XR Talks is a series that features the best presentations and educational videos from the XR universe. It includes embedded video, as well as narrative analysis and top takeaways. Speakers’ opinions are their own.
One of AR’s promises (along with VR) is to bring far-flung colleagues together for interpersonal interactions. There’s otherwise a tradeoff between the advantages of remote work (flexibility, cost) and the effectiveness of in-person collaboration. Spatial wants to make this less of a binary choice.
The company’s workplace collaboration software uses AR to fill physical spaces like a conference room with digital content. This involves skeuomorphic graphical elements that emulate productivity objects (think: post-it notes, video screens) and of course people, via animated avatars.
The opportunity is ripe, says Spatial’s Jacob Lowenstein at the AWE conference (video below). Several macro factors have led to more people than ever before working remotely. But current methods of remote collaboration (think: Zoom) miss out on key aspects of human communication.
“Remote work is increasingly the new normal,” he said. “But good collaboration depends on
this subtle magical human element that’s often lost. So the real question is how can we inject a human element back into collaboration, and build tools that make it a central part of how we work.”
The answer to this dilemma of far-flung colleagues in need of live collaboration is the $1.3 trillion travel industry. That’s great for economic stimulation (and the occasional boondoggle), but it’s not optimal for professional morale, enterprise cost-efficiency, nor the environment.
“We trade between presence and effective collaboration,” said Lowenstein. “So what ends up happening is people get on these weird aluminum tubes that hurl through the air. It’s an inefficient way to collaborate… it’s exhausting, it’s expensive and we think we can do better.”
These are the pain points that set up Spatial’s collaborative AR workspaces. Conceptually, it’s parallel to AR-based visualization we hear a lot about in industrial contexts, but purpose-built for corporate settings. That can be brainstorming sessions, training, design sprints or an agile scrum.
“Each of these meetings is fundamentally doing the same thing,” said Lowenstein, “which is getting people together, reviewing a lot of information and context-switching between a bunch of things you need to synthesize in order to go and make decisions. And then you go and do it.”
The idea is one thing, and it makes a lot of sense: Execution and experience design are different matters. This is a young field as we’ve examined, so the playbook is still being written on best practices for building AR interactions. Spatial believes that it’s all about intuitive UX.
“Graphics should behave like physical objects,” said Spatial co-founder and chief product officer Jinha Lee. “When you’re, for example, tossing an object from a phone to the airspace, it should simulate how a physical object will fly it out or jump out of one container to a larger space.”
Second on Jihha’s list of UX principles is to choose the right input modalities. For example, building from the first principle, an intuitive way to manipulate spatially oriented digital objects is hand gestures. And they should align with humans’ innate cognition (think: wave, grab, etc.).
It’s also important to design the experience in a way that guides users’ focal point. The benefit and detriment of 3D spaces is that they’re expansive, which can be distracting. So smart UX design can use signals like color, light and avatar positioning to guide users’ attention to the right spots.
“It’s great that we can leverage the entire space around that’s not bound by a tiny screen,” said Jinha about the inherent challenge of immersive experiences.” But there’s a new challenge like if five people in the room are doing all different things, it can easily become very chaotic.”
Last on the list of UX lessons sort of sums up the first three: experiences should act how we think and create. That comes down to details like where graphics should go. Product designs should be positionally tracked in space, and design sprints should have colored post-its on vertical planes.
Speaking of important lessons, there are business and go-to-market lessons in addition to UX ones. And there, Lowenstein explicates the reality check that this new virtual flavor of workplace collaboration should be additive to — rather than disruptive or substitutive of — current tools.
“There are a ton of great collaboration solutions,” he said. “Spatial plugs directly into those… if you can jump into a holographic collaboration instantly from [those], it’ll be much easier for the layperson in your organization to get rolling and they won’t be discouraged by the friction.”
For the same reasons, Spatial is platform agnostic. By operating with everything from Hololens to iPads, it intelligently doesn’t saddle its own growth. Any communication tool will fail if one side of the conversation isn’t compatible, so levels of interactivity should be accommodated in early days.
“It’s going to take time to buy headsets and roll this out in your organization,” said Lowenstein. “In the meantime, people shouldn’t be left out… this is a network-effect driven idea and if there isn’t someone else to meet with you in Spatial on the other end, that meeting ain’t going to happen.”
See the full presentation below.
Disclosure: AR Insider has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.
Header image credit: Spatial