E Studio Project 2 w/ Emily Liu

Hannah Lesser
14 min readNov 22, 2021


Our personas!

When creating our personas, we thought a lot about the different types of people that might be visiting campus. This included prospective students, their parents, and prospective faculty. While this in no way covers every demographic that visits the school, we felt that it was an appropriate generalization of who typically does.

11.18.2021 — Initial Ideas

Through Emily and I’s discussion, we took issue with the fact that a lot of the campus tours we went on when we were applying for college focused too heavily on the history of the school. its buildings, and major accomplishments that occured in specific locations. While these are important aspects to take into consideration when choosing a school, it’s also important to be able to really see yourself living there. In the mundane, day-to-day interactions you have with others. We want to create a campus tour that feels authentic. I think we want it to leave prospective students feeling like there’s a sense of community within the school and that it’s a community they could truly be a part of and find their niche in. We want it to be less about the school itself and more focused on the students in it.

11.19.2021- First Idea

We want to focus on the idea of memories and community. Students can’t visit campus all year round — but with AR we can replicate the feeling of being on campus at different times of year, like during Homecoming or Carnival weekend. These are events that create a real sense of belonging on campus. There is also community in the mundane days — like a

11.22.21 — Self Reflections

As the prevalence of digital media in our physical environments increases daily, what is the role and/or responsibility of designers in shaping our environments?


I believe designers have a responsibility to make decisions for the benefit of the people and not for their own benefit or that of other companies or corporations. I think something I worry about as we move into integrating more digital media into physical environments is the intrusion of advertisements into this physical world.

Like the increasing prevalence of floating billboards intruding on a cityscape or beach which would otherwise be relatively free of advertising. Ads are increasingly becoming more invasive, more personalized, and more inescapable as AI is programmed to be more advanced. One of my main concerns when it comes to AR is that designers will get caught up in the money and AR will just become another medium through which to we become victims to hyper-consumerism.

I also think designers have a responsibility to make the AR environments they are creating feel warm, welcoming, and most of all, accessible. A lot of the videos in class we watched focused on ARs potential to increase productivity. But I think AR can be used for so may other things, like education, discovery, and pure joy. I think I’m turned off to a lot of what’s currently being pursued in the AR industry because it just feels cold and removed to me.


I think it is inevitable under capitalism that designers will constantly be creating products to enhance some sort of productivity. The idea of creating tools to make tasks more efficient for the sake of easing life recycles back into making it so that people can produce more.

On one hand, I dislike digital enhancements for the sake of mobilizing productivity and scalability of labor. Microsoft’s videos of the future advertised an agenda of making “undesirable” blue-collar work easier (which is a whole other tangent of problems lol), but the world they are advocating for isn’t actually one where people work less. They spend just as much of their life working, but just are able to do more in that time, benefiting nobody (as in, not themselves) but the leadership they work for.

On the other hand, I’m also unconvinced about digital enhancements just for recreation in the physical world. I don’t know if I believe touching any amount of fake grass could replace touching real grass. Natural beauty is absolutely everywhere, and can only be found when it is actually sought. I believe humans would really benefit from being more in touch with their own physiology — the vertigo of staring into a blue sky, or eyes adjusting to nighttime.

I think it is important for designers to recognize the specific places where digital enhancements would truly enhance the established purpose and goals of the place. Good design has always been about “less is more” and hybridizing experiences often easily becomes additive rather than supplementary.

11.23.2021 — Design Progress

Mihika liked the idea of memories but was concerned with the flatness of using the window idea. She thought it wouldn’t truly immerse you in an environment, it acts more like a screen.

Peter and Mihika both thought we needed to add a more concrete aspect to our emotional one to balance it out and appeal to more logical people. For example, to go along with our coffee idea, we might show coffee shops around campus that prospective students and their families could visit.

The idea is that as people walk around campus, there would be “hotspots” where visitors could see memories from current students. The tour would eventually lead visitors to Margaret Morrison, where they could get a more macroscopic view of what a day at CMU feels like. There would a Mad Libs-type interaction where visitors would say “I wonder what a (time of year) at CMU (verb). This speech recognition would then trigger an AR environment relfecting what they just said.

11.29.2021 — Design Progress

We started moodboarding and storyboarding and outlining the format of our video.


cool buttons

Plan for Video

We were worried that the verb part of the Mad Libs interaction wouldn’t work how we wanted it to, changed to

I wonder what (time of year) at CMU feels like.

