New Blog – AR/VR Magazine

New Blog – AR/VR Magazine

I would like to announce the launch of a AR/VR Magazine. The new website will focus on discussing all the latest news, trends, resources and analysis of the Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality Industry. This also includes sim-tech, 360 content, wearables, immersive experiences other related technology.

The Augmented Reality industry is exploding and it is estimated that by 2020, will reach a valuation of $150 Billion. I want to be part of this exciting new industry and AR/VR Magazine is the first of many steps to position myself to be there. I hope you will join me.

You can check out the new website at: http://www.arvrmagazine.com/ and let me know what you think!

Virtual Reality – A New Direction

Virtual Reality – A New Direction

It has been a long time (probably not since the first iPhone was introduced) that I have experienced a new piece of technology that really made me say “Woah, this is going to change everything.”

In May, we received an Oculus DK2 Dev Kit at the office and I had a chance to get my first introduction to Virtual Reality.

Once I had it configured and fired up the demo, I believe my first words were:

“Woah!! Oh shit… (thinking “I actually feel a little nauseous”) then “Weird, I can’t see my hands!” then “Hmmm, I kind of feel a little nerdy with this thing on my head” but then finally… “Oh my God, this is amazing! I’ve got to do this!”

The result has been a total shift in direction for me and ever since, I have been immersing myself (no pun intended) into learning as much as possible about developing Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality (AR, VR) and immersive 360 degree content.

A New Emotional Frontier

VR content is both, physical and emotional, at the same time. You experience being in the environment, not just looking at it from a distance through a rectangular window. As a result, you have a much more emotional connection with the content.

At the same time, you feel it physically, because your eyes, ears and brain are reacting as if you are there in real life. A great VR experience is thrilling. A bad one can make you nauseous. (Sim sickness, as it is called, is very real and not fun. A friend of mine admitted that he still felt sick even thinking about his first VR driving experience, weeks after trying it.)

The main point being, the experience is sticky. it can stay with you much longer than traditional media, because it embeds into your memory like a real experience.

As a result, VR is a very powerful storytelling medium for content and it opens up a lot of new and exciting opportunities.

Breaking Outside The Box

Another exciting aspect of VR is the fact that we are no longer restricted to rectangular content. When you think about it, not much has changed over the years in regards to how we consume content. Regardless of the UI, it is pretty much just square and rectangular screens of various sizes that display square and rectangular grids of images, videos, audio, games and text, which is read left/right/top & bottom.

As a user experience consultant and information architect, my job up until now, has been to create new interactive interfaces, websites, apps, software & content to fill them. More and more lately, the design industry has been struggling to come to terms with the fact that much of the web experience from a UI perspective, has been built.

Other than optimization, most of the big problems have been solved. Because of software like Google Material Design, Android, responsive web design, web components, bootstrap & contextual push notifications, etc, the web is becoming standardized. Reinventing the wheel in regards to the web UI is no longer necessary as the main focus.

The future is about experience design and it is all about the content and it’s context. With AR & VR, we can now break out of the box and experience a new immersive type of content that wraps around you in 360 degrees or appears as a layer over the real world.

Going to a movie will no longer be a 2 dimensional box you look at from a distance. Instead, you will be inside it. It has a front and a back, an up and a down. It has depth and you can navigate it like a first person shooter or a MMORPG video game.

It’s like the Wild West again, and I think that is both refreshing and really exciting. Sure, there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of experimenting to be done, but that’s part of the fun when it comes to designing the future.

New Devices & Content

Oculus has announced that their first commercial product, The Rift, will be on the market in Q1 2016, so I am betting that it will be the “must have” gear for Christmas 2016. They are projecting sales of over 12 million AR/VR devices in 2016, with 60% of them being Oculus products. By 2020, they anticipate the AR/VR industry to reach $150 Billion is annual sales.

To meet these projections, lots of VR content is being developed as we speak and many content companies, especially game companies, are switching their focus to primarily VR in the future.

Check out what my old coworkers at Crytek are working on.

There are also a number of other device manufacturers such as Microsoft HoloLens & Magic Leap, that promise some really amazing experiences. Only time will tell, but considering that one of my favorite sci-fi authors Neil Stephenson has joined Magic Leap as Chief Futurist, needless to say, these are really exciting times.

Google Cardboard

We are also not just confined to expensive headsets wired to your computer.  Google has released Google Cardboard, which allows you to take a simple smart phone, insert it into a piece of cardboard with two glass lenses and get a very similar Virtual Reality experience.

cardboard_blog

This makes the point of entry cost for VR experiences really low, allowing for some awesome opportunities for education and social causes.

