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Learn why unlocking the creative potential of AR is easier than you think

The Mill’s Min-Wei Lee shares three ways brands and creatives can think about using AR

Illustration by Julia Wytrazek

“AR is basically the integration of virtual objects or information into users’ real-world environment instantaneously,” The Mill’s Min-Wei Lee explains. “For me, it's the closest thing to magic that we have: that through technology, we’re able to realistically embed fantastical characters or scenes or objects into your space.”

Lee is a director, strategist and creative producer who currently works for The Mill’s Experience group, overseeing augmented and virtual reality-based experiences for global brands including HBO, Hyundai and Chanel. She’s also been a D&AD judge and leads our Masterclass Putting Tech to Work: How to Think Strategically about Creative Technology.

Here, Lee shares with us the key three things for brands and creatives to consider when using emerging technology to push the boundaries of storytelling.

AR is more accessible than you think

People often get AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) confused. The difference, Lee explains, is that AR is overlaid on the world around you, usually through a device like a smartphone. It doesn’t need fancy, expensive headsets or a dedicated space in which to safely immerse oneself, meaning the barrier to entry is much lower. “For AR, it's so… portable,” Lee says. “We all have phones, so the storytelling can really happen anywhere: indoors, outdoors. That's also a nice bit of flexibility for brands to be able to think about what spaces they want to activate in.” This combined portability and accessibility also means that brands can extend their reach globally, tailoring their stories to exactly where their potential users are based.

She gives the example of a recent experience she worked on for HBO’s Game of Thrones spin-off House of Dragon. In order to support the release of the series, her team created an AR storytelling app called DracARys that allowed users to bring a dragon from Westeros and raise it in their own world, nurturing it from egg to fully fledged adult. The app was designed to respond to a variety of different terrains. “If you’re living close to the ocean… or if you're in a mountainous area with forests, the dragon’s personality, and how it grows is unique to each user's experience of the world and where they are physically.”

It offers site specific world-building opportunities

One of the great advantages of AR is the way it requires an interaction with physical environments. “It really boils down to what a brand is trying to achieve. What do they want their audiences to do?” Lee says. This is all about understanding how you want people to behave. Is there something particular you want them to interact with? How are you transforming their understanding of the space as they move through it?

“If you're a cultural institution, and you're trying to teach people more about a specific site, then you'd want to lay Easter eggs around… to incentivise people to collect all these things and then find themselves at specific points where storytelling can occur,” she explains. “But if you're a brand that wants people to really explore a city, something like Airbnb, for example, and you want to have interactive tours, then you need to think about how you would encourage that kind of exploration. What types of experiences are you going to put in specific areas?”

It doesn’t necessarily have to take them outdoors either. Less site-specific experiences might benefit from something that can be played in private. There the question of physical geography comes alive in new ways, requiring an inventive approach to the familiar. “How can you confine that storytelling to their immediate home environment… [with just] a table, floors, walls? How can we add elements to this quite traditionally conservative space and make it come to life?”

It can be social

As AR technology makes rapid advancements, the possibility of more sociable AR experiences are also growing. “Up until recently, the way that AR has functioned is you open your phone camera, it sees the world, and it realistically embeds itself based on what it can see,” Lee says. This has often made it a relatively solitary experience. “If I'm standing next to another person who's having the same experience, we're not going to be seeing the exact same thing because it's loaded onto our phones separately.”

However, this is changing thanks to both increasingly robust integrations with map applications, and the fine-tuning of visual positioning technology. The latter, Lee explains, is what “enables us to anchor objects into real world locations and therefore have shared experiences.” She gives the example of someone leaving an AR message in Trafalgar Square. Someone else could find that message, augment it, and leave it for others in turn. “It makes it more realistic, because that's mimicking the behaviour of what would happen in real life. By leaving an object for someone, someone [else] can go and pick it up and then it's gone, or they can change it.”

Of course, these aspects of interpersonal connection and community building have already been demonstrated, with great success, in apps such as Pokémon Go. Whether it leads to scavenger style hunts, gameplay that blend the virtual and the IRL in battles or other forms of meetings, or strangers joining forces to solve a mystery, Lee sees AR as a “powerful tool” to bring people together.

D&AD’s Putting Tech to Work: How to Think Strategically about Creative Technology Masterclass delves into the rich world of creative technology, and how - by having the right approach - you can use it to tell immersive stories, capture the hearts and minds of your audience, and deepen engagement. Sign up here. You can also explore do at your own pace courses here, as well as upcoming in-person and online teaching here.

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