The Set List: Life, Augmented
Jack Trotman in The Set List, augmented reality, virtual reality

Image: Ian Robinson

Editor’s note: this blog is part of a series discussing trends and insights into the world around us.

We live in a society where customisation and personalisation are becoming increasingly easy to access, where it’s now possible to filter, improve and enhance our surroundings with the swipe of a finger. How often do we look up during our commute and realise that almost everyone around us is either looking at their smartphone or listening to something through their headphones? Or rather, how often do we look up during our commute, at all?

On our daily commute we have the power to improve a stuffy, crowded and mundane tube carriage without any real physical change, using smartphones on autopilot and scrolling through data for as long as we like. I call it ‘Lucid Daydreaming,’ but these behaviours are not just unique to London commuters. Our reliance on technology is more ingrained in our society than we might expect, with over 71 percent of the UK adult population in possession of a smartphone and on average spending two hours online per day.

Not to be confused with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) is an enhanced version of reality created when computer generated images are layered on top of real-life. It may seem like a recent invention, but surprisingly the first functioning AR system was built in 1992 by the U.S. Air Force, called ‘Virtual Fixtures.’ However, very little movement was actually made into the consumer tech market until early 2000. The promise of a futuristic millennium was not complete without AR, and now, we’re accustomed to seeing onscreen AR during TV sports coverage that allows distances, targets and statistics to be shown as if they were actually on the pitch.

Magazines such as Esquire have introduced AR cover pages and even Volkswagen has created step-by-step car manuals using AR with varying levels of success and acceptance. In 2014 the advent of wearable AR came to the market with more of a wet slap than a bang, thanks to Google Glass. Its lack of commercial acceptance could be down to its £1, 500 price tag, but many have questioned whether we were actually ready for that type of AR tech at that moment in time.

Luckily, a shift in consumer behaviour occurred thanks to a viral app, which has changed this thinking for the better. Remember Pokémon Go? We witnessed countless attempts to “Catch ‘Em All” on busy trains, pavements, in parks and around dinner tables. This may have seemed like a frivolous fad to some, but in fact, it showed the speed of acceptance by consumers to the idea of AR through a smartphone, with worldwide success after over 15 million app downloads. Consumers seem happy for AR to live on something they find comfortable, with that choice being a smartphone and not the sci-fi like headsets or eye implants we had once predicted… at least not yet.

The new AR revolution

Smartphone companies have been quick to realise this potential, but it appears that Apple will be leading the new AR revolution. In June 2017, the release of ARKit meant that developers could build AR apps for the iPhone or iPad. Developers have been sharing the results of their early experiments, creating quite a buzz around the release of iOS 11 in September 2017, which will allow consumers to use the developed apps. Interestingly, these early experiments have focused on creating smaller and more practical apps such as measuring, visualising furniture and other depth perception tools. This experimental phase appears to be leading towards something much bigger and more exciting. The iPhone 8 is said to be developing its signature feature, a built in 3D laser system, which will host the most advanced AR functions on any smartphone yet.

So, what is the future of AR?

It is clear the AR market is on the rise after increased consumer take-up to smartphone based AR. The dedicated AR device market is predicted to reach $659.98 million by 2018, with an even greater increase to $120 billion by 2020. By creating and developing more practical AR apps, which benefit the user and heighten our senses and perception, AR could start to serve a purpose beyond just being a gimmick or cool bit of tech.

Imagine AR that allows you to be more productive, avoid risk, predict behaviour and act as an extension to your subconscious. You could use it to tell you how long it will take you to read a page, how to move through a crowd, how to play an instrument or even what to do in a medical emergency. The opportunities are endless and our imaginations can run wild with its potential, though the practicality of AR on a smartphone could very quickly become an impracticality. Dependable AR on a handheld smartphone could mean us living out our days permanently holding a phone, so out of necessity wearable devices such as Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLens or Apple’s rumoured AR Glasses would be more readily adopted.

At Gensler, we already put technologies like HoloLens to good use when presenting and visualising our projects. We can help our clients realise the scale of a project, the detail and positioning of a piece of work that is yet to have been physically built. Harnessing this technology has been a natural progression for Gensler; building on traditions such as model making, it is natural for us to move ahead with AR.

Jack Trotman is a graphic designer in Gensler’s London office. An advocate for Multi-Sensory Design, Jack believes in a design approach that questions tradition and engages the senses. Contact him at
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