Check out to my heart.

What I Am Working On

Over the past couple months, I have been basically experimenting and learning everything I can about AR, VR and other forms of sim tech.

One main focus is learning how to develop immersive content for Oculus and Google Cardboard using Unity, which is a 3D gaming engine. The C# coding aspect is proving to be a steep learning curve, but I am taking it step by step and I am committed.

Here’s a little instagram video of an experiment I did in Unity creating a maze for Oculus. Gotta have cats…



One exciting aspect of developing AR/VR content in a game engine is it’s ability to use artificial intelligence. I think the future of content combined with both, the new visual based VR/AR devices, as well as all of the connected products of Internet of Things will require some sort of 3D environment to both conceptualize and to build smart, connected, immersive experiences.

There are a lot of new User Experience issues to tackle with AR/VR projects as well. Lots of use cases, usability and design standards that need to be studied and developed for the industry. The “nausea factor” is a serious issue and a core focus of UX for VR is being gentle with the user and not making them sick. I think these are critical issues that need to be considered, especially for my own work as a consultant.

On the flip side, I can also anticipate a trend in extreme VR sports for the people who want a thrill. I totally anticipate a VR game coming out called “Don’t Puke” that tracks your eyes to make sure you keep them open during extreme, gut wrenching experiences. You win points for not vomiting. Kind of like the future’s answer to a drinking game. Or maybe drunk VR games will replace the mechanical bull?

Who knows…? Mark my words though, it will happen.

Another focus for me is how to better integrate my art in the AR/VR space. I have a few ideas, but for now I am just playing and having fun. As far as an art platform, AR/VR is wide open and there is SO MUCH potential for being creative.

More Apple Support Please!

On a side note, I have also started an Apple developer account and I am getting fluent on how to port content to the iPhone. Doing AR & VR for the Apple platform however, is proving challenging in regards to plugin and SDK support. Since Apple recently purchased Metaio, (which is one of the only AR software companies for Apple) and then shut down new accounts, AR on Mac is a bit limited until they come out with their own AR/VR device (whenever that may be…) Oculus will not be supporting Apple any time soon.

As a result I will probably tackle Android development soon, as well as possibly switching to a PC based machine. It’s looking like the next couple years will really be in favor of a PC based dev environment.

(Apple, if you are reading this, throw us a sign, will ya? At least a teaser that you have something cooking in this space or maybe when we can expect it.)

Getting Connected

I have also been joining a lot of AR/VR communities and trying to network with as many like minded enthusiasts as I can.

  • If you are a AR/VR fan, feel free to connect with me on all the socials. I would love to talk shop.
  • If you are an AR/VR company and have a project that you think might be in need of my skills, please get in touch. I am very interested in getting involved and getting some hands on experience however I can.

In the meantime, I will probably be posting quite a bit more on the topic so stay tuned.

 

Mercedes-Benz.com

Mercedes-Benz.com

Last fall, while working for Scholz & Volkmer, I was an advisor for the relaunch of the Mercedes-Benz.com website, which is the international media portal for Mercedes-Benz.

The Website

http://www.mercedes-benz.com/

My Role

My role was User Experience Consultant and I was tasked with helping the designers and information architects repurpose the entire website using WordPress as a new content management system.

The topic of using WordPress was brought up by the client and since I am a longtime WordPress user, my role was to help the team understand the benefits of using it as a CMS, to optimize and streamline existing elements, as well as helping them to envision how to rework the original website using a blog style, long scroller for each new entry.

The previous website featured a lot of unnecessary pagination for each content entry, so the approach was to compress each blog entry into a long page to help with usability, to make the content much easier to consume and access, as well as to include and highlight more primary, sales focussed calls to action. These changes were also based on results from user tests that were previously conducted, which helped support my approach.

The result is what you see in the screenshots and you can check out the website. The screenshots actually feature new content. (I forgot to take screens of the site at launch)

Some key features that were added/changed were:

  • Redesign using WordPress as a CMS
  • The implementation of social media elements
  • Long scrolling, blog style pages, that are much more readable and easy on the eye
  • A reduction in pagination.
  • Streamlining unnecessary and distracting elements
  • More focus on calls to action and sales
  • Fully responsive

The project went flawlessly, and the team did a great job. Admittedly, there were a lot of apprehensions and misconceptions at first about using WordPress, due to the fact that it is still not such a common option for a CMS in Germany, but once in place, the team felt much more positive about it and it’s further use for other projects.

Mercedes.me

Mercedes.me

The connected vehicle project I have been working on for Mercedes-Benz over the last year and a half has now launched and is slowly rolling out with more and more features and services.

