edit their geometry in a program. The texturing, i.e. the visual design of the surface, is usually already defined, which also reduces processing times.

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