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Augmented reality could be 'bigger than the web', says Adobe executive

Adobe's chief product officer sat down with The Independent to reveal where AR is going

David Phelan
Monday 25 June 2018 16:24 BST
Adobe's Project Aero can help virtual butterflies appear in your living room – or so it appears on your iPad screen
Adobe's Project Aero can help virtual butterflies appear in your living room – or so it appears on your iPad screen (Adobe)

Scott Belsky is Adobe’s chief product officer and executive vice president for Creative Cloud, which means, among other things, that he’s front and centre when it comes to Project Aero, the new tool that brings graphics into the world of augmented reality.

Augmented reality (AR) is, of course, a technology that allows data from the web to be overlaid on a view of the physical world. Project Aero – first announced at Apple’s World Wide Developers’ Conference on June 4 – can help virtual butterflies appear, fluttering on a gleaming metal perch, all nestling in your living room. Or so it appears on your iPad screen. Developers can take graphics they’ve created in Photoshop, export them to Aero, and then from there embed them into apps.

​Belsky sat down with The Independent to reveal where AR is going, how creativity can be tickled along and how important design has become.

AR is certainly topical. How does he see it developing? “Well we believe that augmented reality is one of those new mediums that could be as big as if not bigger than the web. One of the areas where consumers adopt something new is when it makes something drastically easier. When I think about augmented reality I think about instances like finding your way somewhere, finding your friends in a stadium, or going to a conference and looking around and knowing who everyone is because their LinkedIn profile is hanging over their heads.

"Or if you’re inside a store, say, you can find your way around, knowing what's on sale and knowing the origin of every product you pick up. In your home if you’re trying to fix your dishwasher, then instead of watching this YouTube video over and over, you click on something onscreen and it pops out a three-dimensional augmented-reality experience of exactly what to do and it's guiding you, right up to the centimetre. I think we will start finding a lot of things like that where AR just removes friction.

“And so Project Aero is in some ways the cloud-enabled bridge for an asset like an image or an animation to be created and made into 3D and placed in the real world. Project Aero facilitates that.” The app is in testing phase and Adobe says it’ll be released next year.

In the meantime, there’s much more to be decided in the world of AR, Belsky says: “It's amazing and so far, you haven't had the ability to take professional grade creativity into that world yet. I mean you've seen things like Pokemon Go but it hasn't really unlocked the artist's potential yet. Now we can.”

Ethics will play a role, too: “There are a lot of issues that it opens up like for example who is allowed to place an augmented reality object where. Can someone from Burger King walk into a McDonald's and place a Burger King ad there? What are the rules? It's a whole new kind of field of consideration. Maybe we revert to the thousand years of property law: this is my property and you can be here if I invite you, maybe it's that or maybe it's based on relationship. So, if you follow Burger King the followers can see their assets in McDonald's because you're connected to Burger King. That’s just an example, I don't know. These are the questions we have to figure out.”

An Adobe logo and Adobe products are seen reflected on a monitor display and an iPad screen, in this picture illustration July 8, 2013 (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

Belsky also talks a lot about something he calls experience design and a new app called Adobe XD. “Experience design to me is every interface in your life that you use to make a decision. So that could be an experience on a mobile device or on a web page or in an augmented reality space. And I would argue that every brand these days wants to create a consistent experience for their customers across every channel. It’s a different world than it was 10 years ago, where you were just building a website.”

Creating a new app must involve making choices as you build, introducing constraint along the way, surely?

“First of all, constraints empower creativity. I like the idea of building a product that solves a need and building off of it. Photoshop, for example, was geared originally towards photographers. And then it brought in a lot of tools for digital painting and then people started using Photoshop for web design. I mean the use cases grew with the feature set. But what ends up happening is that some features become so critical for some new emerging field that you have to cut it off and build a new product. Adobe XD is really meant to be the platform for experience design. The fact that a designer now needs to build experiences for mobile apps and web and increasingly things like voice and AR, that's what this product was meant to do.”

Belsky is in London to talk about the future of design. “We're sharing some research that when we talked to hiring managers at an assortment of top companies, 87 per cent of them say that UX designers are some of their most critical hires right now. Ten or 15 years ago that may have been developers or engineers. It's fascinating that UX designers are in such demand. And there is an opportunity and responsibility that comes along with that. There is the question of ethical design. What are the ethics that designers need to take into consideration in terms of the interface. There's this notion of dark patterns, the tricks that you can use in design to get consumers to do things they shouldn't do. I’m interested in what is the responsibility of designers to make sure that ultimately they are serving the best interests of consumers.”

Ethics, then, has been a recurring theme. Along with creativity: “We see artificial intelligence as a driver of productivity. When we study our customers’ habits we find that an enormous amount of time is spent on repetitive labour like masking hair in an image or tagging 5000 images from a photo shoot. We have algorithms that should probably do that for you. I've never met a creative professional who wants to take three hours to do something that they could do in three minutes. They need to spend the time being creative. I don't know if the answer has ever been different but I would say that right now creativity is more important than ever before.”

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