You are in front of the Duomo of Florence, in Italy.

My AR Test Failed… So I Made Posters.

And curiously enough, I owe that to cognitive sciences.

Last year, I was in the magnificent Italian city of Florence. I definitely loved it, but I had this feeling of missing so much of what was to be discovered…

At first, I was frustrated — no existing product already offered a meaningful visit experience, at least not in any of the major monument I was visiting…

…but as soon as I came to this realization, I became inspired to embark on what became a twelve-month long journey to the holy grail — the visit experience that major monuments deserve.

1. The Faked Augmented Reality App.

In a first test, visitors could discover the major monuments of the French city of Belfort from one Facebook page.

Phone >> Facebook >> page >> albums >> photos >> tags and comments

Wide posters in the theater and in the cathedral let them know about the Facebook-aided visit.

⊕ The app was already on visitors’ phones.

⊕ Those who tried it liked it.

⊕ They could share it easily.

It could have been a success… But nobody used it spontaneously on site.

Common guides are in the form of leaflets. But I really couldn’t admit that a leaflet could be a better media than an AR app! Eventually, I created my first leaflets to guide visitors up to Facebook:

2. Leaflet Hacking.

This hasn’t turned into any better result on the app. I ended up abandoning the app to focus only on the leaflet experience.

User research and neurosciences took me towards more pictures and more stories — hence the name of my side project, “StoryTouring”:

Once again, those who tried it liked it… But very few visitors picked up the leaflet. The first-time visitors needed a really compelling cover page.

The cover

Here is an understanding of the visitor journey:

1 — When visitors enter the cathedral, they cannot but see it from afar.

2 — At that point, their eyes are attracted by the brightness of the “BIENVENUE”.

3 — The unique imperative “visit the cathedral” catches their attention.

4 — The cover picture speaks for itself since it represents and talks about what they have right in front of them.

5 — They begin to read the cover page.

6 — They open the leaflet and continue reading.

With the pre-existing leaflets, they were about 1 out of 30 (3%) visitors to open the leaflet, now they are about 1 out of 10 (10%).

Still, most visitors who open the leaflet don’t take it. I finally understood that the inside layout was too different from the cover, and I was losing the readers when they needed to readapt.

What if they had the leaflet already open next to the front page?

The day I tried this, I saw a visitor halt, stand in front of the pile of leaflets with his hands in his pockets, and read all the content from a meter. Since it was written rather small, I thought I would show mercy on his eyes: I reprinted it… 4 times larger:

3. Wide and Colorful.

V3 at Saint Christophe cathedral in Belfort

Around 15% of the visitors were interested in the poster. But this new product required a new brief:

⊕ Make it more attractive (there is no cover page anymore).

⊕ Better guide the reading.

⊕ Make it lighter, since nobody reads everything.

So here is a poster that converts a fifth (20%) of the visitors into readers:

The neat poster

V3 at Saint Sauveur church in Caen

Once again I did many trials, mostly at home so I could iterate fast and get a lot of feedbacks from relatives.

On site, 1 out of 5 visitors read it. But something surprised me: almost all visitors took only between 16 to 18 seconds to read it. Why?

I understood that on site visitors are not interested in the general information (the facade dates from the 14th century, and is due to the architect Lambda…). Off site, general info seems to be the most interesting, but on site it is rather boring and unnatural to immerse yourself in something you don’t have in front of you right now. And precisely, the content about what you see right in front of you feels really interesting!

That’s how I discovered what can be called the designed-at-home bias: when you design a product, you tend to optimize it around some intuitive criteria (here, something neat, guided and interesting) that are not necessarily the user’s concern at the time he or she uses the product (here, something extensively local).

The user centered poster

So I optimized the next poster around this user research discovery: the most engaging is what you have in front of you:

V3 at Saint Etienne abbatial church in Caen

Now 30% of the visitors on site take between 30 seconds and 1.30 minutes to read it.

The “Meteorite Effect”

And with this poster, I began to observe a striking phenomenon — that I called the “Meteorite Effect”: your path tends to curve when you approach the poster, exactly like the path of a meteorite approaching a planet :)

The “Meteorite Effect”.

At this point, you may ask two questions:

#1 Why is there a map on the poster?

⊕ It catches your eye.
⊕ It helps you find where the objects are situated.

But from a cognitive sciences perspective, a map is not an anodyne feature. It is a representation tool that usually helps sorting out abstract tasks. Maps help users find your way and understand places. However a more intuitive solution would be welcome here.

#2 Why are there lots of different pictures?

Some are redundant, and they actually form an entity.

These two new design requirements directly led me to this final layout:

4. Just a panorama.

V4 in Saint Antoine church in Compiègne

With this poster, 40% of the visitors take from 1 to 3 mins to read it . That is roughly 100 times better than the first leaflets. And it finally proves that visitors were just missing a guide.

Now here is a new understanding of the visitor journey:

0 — Visitors enter the church. They are more or less prepared and they know more or less where they are. At this point, I didn’t find it helpful to segment the visitors.

1 — They take a look at the place. Then they quickly see the poster because it is placed in a noticeable area, and it is bright thanks to the white outline.

2 — They step forward and watch around them in the church.

3 — They watch the poster and they recognize that it represents what they have in front of them.

4 — They notice colored shapes. The colored shapes are icebreakers. They tell them that there is something going on here.

5 — They lift up their eyes and read “Discover (St. Antoine Church)”. Visitors don’t usually read further than “Discover”. The imperative just confirms that they are in the right place. They lower their eyes and they begin to read.

6 — They start reading a section. Again, the sharp contrast and the rounded corners bring the content out.

7 — They reach the end of their first section. The transparency gradient enables a smooth transition from the text to the rest of the poster. They follow the arrow till the surrounded item. When they raise up their head, they spontaneously connect the dots between the content and the architecture — they don’t need a map anymore.

Transition from a section to the rest.

8 — Normally, they enjoyed what they read. They come back to the poster, they stop on a tag that catches their attention, they follow the arrow and they read a second section.

And here are the last details that help visitors keep on reading.

9 — All the arrows converge at one point, that is the vanishing point of the panorama. This unique center of gravity in the poster helps them focus more easily.

10 — Glances follow the lines. Square corners let glances go back and forth horizontally, from one line to another.

Glances follow the lines.

With rounded corners, visitors’ glances follow the curves and don’t head away from the poster.

11 — The numbering guides them from an item to the other, until the last one.

Now, you know all the graphical explanations. Yet at the end of the day, you could bring everything back to one deep difference between a panorama and the previous posters:

The deeper understanding of the user experience

When visitors are in a monument, they don’t want to get into bland visual reproductions, or even worse, to get into an interactive screen. They want to be entirely in the monument.

Today cognitive scientists — like my UTC prof. Lenay — claim that “you are where you perceive”.

What makes this poster readable for so “long” (2 minutes in average) while visitors still want to be entirely in the monument, what makes this guide different, is nothing but its “cognitive-friendliness”. The key is that a visitor can visually flow in the monument or in the poster in a perfectly transparent manner. This brings the content to them seamlessly. They forget the media. They are always immersed at 100% in the place… Even when they are in the guide.

It’s also why it’s important to optimize the colors and the position of the poster so as to see the exact same thing in the poster as in reality. And it finally explains why it is so tricky for visit apps to reach product/market fit: because it’s difficult to reach the cognitive product/market fit.

And I believe that we underestimate the number of cases where products need more than user research.

Thank you for reading, 
Happy designing :)

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