Emergent Visions: Mobile AR by Tamiko Thiel

Day 2 of symposium after lunch kicked off with a jolly note when Kristy announced that the tour would end at a the Smoke & Mirrors bar that day. I was really tickled that everyone kept mentioning about cocktails after that!

Tamiko, the speaker for the session started off by sharing popular examples of VR before sharing about her work in this area. She touched upon AR works that were commercial and also works of art

The use of Augmented Reality in today’s society – Art vs Commercial

AR in Commercial 

Image result for pokemon go singapore

Related imageImage result for pokemon go ar funny singapore

July 2016 – 45 million users per day

Breakthrough for AR – everyone was playing it. Almost

Pokemon Go certainly served its role in interaction, allows users to  come together as pokemon trainers instead of an individual player on the mobile phone

AR in Arts

An example of is ARt Critic Face by Tamiko Thiel. One of her playful works where she seems to be using AR in a satirical way – faces that seem to say ‘you call this art???????’ appear all around your mobile screen!

This is geolocative augmented reality installation that only shows up at certain locations, which are mostly museums, art festivals and popular spots.


Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LA MoCA)

Image result for moma ar

San Jose Museum of Art

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MoMA)

Image result for ARt Critic Face Matrix singapore

ARt critic faces at Orchard Road

I personally feel that this  piece of artwork actually comes off as shocking, abit of a Damien Hirst. The artist seemed to be making use of  a new medium of AR to create a shock factor. I mean, getting museum visitors bombarded with countless faces questioning what they see in the biggest museums are really art…..that is one bold move.

The question by the artist:

Will this bring recognition for AR as an artistic medium or commercial medium?

Val’s answer: Do we really need a concrete answer for this? Instead, I would think of it as “Is AR recognised as a useful medium? Be it in arts or commercially”


Examples of AR  playing a useful role in arts and commercial scene

Related image

Arts: AR used to elevate the museum experience, at the Art Science Museum in Singapore

Commercially: AR aids people in visualization through environmental mapping

Image result for ikea ar mobile app gif

Ikea Mobile App using camera AR map to measure a sense of space


What I noticed in AR trends: VERY popular for VERY short period of time or VERY expensive effort and time VERY little recognition. So why not make good use of it when there’s much effort behind an AR work?


“El Barrio is home!” Augmented reality installation, 2016

The Caribbean Cultural Center and African Diaspora Institute is a cultural center for the world-wide African diaspora based in East Harlem (“Spanish Harlem”) in New York City.

Back in 2012 as AR artistic advisor I helped them get a Rockefeller Foundation Cultural Innovation Award for “Mi Querido Barrio,” a Street Art project to put their art, culture and history on the streets of El Barrio/East Harlem using augmented reality.

I held workshops in AR for CCCADI’s artists, and they invited me to create a work for the exhibit that would trigger off the facade of the new building itself.

For my piece we asked residents to answer the question, “What makes El Barrio feel like home to you?” I took their handwritten and signed answers and transformed them into golden words that swirl around you when you scan the facade.


  • Importance on personal voice


During the talk, Tamiko Thiel had a heavy emphasis on using their handwriting as the subject matter. The handwriting evokes the sense of belonging and people can recognise their “voice” in the work.


Another interesting aspect was that AR is technically artificial so perhaps overlaying the “reality” artificially makes it sort of “mixed” reality? Tamiko Thiel also emphasis greatly on that in many of her works, she did not want to depict graphics in a realistic manner. However, in this work it was realistic yet not realistic. The written texts by the people can only be seen using the device hence, the golden words are technically not there in reality however the true personal voice are recorded virtually.



  • Importance of AR to capture forgotten culture and bring their own culture back to the people


“It is a great way to not only educate, but preserve and connect. I think that the more people start using it, especially the younger generation, the more they are going to open their eyes and want to reinvent.” As the city develops, some aspects of it gets lost as well. In a few of her works, she tries to record this culture of a community/place before it gets truly lost.


‘Interactive = unfinished’ – Matt Adams

As I sat comfortably in the dimly lit lecture theatre at Laselle that evening, I honestly thought it would be a monotonous session happening right after dinner time. Taking quick glances from the second row, I realised the theatre was pretty packed. That was a sign that Matt was worth a listen.

Indeed, Matt’s opening slide was quick to catch my attention- the template powerpoint  flashed the words

‘interactive = unfinished’

He did not go ahead to tell us what that meant, but proceeded to show us using example of his works.

Like most speakers would, Matt did the same by walking through a timeline of his works till the most recent. His works went through a notable evolution in terms of its quality and the works Karen and 2097 personally hooked my attention.

I immediately downloaded Karen and 2097.

I’ve also noticed most people’s attention went up when he shared on Karen, as compared to his older works. The medium itself was intriguing. It reminded me of my own project in year 2 of the POV interactive film, except with more flexibility for the users to input their choices and answers to Karen.

