Viz-It!: Visualizing 3D Prints in Augmented Reality

The Problem

Target Users

Adolescent and undergraduate-level makers in high school and university makerspaces and 3D printing classrooms who struggle with developing the spatial intelligence required to visualize their prints, resulting in wasted time and materials.

User Needs

Existing computer-aided design technologies and physical design processes fail to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds. The goal of this project was to develop a tool that will help users confidently recreate on-screen designs into tangible 3D prints.

Translate 2D to 3D

Proposed Solution

Viz-It!: an interactive augmented reality (AR) application that projects 3D models onto the real world, allowing users to better visualize models before printing and to resize their designs with the help of reference points in their surrounding physical environment.

The Design Process

The Design Process

1. Brainstorming

First, we grabbed a stack of post-its and a whiteboard and generated an impossible number of ideas. We then narrowed the list to just two features that would be the focus of our product:

2. Competitor Analysis

Next, we looked at existing tools and products aimed at solving this problem, noting the strengths and weaknesses of each. The competitors we chose to analyze included:

3. Storyboard

Before working up initial designs, we created a storyboard to help us better understand how target users might interact with our product. Click through below:

Rose visits the Makerspace Rose has trouble visualizing her ideas Rose's print fails Makerspace employee suggests app Rose downloads Viz-It! app Viz-It! welcome screen Step 1: upload file Step 2: allow camera access augmented reality screen Step 3: pinch to resize resizing tooltips popup Step 4: check for errors and save save file to USB Rose inserts USB into 3d printer 3D model prints at makerspace Viz-It! helped Rose visualize her design

4. Paper Prototypes

Then, we created paper wireframes to showcase our app’s main features and interactions. These would be revised several times during the usability testing process. We also took to the makerspace to design “iPads” cut from vinyl and acrylic to give our users a more realistic feel when interacting with the prototypes.

Paper Prototype 1
Paper Prototype 2
Paper Prototype 3

5. Digital Prototype

Finally, we built an interactive prototype with Adobe XD to polish the digital interface.

User Testing

Setting

Two sets of usability tests were conducted in a classroom at UNC’s School of Education.

Participants

Twelve students and faculty from an Emerging Technologies class participated in the testing (6 per iteration). All participants had taken basic 3D printing and modelling training as part of the course.

Methods

The testing team used a combination of methodologies:

Viz-It! Usability Testing 1
Viz-It! Usability Testing 2
Viz-It! Usability Testing 3

Revisions

Based on user testing, several alterations were made to the original prototypes, including:

  1. A live measurement display during model resizing
  2. Tooltip popups to highlight the app’s many capabilities
  3. An expanded help section and FAQ page

The Outcome

Lessons Learned

Prototyping augmented reality is hard! Throughout the design process, we struggled to find a solution to effectively prototype the AR environment. Neither paper nor digital prototypes could accurately re-create the functionality, so my team chose to develop both.

Findings

The Bad: Users struggled to understand the “augmented reality” functions of the paper prototypes, resulting in a lack of interaction with the app’s full capabilities.

The Good: The product succeeded in improving users’ confidence in the 3D printing process.

Graph: Improvement in Confidence Ratings from Pre- to Post-Test

Future Directions

Though ideal, building prototypes in an AR engine would require time and expertise that my team was not afforded for the project. What we needed was an easy-to-use augmented reality prototyping tool. If you know of such a tool, or would like to team up and create one, drop me a line!

VizIt! wins People's Choice Award

Special thanks to my teammates, Kelsey Hammer and Brittany Soder, for their invaluable work on this project.