Rob Hollands, managing director, UK, Anthem Worldwide creative agency, shares insights into augmented reality from a design perspective.

LW: Have you had much demand from brand owners and clients for augmented reality campaigns?

RH: We have been working with brands for a number of years to connect their packaging and deliver relevant and engaging experiences to consumers. AR has been one of the content opportunities over those years, but we’ve seen a far greater awareness and demand from clients in the past six to twelve months.

We’re seeing AR move beyond disposable fun and gimmicks to it being something that can deliver real consumer value and measurable results. AR and connected packaging are now firmly on the agenda of marketing teams.

Over the coming months, we’ll see lots of brands start to deliver AR content and experiences and we’re currently working on a number of projects for Coke, which will launch this summer.

Connected packaging and products are allowing brands to bridge the worlds of both physical and digital and product and service.

LW: What edge do you think augmented reality gives? Can it connect the brand with the consumer more closely?

RH: The opportunity for brands to connect with consumers via their products and packaging is significant, real and now. AR is one content experience that packaging can deliver and its’ creative, immersive and engaging nature presents an exciting opportunity for brands.

AR allows us to bring the packaging, the brand and its’ story to life and it can drive trial, encourage loyalty and deliver utility, such as usage guidance, instructions or ingredients transparency. AR can also deliver a brand halo effect; being seen as new technology it can help to position brands as more innovative, or drive appeal amongst new audiences.

Just look at the impact AR has delivered for Treasury Wines and their 19 Crimes brand. Based on a simple augmented experience and with almost no other advertising, they’ve created the fastest selling wine brand of all time. This disruption in a very traditional category has secured rapid distribution and shelf space globally, reaching new audiences and providing rich data and insights. Treasury Wines are now rolling out their Living Wine Labels across their entire estate and have just announced the launch of a 19 Crimes AR beer range.

Connected packaging is also giving brands a new and valuable source of data and insights. We’re seeing engagement data in real-time and can understand where, when and how consumers are engaging with products before, during and, critically, after purchase.

LW: How important is it to provide the consumer with an ‘experience’ through design?

RH: More than ever before, it’s critical that brands and organisations deliver a brilliant consumer experience at every touchpoint, whether pre, during or post purchase.

Amazon has been a leader in terms of obsession over customer experience and we’re now seeing them embrace both connected packaging and AR, with a third of all packing becoming ‘connected’ this year via Amazon's version of QR (the SmileCode) and trials of AR for seasonal packaging.

From a packaging perspective our tools have been limited to simple but powerful aesthetics - colour, shape and materials - but connected packaging and AR can deliver a truly multisensory experience.

LW: How do you connect the physical design with the digital? Does this make the process more complicated?

RH: Consumers lives are connected and increasingly the objects around us are becoming connected, from our physical spaces: homes, workplaces and cars, to our clothing, consumer products and packaging. 

Brands are connecting their physical touchpoints via codes or markers or weaving in technology such as NFC.

Most AR experiences currently require an app. This could be a brands app, a platform app such as Facebook or a specific AR app like Zappar. Accessing AR via an app can be a barrier and must be a consideration when planning the user journey and consumer experience. However, the technology is advancing and the technology providers are racing to deliver an ‘app-less’ experience.  We’ll see some great WebAR examples launch this year, including one we’re working on for Coke!

We’re doing lots to explore the best approach to designing connected call-to-action’s onto packs, developing more beautiful (and bespoke/branded) code designs, creating simple steps to guide the user journey, looking at how this sits in the design hierarchy and developing guidelines and toolkits for consistent implementation. We’re also trying to drive some standardisation in the industry around placement, terminology and iconography.

LW: Can you please talk me through how you work on an augmented reality project?

RH: When looking at building a connection experience into the user journey, there are a number of considerations. Alongside addressing the brand and business objectives, we challenge ourselves to consider why a consumer would connect, what truly valuable experience can we deliver, why would they come back and how will it be shareable?

We look at identifying the simplest, most intuitive and frictionless connection method for that market and audience. This way we connect the brand and consumer could include image recognition (point and go), NFC (tap for experience) or codes (swipe and scan).

We’ll visualise the ideas and potentially prototype and test with consumers before developing the full experience and launching into market.

The benefit post-launch is the almost instantaneous source of data and feedback, allowing us to learn, refine and relaunch.

LW: Does augmented reality encourage a fresh perspective for design?

RH: Digital in general has required organisations and designers to consider how their brands will live online, whether on a digital shelf, in the context of social media or as an augmented experience.

This ‘digitalisation’ of brands is really exciting for designers. It’s a chance to move beyond the physical and into an immersive and somewhat unlimited creative journey.

LW: How do you think design for augmented reality may evolve over the next few years?

RH: Technology and innovation are moving at a faster rate than ever before and designers, brands and agencies must keep up. The World Economic Forum tells us that the rate of advancement in the next decade will be equivalent to the past 40 years combined.

Whilst AR has already been with us for a relatively long period of time (the term originating in the 90’s), the next few years will see it genuinely move into our daily lives. This will be driven by the big social platforms, device manufactures and technology companies.

AR was woven through the announcements at Google I/O in May, with Google focusing on areas where it can deliver the best experiences - mapping, searching, even triggering your phones camera automatically when you smile! The opportunity will be for brands to identify real use cases where they can enhance and support the experience of their consumers.

AR also has much potential beyond consumer experiences - in education, training, prototyping, planning and product development.

LW: Is there a need for more ‘tech-minded’ designers to work on AR projects, and what does this means for the future of designers with regards to training/ required skills?

RH: Whilst the craft of brand and packaging design certainly warrants a level of specialist expertise, brands can’t exclusively live in one environment anymore and this also applies to designers.

The successful brand design agencies of the future will combine the skills of designers, developers, UX specialists, content creators, thinkers and makers - whether that is in multi-skilled individuals or more likely, in diverse but connected teams of mixed talents.