How Adobe Is Trying to Bring Augmented Reality Experiences Mainstream

Project Aero is in private beta

Adobe's Project Aero will allow designers to create augmented reality experiences. Adobe
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Adobe wants to make augmented reality available to the masses.

At its annual MAX event this week in Los Angeles, the company previewed a new tool that it hopes will help democratize the creation of AR across devices, enabling artists and designers to create their own experiences. The tool, called Project Aero, was initially revealed as a part of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June. It’s now open for private beta and includes both AR creation and content distribution features.

While AR has been a place of experimentation for a while, the technology has largely been limited to tech companies, brands and agencies creating experiencing on smartphones, tablets and even some headsets. However, with Project Aero, Adobe is trying to take its success with more familiar design tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator and use similar concepts to deliver AR at scale. Sensei, the company’s AI platform, is also integrated for identifying and creating lighting, emotion and spatial awareness.

According to Stefano Corazza, Adobe’s head of augmented reality, creating AR experiences is about more than creating a shoe or anything else in AR; it’s about “reinventing the retail experience.” He said the company is starting by getting larger brands on board with hopes that adoption might trickle down to smaller businesses and individuals.

“That’s kind of the flow for democratization,” Corazza said. “Someone breaks the ice, and then the goodness spreads to everybody. So we would like to get the goodness spreading as fast as we can.”

For starters, Adobe is partnering with companies including Apple and Pixar, while also getting brands like Adidas on board to help create compelling examples of how AR might be used in real situations.

Adobe also showed off how its platform can create AR experiences from two-dimensional art. For example, it took an illustration and broke its layers apart to create a sort of tunnel so that users can walk through the art by using their phones. There are also tools such as proximity triggers that let objects become animated when a user gets close enough. (Adidas is using it to let a shoe appear to spin in the air and break apart with labels for each material.)

According to Simone Cesano, senior director of design tech at Adidas, the brand is looking at both letting its designers’ creativity come through in a different way while also letting customers use technology in stores to interact with products and even design their own. For starters, it’s testing adding AR to some retail locations for both designing shoes in AR and also explaining the materials that go into them.

“As you move into AR, the channels through digital and physical retail start to meld together,” he said.

Adobe held its annual MAX event this week in Los Angeles.
Facebook: Adobe MAX

Interactivity is going to be what helps drive the new medium forward, according to Scott Belsky, Adobe’s chief product officer and the author of several books about creativity and innovation.

“When I think about AR, anything that isn’t animated is going to feel boring,” he said. “We don’t expect chairs to move and buzz and blink and flash, but we’re going to expect everything to be interactive.”

While AR might seem new both for individuals and brands, many working in the space are trying to get ahead of broader adoption that’s expected when AR becomes available within the mobile web rather than in apps. That technology, referred to as WebXR, is something that’s being created by both Google and Mozilla to enable AR capabilities within their browser.

Adobe isn’t the only company betting on AR. Earlier this week, Jaunt, a virtual reality production company based in San Francisco, announced plans to lay off a large number of its staff while shifting its focus to AR.

“We believe these changes will allow us to concentrate on driving innovation and value in products that will continue to be at the forefront of the immersive industry and drive the highest long-term company value,” Jaunt wrote in a blog post about the changes.

Artists interested in new mediums are also experimenting with AR. Estella Tse—who’s become known for her VR paintings with a program called Tilt Brush—said she’s also thinking about how to create story narratives within AR that makes the experience more interactive. As a Chinese-American, Tse said she’s been thinking about how to express her dual identity in dual realities—both AR and real life—and decided to create a real clay sculpture that complemented an AR component. The result was a bust of her head as a gallery piece that then went along with a drawing of her riding a dragon, which she created in virtual reality and then transferred into AR.

For her project, Tse also split text between AR and real life, forcing the viewer to use both to read the quote since half existed in each world: “You spend so much time pretending to be somebody else that you completely forget what it’s like to be yourself.”

“I wanted to do something that contrasted what exists in AR and what existed in real life,” she said. “And I think that was a really good use case to blend those realities. The piece couldn’t exist just in AR, and it couldn’t exist in just a physical space either.”

Because creating in AR requires using software and traditional artists aren’t familiar with those such as Unity, Tse said many of her fellow artists are nervous to try it. To solve this, she’s working on making it easier for other artists who don’t code to still create within AR by streamlining what developers are creating and what artists want to use the technology for.

According to Jamie Myrold, Adobe’s vp of design, the partnerships between designers and more technical people is going to be more critical than in the past. She said designers need to start thinking more spatially now.

“When we’re looking at the idea of spatial design, I think some of the things that we see are still somewhat novel,” she said. “And I don’t think we’ve actually cracked the nut on where this is going to take us.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.