When Draw & Code were asked to create an augmented reality app for the brand relaunch of John Lewis & Partners we got ace indie games designer-turned AR adventurer Niall Taylor on the case. We quizzed him on the thought process behind the AR furniture customisation app and some more esoteric topics besides…
Q. What are the challenges of placing something as tactile as furniture into AR?
Apart from technical stuff like making sure the scale is right and the lighting works, the biggest challenge is the fact that you can’t touch the sofa. There are hundreds of potential fabrics that all feel extremely different, and it matters which one you’re gonna park your butt on! This is solved by working in close harmony with the showroom – in the Liverpool store for example, there is an amazing wall of swatches you can browse and touch. Indeed, we found ourselves with piles of material swatches at the Draw & Code studio trying to get the look of the digital furniture correct. I think we managed it – we took a promotional shot from the John Lewis & Partners and placed the pink version of the Cape sofa from Draw & Code’s AR app in there and played spot-the-difference with the real thing. As you can see here, it looks mighty real!
Q. Do you think that JL’s approach of taking the furniture AR experience into a dedicated showroom rather than the home works?
In a super efficient and convenient digital ecosystem, brick and mortar retail need to offer more than just a place to buy stuff. The revamped John Lewis & Partners stores provide their customers with personal stylists in their clothing sections for example, or exclusive fashion lines only available in-store. Stores need to maximise what only they can offer while embracing everything that digital tech can do for them. With the augmented furniture experience you get a human face alongside the app, guiding you through all your options and letting you preview them all immediately in a small space – even the biggest supersize showrooms can’t do that. It has advantages over using an AR furniture placement app in the home – chances are that in your home you’d need to move furniture to make space for the digital image whereas in the showroom its set-up to just point-and-go.
Q. Did you get to meet John Lewis himself?
We had brunch, it was chill.
Q. How about a projected sofa that changes its upholstery according to your facial expressions?
Would it be like an anything-goes type situation? You raise an eyebrow and now your sofa is made of baked beans? Because I’d be extremely into that.
Q. Would you sit on that?
I only have one facial expression so it wouldn’t be any different to a regular sofa.
Q. Why do sofas have legs at all?
To allow them to escape from large predators, such as tigers or packs of feral coffee tables.
Q. Is the AR furniture app now standard practice for that industry?
It is – our app is entering a digital ecosystem that includes some marvellous stuff like Ikea’s ARKit-powered app or Dulux’s digital wall painting tool. I do think we have a long way to go however – as technology improves, these apps are only going to get better. I’d love to include something like iOS12’s measuring app as a filter in our app for example – only allow users to see the sofas that would physically fit in their spaces at home.
Q. You’re a games designer by trade – is games philosophy and technology permeating every part of life now?
I don’t think anyone can argue that they aren’t – digital ecosystems are an inherent part of the modern world, and we expect them to not only be easy to use but fun to use as well. Game design as a discipline is super important because it impacts every aspect of our lives.
Q. You’ve done toys and furniture – What household object would you like to stick in AR next?
Something premium tier. Something that feels extra-fancy, indulgently unnecessary. Like a massive bidet.