Top 4 design highlights from Facebook’s F8 conference

Selfie sticks in Facebook’s new VR social network, Spaces

In case you missed the fanfare, Facebook held its annual F8 conference keynote yesterday. There were Fast and the Furious 8 jokes! Breakfast sharks swimming around cereal! A sneaky copy-cat product launch by Snapchat!

Don’t be misled by the fact that it’s a developer event— this year’s keynote had a ton of significant news for product designers. At Figma, we were keeping an eye on the livestream and decided to round up the 4 design-specific highlights of F8.

We also chatted with Facebook Head of Design Luke Woods and Lead Product Designer Jonathan Arena to get the key takeaways. Facebook is going all in on augmented and virtual reality, two areas product designers are uniquely suited to build for thanks to their visual sensibilities and user experience skill set.

“It’s good for designers to pay attention to F8 so they can see where the industry is going and spot opportunities for design to lead,” Woods told Figma.

The F8 highlights

  1. “Camera Effects” platform. Facebook is allowing anyone to build different augmented reality experiences — sort of like Snapchat filters — for its camera. That will give Facebook users a broader selection of animation they can use to decorate photos and videos, play games, and share information. One particular sample effect Zuck presented shall live on in infamy after F8 — the ‘breakfast sharks’ circling an oblivious, innocent little bowl of cereal.
So-what: Who better than designers to create these visual experiences? If this open platform takes off and Facebook’s 2 billion users love the AR filters, then there’s going to be a lot of companies looking to make them. Let’s prepare for AR/VR designer hiring sprees. ​“There are lots of opportunities for design in the early days of AR including figuring out core principles, creating new tools, and learning what resonates with people,” Woods said.

2. Augmented reality interface design tools. Facebook is introducing two free interface design tools to encourage people to create AR experiences on its platform. The first, Frame Studio, targets novices and let’s anyone with a Facebook account create 2D filters to overlay images and video. The second, AR Studio, is a more robust application that makes it easy for designers or developers to create filters that involve movement, animation or interaction with the scene they’re placed in.

So-what: VR has long been this weird black box for design with a high barrier to entry — the need to buy an expensive headset and learn complicated new technologies like Unity. Facebook is making a bridge between those two worlds and with these AR design tools, designers can start playing around with designing for 3D experiences, and get them in front of users, without needing to stick a clunky headset on anyone.
Interface for Facebook’s new AR Studio design app

3. Facebook Spaces. Facebook is testing a beta version of a virtual reality social network called Facebook Spaces, which can only be accessed using Oculus Rift. This was the unintentionally comedic portion of F8 since the Spaces carnival scene looked like American Horror Story: Avatar Edition. But lucky for users, they can skip the circus in favor of outer space, camping, or other worlds, hanging with friends and family in virtual universes.

So-what: For all those wondering why Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion in 2014, Spaces is your answer. ​“As a designer, if you are interested in connecting the world, reducing communication barriers, or community building, these mediums might play a part in solving those problems in the future,” said Facebook designer Jonathan Arena.
Image from Facebook’s new VR world, Spaces

4. Bots. The last bit of news out of Facebook broke the augmented reality trend and focused on messaging. The company made it clear that it’s continuing to invest in its chatbot platform on Messenger, trying to make it easier for people to discover different brands.

So-what: The whole designing-for-bots trend seems to have faded, but for those still working on it, be heartened in knowing Facebook hasn’t abandoned you. Perhaps with increased promotion and improved discoverability of chatbots on Facebook, consumers will start using them more.

In short, F8 was a plethora of news for designers, despite the fact that the word design was barely mentioned (for some reason Facebook kept referencing ‘artists’ instead).

“It’s exciting to think about the next few years with these new technologies — the immediate implications and learning these mediums as a designer,” Arena said. “But it’s also cool to think about it through a systems lens: How do they all connect? What does this give us in 10, 15 years?”

In the meanwhile…off to see the Fast and the Furious 8.

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At Figma, we’re amazed by the cool things people are doing across the product design community and decided to start highlighting these stories on our blog. For those new to us, we’re the first product design tool that’s based in the browser, giving people the opportunity to build apps and websites together in real time. Come check us out (and we’re hiring!).