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Art House

AR Storytelling Platform For Brands
Project Overview

Art House helps brands tell stories behind their products using augmented reality and art, without the need to download a new app. I advised the Art House team on all aspects of the development process, including research, design, technology stack, and business strategy.

Challenges

• Slower than expected general adoption of augmented reality

• In development since 2018, relying completely on ARkit and ARcore developments, with the latter being hard to support

• Competing with Snapchat, Meta and Niantic's 8th Wall

Outcomes

The platform launched with select clients while the R&D team continued to introduce new features. The team successfully launched multiple AR campaigns for Paramount Pictures, Viceroy, Kimpton, Compass, and Touch of Modern. Art House also collaborated with numerous NFT launches to power their art and merch augmentations.

* The team includes 2 mobile engineers, back-end engineer, product manager, quality assurance expert, and product designer (myself)

Meeting the Client

Art House was originally founded as an art curation startup by Justin Fredericks and Mikey Gomez. Before it’s pivot to the AR marketing, its team worked with renowned street artists around the world to connect them with businesses and brands to build unique collaborations.

I was initially introduced to Justin by a friend in Los Angeles, California. Turned out, his company was looking for a way to make art showing more immersive with the help of augmented reality. Given my previous experience in the field, we agreed to arrange a discovery session with both founders to learn in more detail what goals they were trying to achieve.

Clients group shot with street art in background
Left to Right: Mike Gomez, Joseph Lee, Justin Fredericks
Case Study graphicCase Study graphicCase Study graphicCase Study graphic
Personas 2018
a photo of sketches of art house UX laying on the table
Sketches 2018

Conducting Initial Research

During initial discovery, Justin and his partner Mikey told me about the obstacles they were facing while running their business as well as opportunities to expand it. That helped me understand how their startup was operated and in what ways we could impact it with the help of Augmented Reality.

We agreed to continue collaboration by building the initial prototype and conducting user research, talking to existing customers and collaborators of Art House. To understand our clients' goals and needs, we created a range of user personas and scenarios of future engagements. To gather needed data, we conducted multiple 1 on 1 interviews and sent out surveys to learn key insights.

Objectives

Learn more about our users, identify what type of AR content they would respond to, talk about possible scenarios of usage.

Participant Criteria

Initially, we identified a couple of use cases clients wanted to focus on for the app. For the initial cohort of users, we selected several groups of people. One group consisted of users who visited at least one of the clients’ events in the past. And another group consisted of who made at least one purchase through the client’s merch shop. We interviewed a total of 9 people.

Crafting a User Persona

As a result of user interviews, we created a range of user personas that helped us understand who our customers are.

Key Insight

10 out of 10 of interviewed showed interest in introducing AR art into the next exhibit they go to.

4 out of 10 had a frustration with the events they recently visited. Those included not being able to understand context about the art or not knowing who artist was.

4 out of 10 people wanted a way to interact with art, not just watch a video on the screen.

100% of participants were already familiar with AR through face filters

As a result, we uncovered some of the scenarios in which visitors would like to use augmented reality for the art.

Making First Prototypes

Based on key findings from discovery and initial user research sessions, we gathered our findings and moved into crafting a first prototype to test.

Wireframes top view
Wireframes
user flow
Initial User Flow
Information architecture
Information Architecture

Investing in Technology

Before we move on, it's important to understand the approach we took while developing our AR platform. From the get-go, after testing multiple alternatives, we decided to integrate native AR technologies into our app - ARkit and ARcore.

The decision behind this strategy was to bet on Apple and Google to keep developing their AR platforms. Each year, they introduced new features and we reaped the rewards. Ultimately, we believe that Apple is going to release an AR headset in the future that would use the same tech they are developing now with ARkit. By using native tech now, we are preparing for the future.

This decision has proved fruitful so far.

a mock up of 2 screens of apps demonstrating functionality

Testing Prototypes

After figuring out what we want to build using what tools, we proceeded to build a prototype. We utilized marker tracking and swiping layer systems, as well as ability to make a video and share it with friends. Now we needed an environment to test it. First time the app was tested was during a James Haunt event at the Soho House West Hollywood.

A person holding iPad with AR app focused on piece of art

The event was a success, with multiple people interacting and asking questions about the demo during the event. I also closely monitored users (without them seeing), and witnessed how the app was being used in person. We confirmed our hypothesis that having multiple layers of content on a single AR marker was a good idea - an artist was able to tell a story about their art and themselves, each chapter of the story was a separate layer, and you could easily swipe to navigate between.

Designing Full App

After confirming several of our hypotheses and collecting testing data from the event, we were full of enthusiasm to continue development after seeing that our initial effort bore fruit.

By this time, we built several iterations and were able to test them with client that Justin and Mikey kept onboarding onto the project. Some of the clients included Viceroy Hotels, Compass, Paramount Pictures, and others. Working with Paramount, we were able to augment a movie campaign for the Snake Eyes. You could point our app to the poster and see it come to life.

Overview of many screens of art house app
a mock up of main screen

Unique layer navigation

From our initial user research we learned that interacting with a piece of art or marketing is more engaging when we give certain control to the users. With our layer navigation system, we combined different kinds of content and overlay it over a certain marker, giving users a variety of content to experience.

navigation bar graphic

For now, we support the following file formats:

• 2D Image and Video
• 360 Panorama Image and Video
• 3D Models (glTF, fbx, obj)
• Info Layer (Text + Images + Links)
• Reality Capture Projects (Coming Soon)

a mock up of 2 phones

Customizable Info Layer

Communicate with your audience in a variety of ways - including Info Layer, which allows advertisers and artists to give some call to action to the viewers.

Dynamic island notification example

In-context notifications

All technologies come with limitations. When it comes to AR, there are a lot of aspects of your environment that can influence app performance. AR is a computationally demanding process, and apps have to account for real-world variables like lighting, movement, state of your hardware, network, etc. Sometimes, performance can be affected by these variables and to inform users while it's happening we use in-context notifications within the app. It comes right out of the "notch" or "digital island", and is a sleek way to communicate with our audience giving them real time updates. We plan to expand capabilities of this feature in the future

a mock up of 2 phones

AR without the app

We use the latest Apple technologies and include a couple of our own tricks to deliver all of the AR content associated with the marker without the need to download the app. All of the content is being streamed onto the device.

Getting the app out in the world

During the whole process of development, Art House CEO Justin Fredericks always actively approached onboarding new clients. Even when the app weren't ready, the company was always in talks with various brands. In many ways, a lot of requests made by the brands informed decisions on what features to include in the app.

While still in development, we were able to capture brands such as Viceroy Hotels, Compass, Paramount Pictures, Burberry, and more. We also collaborated with the world of street artists to augment murals and physical installations around the world.

Way to manage all that content

All this time we haven't talked much about the back-end system of the app. To deliver all this content via the internet connection, we needed to build a robust solution to manage all the rules and dependencies on the server. Furthermore, we needed a front-end system for clients to manage it all. I talked to various stakeholders including Justin, developers, artists, and the brands to figure out the right approach and needs for content management.

A mock up of laptop with CMS login screen

We needed a solution to manage clients and their content

Projects CMSProjects CMS

Conclusion

The app has been in use with selected clients for several years now. Many artists around the world augmented their art pieces and learned about augmented art at first using this app. Every year during Art Basel, the app is there, augmenting multiple experiences around the venue. We worked with companies such as Paramount pictures, Viceroy Hotels, Compass, and RTFKT.

A set of phones showing app interface

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