Presenting the Mercedes.me platform & portal.

Link to the Portal: https://me.mercedes-benz.com
Link to the main info page: https://www.mercedes.me/

What is Mercedes.me?

Mercedes.me is the new service brand from Mercedes-Benz. It bundles all existing and future service offers into one, consistent brand experience, based around a digital platform. Above are some screenshots I took from the live website.

“Mercedes me” is broken down into five areas – “move me”, “connect me”, “assist me”, “finance me” and “inspire me” – and takes into account all product-relevant areas such as the purchasing, financing and servicing of vehicles, as well as Daimler’s internationally acclaimed mobility services.”

The portal is open for anyone to join, so sign up and let me know what you think. If you are a Mercedes-Benz customer and own a new vehicle, once you register, you can connect your vehicle for access to additional features.

Here is a video from the 2014 International Motor Show in Geneva that describes the service:

Roles

My primary focus was high level concept, strategic consulting, UX and information architecture for the “Connect Me” platform, which integrates with new Mercedes vehicles via the online, responsive platform, and allows customers to remotely connect to their vehicle from anywhere using their mobile device. The user can then have access to vehicle info, status, remote functions, etc.

I was brought in based on my previous experience creating social platforms, mobile applications and sales/customer service focussed ecosystems, which helped to take the project to a level of being a much more rich, connected brand ecosystem, instead of just another “mobile remote control” app for your car. My role was to step in at an early stage to create a functional, high level concept and kick start the user experience, based around a responsive, touchable, future focussed web interface.

Approach

It was quite a challenge integrating all of the various connected features into one, easy to use, touchable, responsive platform. My approach was to create not only a responsive website that would provide an informative web experience, but also act as a control surface for all the various connected features that would work on different devices, both existing and future. It was also challenging to develop content strategies that take advantage of all of the various aspects of the MB experience, that integrates all of the various scattered services and content, as well as to provide a valuable, engaging, service based ecosystem for MB customers as the brand moves into the future.

WordPress & Front End

One exciting aspect of the project was the decision to use WordPress as the CMS for the front end promotional sales portal to the service. The topic was brought up by the client, and being a long time WordPress user, I had a large part both pushing for it’s use and consulting the agency in regards to the design and implementation. As a result, they did a great job of redesigning a nice, parallax scrolling template for the site.

This was a huge project with many touch points, involving many teams of very talented people and I am very proud to have been a part of it. I’ll be sure to write more as things roll out.

In the Press:

mercedesme_tor

Bayer 04 Leverkusen HEIMSPIEL App

Bayer 04 Leverkusen HEIMSPIEL App

One of the projects I did this past fall finally launched this weekend and i’m really excited about how it turned out.

Working as senior concept for the digital media agency Scholz & Volkmer, I provided UX consulting and information architecture for the Bayer 04 Leverkusen Heimspiel iPhone and Android App for the Bayer 04 Leverkusen Fußball (soccer) Team.

The team was having a problem with wireless connectivity in their stadium. As a result, the fans were missing out on a lot of game related mobile and social experiences.

The Heimspeil app was created to provide registered fans free wifi connectivity while in the stadium network. Via the app’s timeline based UI, they could experience realtime game updates, stats, streaming video and participate in polls and other social activities.

The result was a more rich & engaging experience for the fans as well as a more focussed marketing and communication platform for the team and stadium.

Congrats to a great team who worked really hard and did an awesome job!

The Promo Page for the App – Click Here
German iTunes Page – Click Here
Google Play – Click Here

Update June 2014:

The App was featured in the June 2014 Issue of Sponsors Magazine, a leading German-language producer and provider of information in the sports business industry.


Update July 1, 2014:

Here’s a nice review video of the App. (In German)

The Contemporary Illustrated Pin-Up

The Contemporary Illustrated Pin-Up

In addition to the million other interests I have, you might be surprised to learn that I do digital pin-up art. Over the past couple of years, my work has started to gain some recognition and recently, I was offered the opportunity to be featured in a new book called “The Contemporary Illustrated Pin-Up” by Schiffer Publishing.

The book features me, along with 14 other awesome contemporary pin-up artists including Armando Huerta, Steve Baier, Paul John Ballard, Matt Dixon, Dave Nestler & Sonia Roji, to name a few, and it was a real honor to be featured along with so many amazing artists.

I just received my copy and I must say, it looks super fabulous! If you are into pin-up art or are just looking for a sexy coffee table book, this is definitely one to get.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon
You can check out more of my pin-up art at: www.digitalgirlies.com