Reading Time: 3 min | Jul 2022

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Augmented Reality: What happens when design alters the way we interact with the real world?

When design and technology meet, who does what? As our realities becoming increasingly digital, what role is left for design?

We spoke with Paulina Porten, a creative technologist who focuses on augmented reality and how it can affect society. She designed a prototype of an augmented reality app to enable people to vote live, interactively and collaboratively on the future of urban planning.

iF: What is the relationship between design and technology?

Paulina Porten (PP): These days design and technology need to work hand in hand to create valuable and also sustainable digital experiences. That doesn’t mean that as a designer who is involved in technology, you have the claim to replace the developer and eg. launch an app by yourself. But you should conceptualize and prototype ideas that are in a technological realm — you should be able to “speak the same language” as the developer. Of course, there are also designers who dabble in everything and cover everything themselves. But from my point of view it is important to not lose focus of what your role actually is.

△ Paulina Porten is a freelance Interaction Designer and Creative Technologist focused on Augmented Reality and 3D-printing. As a designer, she concerns herself with the appropriate and responsible use of different technologies to shape a social future, eg. via her prototype app "Augmented Participation". It regards the problem of bringing together different interests in urban development and helps the involved people to communicate on eye-level.

"It‘s extremely important, especially as designers, to be involved in this emerging technology while it‘s still malleable, to impact how this technology will affect our lives."

Paulina Porten - Creative Technologist focused on Augmented Reality

iF: What is the role of a designer in a hi-tech product or service?

PP: Take an interactive exhibition, for example, because it’s what I’m currently working on: As a developer, it‘s mostly about how technological processes and installations work. But for me as a designer, it’s about how the exhibition communicates to the visitors. What knowledge do I want to convey? How do I relate to users when they come to the exhibition? How do I make them familiar with the medium? How do they recognize what possibilities they have and what they can experience? What is the experience like as a visitor in the exhibition? These questions are very much in the realm of design. It’s not about the technical implementation, but about the feeling that remains with the visitor. Technological knowledge is necessary for this, in order to have an understanding of what is even possible.

"We are on the verge of a new revolution"

In the video below, Fabio Verdelli talks about the coming VR wave. Technologies that change the world are always the ones that change the way we perceive our surroundings, explains the graphic designer, product designer and iF Jury member.

Paulina Porten's app shows, how this can possibly look like. She designed the augmented reality to help people participate in urban planning decisions in their neighborhoods. "We can all benefit from technology," she says.

iF: What advice would you give to aspiring designers that you yourself would have liked to have known earlier?

PP: Go out and ask questions! Stop all this competitive thinking! I‘ve learned the most by simply asking people: ‘I like what you are doing! How did you get there?’ I‘m also always completely happy when people ask me. After all, I learn better when explaining my work. Especially for design and technology it is extremely helpful as the industry is just emerging. Exchange is crucial here. Unlike book design, where you can look back on centuries of experience and figure things out yourself, here it‘s more about learning by doing.

iF: You say that mixed and augmented reality are only just emerging as technologies and are more future-oriented. If you had to guess: which technology do you think will shape the future the most?

PP: Augmented Reality of course! Unlike VR goggles, which isolate the wearer completely, Augmented Reality is most in touch with reality. It reacts more to real life, creating a certain interplay with technology. That doesn‘t mean that VR doesn‘t have its applications, but it is not as connected to everyday life.

"I still believe that technology can be used in an innovative way in the social sector and that we can all benefit from it."

Paulina Porten - Creative Technologist focused on Augmented Reality

Of course, there will be skepticism about the medium at first, but that was also the case with the smartphone. Think about how people reacted back then: ‘Weird, then you’ll be walking around while talking to someone on the phone.‘ Nowadays, we walk around with our phone while we‘re doing voicemail or FaceTime and it‘s become totally normal.

I wouldn‘t bet the farm on it yet, but I can imagine the same thing happening with augmented reality and eg. AR glasses as an associated device. That‘s why it‘s extremely important, especially as designers, to be involved in this emerging technology while it‘s still malleable, to impact how this technology will affect our lives. Of course there are a lot of dystopias about it. But I still believe that technology can be used in an innovative way in the social sector and that we can all benefit from it. This is where designers are needed to develop concepts and ideas on how it can add value instead of using public spaces as a big advertising area for AR glasses.

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