Design patterns for Immersive Tech

Augmented Reality patterns

2D layer over AR

User goal

Provide the user with the most important functions in a predictable and persistent place


When we think of AR we think of augmented information overplayed contextually onto objects in the real world. We think of 3D objects that can be placed in the real world, on a real surface and with which we can then interact with. This is certainly the way things are heading with mixed reality and some of this is already the focus on modern mobile based AR. There are however, very often, options that need to be always visible to the user, regardless of which direction they are looking. These are the persistent commands that could be needed at an moment such as access to the main menu, main settings or other core navigation. These can be presented as 2D icons or options that are permanently glued to a specific position on the screen, and they are nearly always present for mobile based AR apps.

  • The user sees the key icons at the top, bottom or side of the screen
  • They are usually transparent or semi transparent overlays
  • They are not part of the ‘reality’ being viewed through the glasses or mobile camera
  • They follow the view around, wherever it goes
  • They are essentially like any other 2D UI elements that we are used to seeing on the phone


  • Clearly recognised as interactive buttons or icons
  • Always visible, no matter where the user points the device. We know from research that users often lose their orientation. They place objects in the 3D space and then cannot find them or see them. It’s inefficient and frustrating to have to look for them when you need them.
  • We also know from VR apps that placing a key function (such as ‘exit’) somewhere in the 360 field (often away from where the main focus is so that the user does not accidentally select it) results in many users failing to even see it and realise it’s there, let alone find it when needed, so a persistent, always available set of controls is an important pattern.


  • Only really used on mobile AR. We don’t see this utilised in VR.
  • The icons are always present so take up screen real estate. Some may argue they can get in the way and break immersion.

Hidden 2D menus

A variation on the theme is to have hidden 2D menu that can be expanded at any moment to show a larger select of 2D menu options. In this case the icon to open the menu needs to be persistently visible. The menu itself is only visible when needed and hidden at all other times.


Lego AR app

BBC Civilisations AR app

Ikea Place AR app

Android AR Core demo app

Android AR Core demo app: showing how the hidden menu panel works