Back in 2014 we were searching for contract furniture companies who were looking for the next generation of Augmented Reality sales tools. Through Classic Group, an associate company, we found Colebrook Bosson Saunders, a retailer in office ergonomics, based in Southwark, London.
CBS are the ideal candidate for AR technology. They are forward-thinking, adventurous and innovative in their thinking. We opened up a discussion with them to find a way for their sales agents to be able to demonstrate the CBS range of monitor arms in a slick, convenient and engaging way. Most of these products are fairly heavy and oddly-shaped, as with most ergonomics, and it’s simply impractical for the team to lug them around from meeting to meeting, so being able to present them using AR technology seemed an irresistible challenge.
Here’s what we agreed.
- We would create an app that enabled the CBS sales agents to showcase eight products in their range on a tablet computer.
- The app would use image-based augmented reality tracking to place a realistic, full-scale 3d model onto the customer’s desktop using a printed marker (or target) image.
- Each product should be selected by swiping through a gallery of images until the desired one is found, then the AR display of that product activated by a single button press.
- There should be a function that lets the user cycle through the colour options for each product.
- There should be a function that allows the monitors to be resized and to be turned on and off.
- There should only be one target image to cover all products, so the app needed to ‘understand’ which product has been selected and display it accordingly.
- There should be a facility for users to print off the image target directly from their tablet.
- The interface should reflect the CBS brand values and image.
However, on top of all this, the single most challenging aspect was finding a way for the users to be able to manipulate the joints on the products through the use of on-screen buttons. In real life, different parts of a monitor arm move relative to each other. There are several points of articulation. Some have a restricted angle of swivel or tilt, and of course no component will pass through another as it rotates. The AR versions needed to behave in exactly the same way, and this presented a huge challenge to our coders.
Throughout the process, the app went through several iterations, and regular meetings were held with CBS to review it. One of the key areas of discussion was ease of navigation, and we wanted to ensure that the user could access each AR model with the minimal number of clicks upon launching the app. As we refined the models within the app and added more functionality, it became clear that in order to keep the published app size to a sensible level for app store deployment we’d have to think very carefully about the content and how it’s managed. Streaming model data from the cloud was ruled out since we needed users to be able to run the app in areas WiFi or data coverage is limited or non-existing. That meant packaging everything up into the app itself, and again much experimentation was necessary to achieve this.
From a technical standpoint, we faced and dealt with the challenges one-by-one, ticked them off and moved to the next one. This in itself is not a simple process due to the ever-present likelihood of one tweak or update affecting another part of the programme, so the app was tested constantly during this phase.
Aesthetically, we continually reviewed the graphical elements of the app, and although CBS artworkers provided most of these assets themselves, we had to ensure that each graphic occupied the correct amount of screen space, and also had to arrange the graphics so that clutter on screen was minimised. For this reason, the articulation buttons that control movement of the arms were arranged on pop-out menus. A row of buttons on the left operated ‘left or up’ rotation, those on the right operated ‘right or down’ rotation. These menus could be opened and closed at any time to allow access to other functions.
The ‘CBS Products’ app is now available on the app store, and will be available soon on Google Play for Android. We are extremely proud of our achievement in creating a truly revolutionary AR sales tool. We have broken new ground and firmly believe this has established a lead for others to follow. In commissioning us for this project, CBS have shown great willingness and courage in leading the way. Hopefully we’ve rewarded them with an app of which they can be proud.