The word “feels” encompasses all the senses of an experience, while also not revealing the limitations of the technology. If the visitor were to ask “I wonder what a busy morning at CMU smells like” there would be this expectation of smells of coffee appearing, which the Hololens may not be capable of. Even if the technology would be capable of evoking all senses, we feel like it isn’t even necessary for the experience. So for now, we are thinking of only using sight and sound.

I think this brings up a secondary conversation about how immersive AR should truly be; is there a line to be crossed about how “real” we ever want it to feel? Would a human ever really want to truly lose awareness of what is real and what is augmented?

Lo-fi Prototype Images

“Mad Libs” interface — would use speech recognition and type would appear
Visitors would be able to “snapshot” and send to friends/family, or save for themselves
After showing memory surrounding where their favorite spot to drink coffee on campus is, the glasses might show something like this — coffee shops near campus etc.
what the memory spots might look like

Right now I kind of want the memory spots to look a little more three dimensional instead of just circles on the ground. I don’t know why but last night I thought about the will o the wisps from Brave and I think it would be cool to take inspiration from this for the memory spots. I also think there should be a clear path to lead people to the next spot.


Emily and I spent a lot of time working through how to portray the current/past students form which we are drawing memory. I think we were concerned about the idea of hologram seeming somewhat corny. Peter and Mihika liked the idea of a holographic student. They liked the treatment of the figures in the visualization because this way they feel like they are there with you, but it is still obvious that the students are from another period in time.

They took issue with the “coffee shops near campus” screen though. I agree that this was weaker than the hologram renderings. They suggested instead of just having a screen that looks very Yelp-like, we might try adding landmarks physically showing where the coffee shops within the envornment, or maybe showing where coffee shops are on a map of campus. This way, it’s more integrated into the environment.

Mihika liked the idea of having the memory hotspots be kind of like will o the wisps. The idea of memory is inherently wispy and transient, so it would be appropriate to reflect this in the way we portray memory in our tour.


Emily and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to implement a 3-dimensional orb/smoke-type AR figure. It’s pretty difficult to find something on websites like Turbosquid and Adobe Stock that will also translate to Adobe Aero. Considering neither Emily nor I know anything about rendering 3D assets, it proved quote difficult.

We did find a marble asset within Reality Composer that was relatively close to what we wanted to convey. I think we will use This for the purposes of our video. The appeal of using something with transparency or movement in the randomness of a wisp of fog or smoke would be that it looked more integrated in space. We can have the marble spin in the location, but it will still always display as some sort of sphere and therefore look more stagnant.

The material of the object can be pretty impactful towards how it feels in the environment. Having a metal-looking sphere floating feels heavy and almost out-of-place. Something glass could be better, but still look dense. We started looking into bubbles because they feel like they should actually be floating.

We also struggled a lot with how to show the concrete aspect of where coffee shops are located on campus. We were worried about geotags within the environment being too far from where the people on the tour currently are. We didn’t want to add arrows on the ground because we don’t want them to feel like they need to make a detour to go to the coffee shop in that moment. We thought adding a map would be just as two dimensional as the screen idea we had before. I think the map might be our best bet right now though. I found a 3D map of CMU online, but there’s no way for us to download it or anything.

After talking with Peter and Mihika, we reaffirmed our idea that having another smaller map of the world already in front of them then show up in front of the visitor was a flattening experience. The reason it felt out of place supplementing the memory interaction was because it was switching point of views. The memory orb and dialogue read aloud was immersive and bringing the person deeper into the world they were already in; having a map show up would bring the person outside of their present — looking down at something informative vs. looking around to discover and enhance.

Even aside from the tangible design of a map or list of “more options”, the idea of offering more pulled the visitor out of the experience and would create a mental detour. In addition, it was important to remember that the augmented reality of the tour was supplementing the existing realities; there are already plenty of maps and lists of the objective functionality of locations on campus. Buildings and rooms are already labeled with their functions; this is all information that is already incredibly accessible. Therefore, we decided to narrow down our concept back to just being about these memories in spaces. The exploration of these memories are a way of engaging and bringing the visitor around campus, where they can then learn the other information about the school through existing signage and publications.


We created our assets using Reality Composer.


We filmed today

The Project

Affordances of AR: the narrow sweet spot

Since the beginning of the project we discussed what we didn’t believe about AR. What were the elements of AR that we were unconvinced would “last” as more products started using AR in their design?

