James Royal-Lawson


Testing IKEA’s augmented reality catalogue

The new 2013 IKEA catalogue arrived. Normally my interest in it is limited to taking it from the postbox and putting it into a place where my wife will find it.

This year my interest was unusually high – I knew that IKEA had included augmented reality features.

In this film clip, you can see the IKEA catalogue equivalent of a “live unboxing”: Taking the catalogue, following the instructions, and trying to get the augmented reality features to work using my Android Tablet.

Link to the video on YouTube.

How did it go?

To summarise the “unboxing”. It was a little awkward finding the app using the Swedish name, but it installed ok and ran without problem.

Getting my tablet to activate the pages was a little more awkward. I was forced to put the catalogue on my chair in order to get far enough back.

What will I get?

One thing I felt was missing was some kind of expectation of what to find once I’d managed to get a page to scan. Some of the pages when scanned triggered overlays which “stuck” to a particular place on the page; or a 3D animation. Other pages gave a beep and then loaded a picture gallery. Different results required quite different control and positioning of the tablet.

close up of IKEA's scan icon

When using barcodes or other kinds of symbols that lead to additional content, give people some indication of what they should expect when they successfully access the content. In IKEA’s case, that could have been a second icon depicting a film, slideshow or 3d animation.

Further testing on the iPad

After I’d finished recording the video, I managed to retrieve the iPad back from my daughter and tested the app on iOS. It was easier to find in App store (then it was in Google Play) as I got a match on the Swedish name this tme (although it was disappointing that the existing IKEA app hadn’t been updated and I had to install a new one)

The iPad app was, like the Android version, fussy about distance. At times it was awkward to get a lock on the page. It was also fussy about light levels. Most pages in the catalogue I managed to activate or scan, but there were a couple that I had to give up on (or perhaps I just missed the augmentation?)

iPad showing a 3d animation with an IKEA catalogue in the background

The 3D animations were really quite odd. It was difficult to keep a “lock” on the page at the same time as rotating the iPad to see different angles.

I tried to move round to see the back of set of wardrobes that appeared at one point. I managed it, but it was like me, the iPad and the IKEA catalogue were playing a game of Twister.

Ease of use

I’m quite a fan of connecting the physical world to the digital, such as QR codes, but the major barrier to adoption to most of these attempts are the need for specific apps to be installed before you can interact with whatever lies behind the code or activate the AR features.

QR codes, and barcodes in general, would be much more successful and simple if mobile device manufacturers included scanners in their native camera applications. So far both Apple and Android lack this. Microsoft on the other hand have made it native it in their Windows 8 devices.

As it is, the augmented reality felt gimmicky and awkward, rather than inspiring and useful.

A more stable activation method, such as a QR code, would increase the success rate of interacting. This could be combined with practical features such as adding items to a wish list, showing availability, product variations and suggested combinations. It even opens the door to social content. IKEA could support their catalogue via the second screen in a similar way to what we are seeing with television.

It all boils down to usability. The ease of use. How usable is it. The more hoops you need to jump through the greater the chance of failing. Every time you write “just download our app”, you add a number of new loops to the challenge.

You can read about the thinking behind the 2013 catalogue in this article.

Have you tried scanning the IKEA catalogue? How did it go?

James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

Why IMD? Testing an advert in The Economist

IMD, provider of executive education programs, ran an advert in the printed version of The Economist. The advert encouraged you to download a special app to your mobile in order to decode the advert and view a video

advert from the Economist with a close up of the instructions

I thought I’d have a bit of fun and make a video of myself following the instructions in the advert. My initial reaction when I saw the ad was: this is a very long winded way of getting readers to view a promotional video. My video clip is 9 minutes long, and apart from some chat at the beginning, it took pretty much that long to get to IMD’s video clip.

Many people are complaining about QR codes being pointless. When implemented correctly and in a context where it helps, they can add value. Unfortunately time after time they are badly implemented and just become an obstacle.

This “see the page come alive” stunt by IMD is worse than a poorly implemented QR code. I say it is worse as you need to use a specific app for this specific ad. a 14MB monster of an app that requires (at least on Android) a whole load of permissions well beyond what it needs for its simple functionality.

When running campaigns that involve scanning or “reading” content, then you should always print a (simple to type) URL in the ad. This makes the content accessible to the reader/viewer even if, for whatever reason, scanning isn’t possible or doesn’t work.

Perhaps I’m being mean, and under-estimating the time and enthusiasm for such gimmicks that Economist readers interested in executive education programs have. Judging by the 10-50 downloads on the app’s page in Google Play, I’ve got a feeling I’m not under-estimating at all.

What do you think? Money well spent, or ill conceived gimmick?

James Royal-Lawson is a digital strategist and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

Best practice: Updating videos on YouTube

It’s not actually possible to upload new versions and “update” a video clip on YouTube. As someone who helps managers a number of websites for various clients, it’s not unusual for me to receive an email that says “Can you remove from our YouTube account. We’ve got a new version to replace it”.

The problem is that your original video has become a social content. When you posted it, it became alive. People starting viewing it, commenting on it, liking it, sharing it, embedding it.

Deleting the video ends its life. You break links, you remove comments, you will even lose some “video juice” as YouTube uses number of video (and channel) views as part of its ranking algorithm – you other videos could appear lower down in search results as a result of deleting.

What should you do?

Deleting content always has an impact, so most of the time you want to avoid it. Especially so in cases like YouTube where you have no control over where deleted pages redirect to.

Best practice tips

Here are my best practice tips for updating a video:

  • Upload your update video as a new video
  • Tag it the same way as the original, paying some attention to improving the tags at the same time.
  • Use a similar description as the original, again taking the chance to improve it during the process
  • Add it as a video comment to the original
  • Add an annotation to the old video with a message saying it’s no longer up to date and give a link to the new version
  • Promote the new version in all the ways you would normally promote a new video

Why is that best practice?

By following the above best practice you don’t lose your total “views” or the position of that video in search results. At the same time you provide useful and relevant information to people who happen to view the old video clip – you give them a link to a newer version. You’ve helped them. You’ve used the ecosystem of the web in a much better way than just deleting the old, out of date, video.

Meta descriptions on

From August 2009 until the point of writing this, each of the weekly articles published by Gerry on his website has contained incorrect meta description content. In this short video I highlight two of the ways in which this has a significant impact on his web presence.

Update 22nd August

Gerry has in his latest blog post fixed the problem and said a little thank you on Twitter. Little things, easily fixed. It’s really is worth giving your site a regular health check.

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