Behind the Scenes of the World’s Best XR Designers

Interview with Cortney Harding from Friends With Holograms

At Halo Labs we are on a mission to reveal the ultimate workflow for creating XR digital products. We believe that this mission can only be achieved by working together with the community, sharing knowledge and exchanging thoughts.

Behind the Scenes of the World’s Best XR Designers is a series of interviews with the best and brightest talents from top companies in the immersive space, sharing with the community about their failures, best practices and lessons learnt on their way to build outstanding XR products.

This time we have a very special guest, who brings a broad perspective of the VR/AR industry. Cortney Harding is the Head of VR/AR Creative and Strategy at Friends With Holograms. So, beside the vast experience she has on the creative side of things, she sees the market from a bird’s eye view and help companies to think strategically on VR/AR. Cortney is a frequent speaker on VR/AR at top conferences like SXSW, Future of Storytelling, Advertising Week, Mobile Innovation Summit and more. She is also a professor at the Clive Davis School of Music at NYU and wrote two books about music and technology.

Please share about Friends With Holograms

Friends With Holograms is a VR/AR agency. We work with brands and advertisers and media companies to help them make great VR and AR content. We’re really focused on education and making sure our clients approach VR and AR from an informed perspective. We’ve seen a lot of bad content out there and want to make sure that our partners are making great work. We also provide development and distribution services.

Can you tell us about your background and how did you end up working in the AR/VR space?

I started out as a music journalist, first as the music editor at the Portland Tribune and then a staff writer and music editor at Billboard. I got really interested in the music tech space when I was at Billboard and went to work on biz dev and strategy at several music tech startups. I saw a VR piece called “I Wanna Destroy” in 2015 and it changed my life. In 2016 I started working at a VR production company called Moth+Flame, doing biz dev and strategy there before branching off on my own.

Tell us about your team

We’re small but mighty and have an amazing network of directors and developers and producers. One of the best things about us is that we can bring best in class talent to every project at a competitive rate because we have lower overhead than some of the bigger agencies.

How do you suggest companies to think about VR/AR on a macro level?

VR and AR should be a holistic element of every campaign. You start with the story and the message and then figure out the print and digital and social from there — immersive should be just another part of that puzzle. And yes, you need budget for this!

Every company should be using VR or AR — the real trick is finding the right use case. To ask whether or not a company should use VR/AR is like asking if they should be using computers or phones — the technology is not what should drive the decision, the use case should. Companies need to start holistically and figure out what they are trying to communicate.

How would you recommend companies to actually start working?

Prototyping an experience is a great way to get started. Once you find a good use case, creating a few small, simple experiences can go a long way towards proving out the need for bigger investment. Also, prototyping can typically be done for a small fee. I would absolutely recommend starting with some smaller projects before diving in.

Can you please walk us through your workflow?

Yeah, believe it or not, there is a method to our madness. We connect with clients in lots of different ways, including word of mouth recommendations, cold pitches, and our newsletter and conference speaking. We always do a capabilities meeting and then a half, full, or multi-day strategy session, where we work with teams to brainstorm VR/AR ideas. At these meetings, we go deep with each team to figure out how VR/AR can best work in their current campaigns and how they can present it in future work.

From there, we help them develop the ideas and get them sold in and funded. This usually involves close collaboration on pitches and even going to the client or higher-up to help explain the ideas and ROI. We make sure to focus on the bottom line — what can you do to get the biggest return.

After all the creative and strategy is set, we assemble our dev team and build prototypes for approval before moving on the building the final product. We are super agile and constantly testing and refining and always build in a ton of time for user testing. I’ve seen what happens when there’s not enough time for testing and it’s never good. I always pad out our timelines in order to make sure we can wrap with lots of time to spare.

What is the biggest challenge you face around your workflow and how do you solve it?

Luckily we work with amazing producers who can make the trains run on time. The hardest thing is getting clients to understand the difference between the shoot times and budget for VR and flat content, but we make sure to be upfront about that from day one.

What are the UI/UX rules / best practices you always keep?

Everything needs to be simple. I HATE experiences where someone has to stand over your shoulder and tell you “now click this, now teleport here, now pick this up…” You won’t be with your customers most of the time and need to make sure everything they do is easy and intuitive. Also, no jerky movements, no lag or blurring, and nothing that could cause motion sickness.

Considering your background in the music industry, what things surprised you the most about working in the AR/VR?

There are a lot of parallels between the music and VR/AR worlds, mostly because both are filled with creative people who want to break the rules a little. I think that’s the main reason I like working in VR/AR so much.

What were the biggest mistakes you made when creating AR/VR at first?

Oh my God, so many. I’m always refining and updating my thinking about what VR and AR can do in terms of storytelling and how the content will be consumed. I’m not a director but I did some shooting with a 360 camera and the first stuff I did was so awful. It opened my eyes and taught me a lot about perspective.

What advice would you give to a team starting to work at the AR/VR space?

Start making stuff. I’ve met a lot of people in the space who like the tech but haven’t built anything, and I’m always suspicious of people who haven’t worked on projects. See a project all the way through and work with all members of the team. Have a portfolio, not just an idea.

What is the most exciting project you are working on these days?

I’ve been working on a lot of WebAR projects and am so excited for WebAR to launch to the public this year. I think it’s going to be a gamechanger and bring AR to the masses in a new way.

What are the use cases in VR and AR that already proved positive ROI and what the use cases we will see in 1–3 years from now?

Training and education. There are tons of stats out there about how learning in VR is the next best thing to actually doing something in real life in terms of retention of information, and if you’re teaching someone to do something dangerous, then having them do it IRL is often too risky. In the next few years, AR will be everywhere and VR will still be growing, especially in enterprise space.

Anything else you would like to share?

If you’re a brand or agency and want to make amazing immersive content, please feel free to reach out!

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