The idea of a personal exchange with a character in POV made the game more unique and of course, interactive. The example walkthrough shown by Matt seemed flawless, simple and fun to play, at least that was what I thought while Karen was downloading on my phone.

However, as Karen is a POV film, there was just so much files to download even to start a game. The download itself got me waiting 45 min and 300 over MB worth of space needed. That is rather unusable to start with. i thought it was just the bandwidth but after trying again, I realised the game itself wasn’t too user friendly with the download hence this is something crucial for the game makers to work on.

Download that was stuck at this screen for 20 mins or so
Messages sent by Karen on my mobile lock screen to encourage users to get back into the game

2097: We Made Ourselves Over

From what Matt mentioned he and his team managed to carry out, the 300 phone calls ringing city wide, actors appearing, short films played along the streets, the installation set itself, it made me realise that these many layers of a project would still be deemed as ‘unfinished’.

2097 shows us that indeed interactive is unfinished in the sense that it is just the beginning. Something is sparked. A conversation about the issue is sparked.

I was particularly impressed by the amount of research that went behind it, from the research workshops, to the different mediums of output. Most importantly, the participatory element in 2097 could be a contributing factor to the game’s success, or so Matt believes.

I have also downloaded 2097 but similar to Karen, the rate and progress of the game’s download seems too long and draggy to even download. Perhaps their content networks are in the UK.

Deeper thoughts

It would be interesting to have Singapore’s version of 2097: We Made Ourselves over too. Perhaps not totally the same idea as Blast Theory’s but the same concept of an app, a nationwide event happening and most importantly the idea of audience participation to spark conversations about our country’s recurrent issues such as sharing of data or over-reliance on technology etc.

As a whole, it was an eye-opening talk that helps me to think about the different methods and mediums an interactive project can be carried out. Something that makes other think about change, reflect and want to change, invite ideas to be articulated that comes in moments big or small that we would have never thought or spoken about.


Reading: Designing for the Digital Age

I was clapping my hands as I read the first few paragraphs of Kim Goodwin’s chapter of Designing in the Digital Age and was thinking ‘more people need to read this!’ Especially my friends who don’t belong in the field of design – their mentality of ‘design’  is usually cheapened!

Like most readings that start with definitions of a word, the writer did the same and I was intrigued at how the writer defined some terms. As the writer puts it eloquently, she mentions how design is actually a craft because it’s neither science nor art. In my own definition, a craft is a skill that takes time to master. And we as designers, are crafters – where our goal is to actually solve problems.

Aka designers are actually problem-solvers. 

This comes in well with the next point the author talks about, where a design should serve human needs and goals. Exactly! To solve the problem of our dedicated audience. It all goes back too the human – the users!

In my resumes or cover letters, I will usually add a point about passionate to create ‘human-centric design’. The word will not just be design but human-centric design. As the job you’re applying states ‘user experience’ or ‘human-computer interaction’, the ‘human’ or the ‘user’ is exactly the one we are reaching out/catering to.

Goal-directed design

Moving on to methods, the writer talks about goal-directed design. Here, personas are mentioned. Although I am unfamiliar with the term goal-directed design, I do hear about the use of personas as part of a design process. Personas help designers to imagine the different types of users of a product or service which encourages them to think even wider on how it could be received.

This method indeed works well and been proven that it works well and achieves qualitative results. Hence in design, yes there is no right or wrong but we follow a set of best practices. 

Note: The writer then moves on to talk about best practices. I guess we were on the same page!

Double note: The origin of personas mentioned by the author developed at Cooper, was where she worked at. The Alan Cooper she mentioned, was actually none other than her boss. LOL


More Personas

I realised the writer mentioned about personas once again in the following part. Well, if something is mentioned repeatedly, it sure is something of importance. Very oddly, being in interactive media and in a design school, I have not implemented this method of personas in my work here. Perhaps it’s the type of work that we produce or modules taken. I’ve only ever started using personas during my UX internship.

Initially, I was quite confused about this whole idea of ‘persona thing’. It was the very first time I was putting it into practice. I was called into a meeting with the digital products team to review a product in its high-fidelity mock up state. Print outs of personas were stuck all over the wall and sticky notes and markers became our weapon.

“Val, don’t hold back. Be as critical as possible. Doesn’t matter if you hurt (co-worker’s name)’s feeling” said my boss in a serious tone but with a smile.

As a first-timer I was quite afraid to be blatant about my thoughts. Also, when I first read the scenarios and persona profiles, it actually came off as hilarious as these user archetypes felt very stereotypical. But in actual fact, I found by being really critical of how each group uses your product or service, the things taken into consideration might improve your overall product or service.

