It’s been almost a year since Apple launched its iBeacon technology. Since then, tech gurus have frantically speculated about how beacons will enhance consumer experiences in physical spaces. Although much has been said about what beacons can be used for (wayfinding, dynamic pricing, ticketing, etc.) — few are talking about how to design for this new experience paradigm. To truly understand the feeling of interacting with beacons, we decided to get our hands dirty and build a lab prototype that would allow us to experiment. We placed Gimbal beacons around our studio and built an app that triggers content as a person approaches these various spots. We strategically picked very different points of interest to allow exploration of different content types:
Our prototype app went through multiple rounds of testing and tweaking, unveiling key insights along the way. Inevitably, we learned much about the technical capabilities of beacons and Bluetooth Low Energy, but experiencing it first-hand within a real physical space brought to attention several experience design principles as well:
1) Content must be delivered in bite-sized, highly visual chunks.
Since the digital application is augmenting a physical experience, it should allow for a primarily heads-up experience where users are able to fully appreciate the physical world around them, but also quickly consume contextual content that helps them make sense of what they are seeing.
2) There is a fine balance between a helpful alert and an interruption.
Our first iteration of the app triggered content to take over the screen when the user came close to a beacon. Depending on the context, however, we quickly realized that this could be disruptive if the user is still looking at the content screen for a previously triggered beacon. So our second iteration “nudges” the user instead. A thumbnail bubble for the new content playfully animates onto the screen without obscuring it, and the user has the choice to launch or ignore it.
3) Navigation via physical means (walking up to various beacons) must be reconciled with more traditional navigation via app UI.
On-screen UI elements such as navigation menus and back buttons break down when content is navigated by physically walking through a space. Rules must be determined for which method trumps the other, while still ensuring that the user has a clear mental model of how the app works. For instance, we might consider abandoning traditional, nested hierarchies for more modal, state-based screen navigation.
After several iterations of the lab prototype, we had the opportunity to apply what we learned to the design of the World of Coca-Cola Explorer mobile application. Overall, our lab process allowed us to discover answers to questions that we would not have otherwise known to ask. As designers, it is impossible for us to anticipate every nuance of how a final experience will play out. The only way to get even close is to build something quickly and actually feel it ourselves — leaving plenty of room for unexpected and insightful learnings.
— Pavani Yalla, Associate Creative Director, Experience Design