Design patterns for Immersive Tech

Augmented Reality patterns

Flat surface scanner (mobile AR)

This guide explains how to help user define a playable area for an AR application.

Why surface scanning

For AR to work, applications need to:

  1. understand the model of the space around users so that they can create a map of the space and display contextual content (spatial mapping)
  2. detect specific physical surfaces that are are good for AR content to be placed on (surface mapping)

This is necessary because of the limitations of current devices:

  • they are not capable of reading the entire space in one go
  • they can analyse only what’s visible to their sensors (e.g. camera)
  • environmental conditions, such as artificial lightning can compromise detection
  • reflective surfaces can be harder to detect

Because of these limitations, devices need to be moved around the space by the user, until:

  • the whole space has been mapped
  • a suitable surface has been found</li


When to ask to scan

Surface scanning should be done at the beginning of the experience so that content can be displayed without further interruptions.

Real-time guidance

Users might be not familiar with this interaction so it helps providing guidance on:

  • how they need to move the device
  • what a suitable surface might be (e.g. non shiny, flat)
  • what are the best conditions (e.g. natural light)

Real-time feedback helps users understand what’s happening and which surfaces are being detected.


A number of examples from various iOS AR apps

Ikea Place AR scanning

When a surface can’t be found

Surface detection is far from being perfect and users might not be able to find a suitable area for the experience.

In this case, consider:

  • offering additional guidance (e.g. change room)
  • providing a 3D alternative that does not require AR
  • using fiducial markers as a fallback