Closing thoughts: Design does not stand alone

All in all, I certainly think that design cannot exist just on its own. There are a lot f interrelated factors to make it a successful product. Design should be placed in the central part of the conceiving and development of a product. and from there, we can take different directions. If it’s not ideal, we can always go back to the centrepoint of the design.


Perhaps some questions would be, what about feedback? Which part is it of the design process? How much feedback to take in? How much is enough? Giving the author a benefit of doubt, these questions could have been addressed in another chapter. But essentially, I feel that taking in feedback and asking questions is an important part of the design process.

From experience, I received emails from the innovation lab team where they would send email invites for anyone on-site to come over for a brown bag session and gather feedback. Again, with markers and sticky notes.

Another food for thought would be, how do we actually forge healthy relationships with the other counterparts? Like the engineers or developers. They are important in the development of a tangible product. But, where could we start from building relationships with them?

A reflection on Thoughtful Interaction Design

Taken on one of my trips to school on the circle line. Everyone in the cabin is seen consumed in their digital artifacts. Even those beside me as seen in the reflection.

This reading came in really timely as the points mentioned in these chapters are things that I have been reflecting about daily, as I work on building app interfaces. On the daily commute, (which I take around 1.5 hours to reach that gives me a lot of time to time and reflect) I notice an artificial world – an artificial world of people being consumed by digital artifacts. Of any moment, someone is looking into a digital device. This device would commonly be their mobile phone or your laptop like what you are doing right now.


There were many points worth highlighting in this text. But I will narrow down to one or two.

1. Good Design

Jonas touched upon the term ‘good design’. Indeed it is a very vague term. From a UX perspective, I’ve all along defined good interaction design = user intuitive. However, this sentence challenged my definition of it:

“An extremely fast and efficient digital artifact is hardly good design if it is not understood by users”

Going deeper into thoughts, I realised what we’re tackling here is user empathy. The fact of the ‘human’ in human-computer interaction, it still goes back to the user. For thoughtful design, a designer must put themselves into their user’s shoes. Exactly, it’s about being reflective. 

Example of thoughtful interaction design

Instead of cracking my head or googling for examples, I’ve realised that very apt examples are apps. They are something that we interact with everyday, in fact the first thing we interact with everyday when we wake up.

Image result for whatsapp iphone

Without saying much, everyone would recognize this popular chat platform.

WhatsApp might not be the prettiest app but majority are using this app platform. We see even the older generation commonly using whatsapp instead of other chat platforms because

  1. It fulfils the needs of its audiences – to communicate.
  2. It’s fast – just tap on name of person we want to have a convo with, type message into box, send
  3. There is order and meaning (design theory)– chats on top, I type something and send, it appears in that field of convo exchange

The designers behind the app had to think about the (very) different age groups using the app.

From the words of a WhatsApp designer himself

“When building a product, having a clear problem to solve for people is half the battle. Having a framework on how to judge the proposed solutions helps make the rest of the process more efficient.”  – Charlie Deets, Product Designer at WhatsApp.

Hence, he also highlights the importance of being reflective: taking a step back to understand the user’s problems before diving into a solution.

However, how many actually know that there is a whatsapp story feature within the app? Also, how many people actually use it? Do we really need it? How much thought was put into this feature’s usability?

No design is perfect said Jonas. Therefore, the need for the story feature could be thought about again by the designers.

2. Design theory

The author mentioned “As a designer, you might also need help in creating order and meaning in a complex world. This can be done by making the complex less complex by organizing, structuring and categorizing.”

So true, Jonas. This is what we call information architecture and it is really important in thoughtful interaction design.

Here’s a really bad example

Self-check out kiosks

Image result for self-check out ntuc

Image result for self-checkout screen singapore

Oh my goodness. These self-check out kiosks. Why so many terminals to scan? Why are there so many buttons?

Once I used it and the security alarm almost went off on me. I wasn’t supposed to lift anything off the holding bask area before I check out on my payment. However there was no indication of that. Since then I hardly used these self-help stations anymore but help myself to hurry away. If this happened to me, what more my folks? What more the senior generation? Will they even attempt to use it? 

…and more questions:

How can we make this interface more friendly? Is it possible to further categorize and better structure the information for a more seamless process?

Another thing I would like to add on about achieving interaction design is to always ask questions. Alot of questions. Again, it’s about reflecting, it’s about taking the step back to think and put empathy in it.

Hence in my opinion, good design comes about if the designer takes many steps back to think, plan and put themselves into the shoes of the user.  Many atimes we jump straight in to photoshop or the tools that we use to start designing. But here, we learnt that the steps of planning and developing is paramount. We usually overlook the paper and pen stage but this is where the problem solving happens behind a thoughtful design. Only then a designer can achieve human-centric design.

As Google’s Design team’s mantra goes “focus on the user and all else will follow”.