While designing AR experiences, it’s important to question what “reality” even looks like or means. Does the technology just augment reality, or can it be expected that the AR elements become the new reality? We had decided that one element of AR we wanted to design against was the incorporation of “physical” elements in space that resemble tactile interactions.

I think the reason individuals bought into incorporating smartphones into their lives, and that changing society at large, is that it still keeps people in the same “reality”. When people look up from their phones, they still see the same world. I feel like with

One big point was in discussion about how users of AR look to those outside of their experience, how they interact both within the world in their own glasses and the world outside.

Designing for the Future

  • acknowledging the possibilities of technology

Out assumptions about the technology:

  • The glasses worn are going to be seamlessly integrated into the routine of people’s lives. They will be carried around the same way our keys and cellphones are.
  • We believe this seamless integration is only possible under our speculations for how AR itself will be designed in the future
  • also acknowledging the possibilities for how people will grow and change in the future. What will the “new normal” be? As people change technology, how will people also allow technology to change them? Personal devices have completely changed almost all routine experiences, such as learning, fitness, and dining, and only in the matter of a decade.

Glasses and scale of vision

Next Steps:

12.12.2021 — Self-Reflection


How were the skills you developed in the first project similar and/or different from the second project?

Throughout both projects, I was constantly thinking about how visitors would move through a space. For the first project, it was within the constraints of the Miller ICA, but for the second, we were able to think about all of campus. For this project, the order and path that visitors made was significantly less important since Emily and I structured our tour in a way that was horizontal and could theoretically be entered at any point.

A big difference between the last project and this one was the concept of AR. While the first project did have a digital interactive element, this project’s interaction was completely digital and a lot less tangible. It was fun to be able to use our imaginations a bit more for this one. Since we were designing for 10 years in the future, everything was theoretical.

I think I developed more hard skills during the first project through programs like TinkerCAD, SketchUp, and furthering my Photoshop skills. That being said, I began to familiarize myself with Adobe Aero and Reality Composer during this project. I also furthered my skills in AfterEffects.

What is your understanding of the role of an Environments designer?

My understanding of environments designers and what they are capable of has expanded broadly. I now understand environments designers as being

I think one of the biggest differences with E versus C and P is the need for explanation/presentation with E projects. Most communications or products work can stand on its own, or should be able to for C lol. But since a lot of E is not actually creating the experience but creating the concept/idea and proposing it to others, there’s another level of explanation that must occur. Even with concept videos that should theoretically be able to stand on their own, this only illustrates part of the story. So environments designers are responsible for designing not only the experience itself, but also how to explain it to others.


How were the skills you developed in the first project similar and/or different from the second project?

Similar to Hannah’s thoughts, the similar skills developed were in relation to understanding and sensitivity of physical space. I remember that despite all of our storyboarding and pre-planning, we really had to get outside into the actual environment and photograph stills and walk through the space to iterate our designs. For example, we had thought that there would be many “hotspot” bubbles that would be up at all times, but realized that with the scale of campus, some areas we were planning on putting hotspots in were much further away to the human eye than it looked in my memory, so the visual would be very tiny.

Another similar skill was designing for the task of making a memorable experience. So with the first project, it was about designing the experience to leave an impact on the visitor so they take a call to action after leaving the exhibit. With this second one, a main goal was also to make the visit memorable which we did through elements that could be personalized and being able to send messages to others (metadiscursion!!)

I think one additional skill I built working on this second project was thinking about environments design to encompass more than just designing for the physical space and senses, but also designing for intangible places like time, memories, the subconscious. A lot of our interactions were about transcending barriers of the present time; our first interaction evoked memories, our second interaction challenged people’s imagination, and our third interaction (assistive tech) played to please the subconscious mind. That was really fun to think about.

What is your understanding of the role of an Environments designer?

Designing for contexts in addition to physical spaces. I environments design is often diminished to simply being about designing to supplement the physical space. I have come to realize this is a narrow misconception, that environments design is truly about designing for contexts as places. Context can be like a time of day, or a specific state of mind/mood.

Designing with/for the future in mind. I think this is the most exciting part of my interpretation of environments design. Good design is design that doesn’t require the user to change themselves to use the product, but environments design accounts for how design itself changes humans and the future. Experiences have power to change habits, routines, mindsets, influences, and therefore is always altering the future. That’s so cool!



Hannah Lesser

design, social and political history at carnegie mellon university