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XRDC speaker Q&A: IBM's Reena Ganga on using AR to analyze data

At XRDC this year, IBM AR designers Reena Ganga and Jenna Goldberg will be presenting a talk on the company's work in data visualization in augmented reality. As many companies seek to parse the reams and reams of data and metrics they're relying on to improve their processes on a daily basis, Ganga and Goldberg will be showing off how they can use new visualization methods to help interpret and make use of that data.

To learn more about the work of data visualization in augmented reality, we're talking with Ganga today about her perspective on this growing new field. Read on a new look at looking at data!

Attend XRDC 2018 to learn about immersive games & entertainment, brand experiences, and innovative use cases across industries.

Tell us about yourself and your work in VR/AR/MR. 

I’m a User Experience Designer at IBM where we are creating an augmented reality app for data visualization called Immersive Insights. Our product targets data analysts who have traditionally had to sift through mountains of data using 2D spreadsheets -- a tedious and time-consuming  task. Through our 3D data visualization tool, we’re providing them with a more efficient and  delightful process for discovering patterns and relationships.

Our work in AR has evolved since the start of the project. We originally began designing for a head-mounted display because we wanted to give the user a hands free experience, but the technology hadn’t matured enough so we switched to designing an iOS app using ARKit. We’ve  faced lots of challenges translating 3D experiences via a 2D screen, although for me, that’s part of the attraction to AR. I enjoy the challenge of working in a new frontier where we are forced to be creative, fail a lot, and really understand our users in order to come up with the design patterns that make sense for this emerging technology. I come from a journalism background, having spent a decade in the television and travel industries, and I feel that this unconventional  background leads me to take unconventional approaches to design challenges, which is ideal for this field.

Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at XRDC.    

My colleague, Jenna Goldberg, and I will be discussing the use of AR for enterprise software and talking about one of our early success stories -- how Immersive Insights helped a baseball analyst visualize player data and sign a multi-million dollar player contract as a result of findings  generated in a matter of hours.

We’ll also discuss the critical role designers play in making important decisions that build the foundation for this new technology. We’ve faced lots of design challenges along the way (and  keep coming up with more!). Some of the hurdles included creating non-intrusive, yet intuitive navigation that allowed for context-sensitive actions. There’s also been a lot of trial and error in getting gestures and interactions to feel natural and instinctive. Our users also expect to be able  to manipulate their visualizations in a very precise way, so we’ve had to consider how to give  them those complex capabilities while still keeping the overall experience clean and simple.

What excites you most about AR/VR/MR?    

Most of us spend the vast majority of our day engrossed in technology, which generally means we have our nose buried in a screen and are blind to the world around us. AR has the ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds, allowing us to benefit from technology while still engaging with our surroundings.

It also has the potential to enhance so many of our daily interactions. Think about the challenge of mentally translating something from the 2D world to the 3D world, e.g. putting together flat-packed furniture based on paper instructions, navigating with a 2D map while driving, or troubleshooting a malfunctioning office printer based on a web-based manual -- it’s an aggravating experience prone to error. AR can superimpose digital information onto a physical  object and allow us to interact with that information in a more intuitive way, helping us take action faster and with fewer mistakes.

Who would you like to meet at XRDC?    

I’m looking forward to meeting other augmented reality designers who are also trying to solve these kinds of UX challenges. There’s still a lot of work to do in terms of figuring out what the interaction paradigms should be and I’m excited to hear what ideas others in this field have been exploring.

What advancements in data visualization have you already seen while working in AR?     

Data analytics is exploding because the amount of data available to organizations has grown exponentially in recent years. That volume is only going to increase as the Internet of Things gives us the ability to collect and analyze information from billions of humans and machines. But when there’s so much “noise,” the insights can lay buried and undiscovered. That’s where data visualization comes in and there’s a tremendous opportunity to generate value.

Traditionally, it has been engineers and scientists who engaged with data, but now, employers are expecting more of their non-technical workers to understand and interact with it. That’s why it’s important that we create products like Immersive Insights -- by bringing data to life with AR and enhancing it with cognitive technologies that let you navigate your visualization using voice  commands, we’re able to make data more intuitive and accessible than ever before.

XRDC is happening October 29th and 30th in San Francisco at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. Now that registration is open, you’ll want to look over XRDC passes and prices and register early to get the best deal!

For more information about XRDC, which is produced by organizers of the Game Developers Conference, check out the official XRDC website. You can also subscribe to regular XRDC updates via emailTwitter and Facebook.

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