Almost Genius: Augmented Reality as a Design-Gimmick for Urban Coolhunters

The world probably doesn’t need Adidas shoes that have a “virtual city” attached. Or 3-D magazine articles. Or a T-shirt you can play rock/paper/scissors with.


“Augmented Reality” is an amorphous word. On the one hand, you’ve got AR smartphone apps that lay data over the real-world–e.g., restaurant ratings or wayfinding icons. Those can be pretty useful. On the other hand, you’ve got codes that you place in front of your Webcam, to reveal a 3-D animation. These have been bullshitty indeed–gimmicks in 3-D. You know who loves gimmicks? Hipsters and ad people. And I’m pretty sure that one day we’ll look back on 2010, and all the AR nonsense floating around, and laugh at it–like trucker hats or faux-hawks or Hypercolor.


Case in point, Adidas Originals, who are now trying to hype a new line of sneakers that come with an AR code printed on the tongue. In front of your Webcam, the sneakers will reveal a city. To which I’d respond: So what? The colors are cool, but I bet almost no one ends up using the AR aspect, which seems somehow just a tad desperate, in its attempt to seem techy and cool:

Meanwhile, this t-shirt is sort of a fun gimmick. It allows you to play rock/paper/scissors by yourself, with a virtual opponent with no sense of timing. I’ll bet that of the 22,735 people who’ve watched the Youtube video, precisely two go on to buy the t-shirt:

And check out this AR cover of Wallpaper*, from the January issue. Again who cares if you can see the cover in 3-D? Do you care enough to fuss with your computer? And doesn’t the fact of 3-D animation seem kinda…so what?


If this is the future, I like the past better.

Now, I’ll grant that all of these are marketing gimmicks. They’re probably not meant to be anything more. But let’s just step back and call a spade a spade–and recognize that whatever “augmented reality” becomes, these projects probably won’t have much to do with it.

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About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.