How Augmented Reality is Finding its Place with Joel Krieger

Read Time: 6 minutes

As Head of Design for Magic Leap solutions, Joel Krieger is exploring the frontiers of augmented reality, spatial computing, and remote collaboration. This new frontier promises to amplify human ability via wearable technology. 

Before joining Magic Leap, Joel served as Chief Creative Officer of Second Story — a pioneering group blending physical and digital environments. He has led teams in international projects across Europe, Australia, the U.S., and Canada. His work has been recognized for design excellence by One Show, The Webby Awards, FastCo Innovation by Design, Red Dot, HOW International Design, SEGD Global Design Awards, IxDA, and The American Alliance of Museums. He was named one of the top 20 people to watch in 2020 by Graphic Design USA, and his work has been featured in premier publications, including Fast Company, Wired, Forbes, and Communication Arts.

We caught up with Joel last week to better understand what he sees as the power behind AR for experiential designers and to learn a little bit more about what makes Joel tick, what he’s curious about, and how he dedicates his craft to help shift culture. 

Learn more about Joel below, and don’t miss his opening keynote session on How Augmented Reality Is Finding Its Place at Xlab on Friday, October 14. Get your tickets here.


Inspiration & Design Lens

Tell us more about your work in activism and cultural change? What causes are most important to you, and how does your work serve them?

It’s hard for me to pick the one issue that’s most important to me because as soon as you start digging deeper, you realize these issues are all interwoven.

I feel like I operate across two worlds, with one foot in this commercial design space and the other in regenerative design. For the last couple of years, I’ve been supporting the Earth Regenerators community, and more recently, I’ve been working with Local Futures in the new localization movement. My interest in this area began about ten years ago when I realized we are living in a mass extinction event. Still today, not many people will talk about it, but wildlife, plants, and animals—the extinction rate is crazy. That became my entry point.

Over the years, I’ve become most interested in culture design. Can we design for intentional cultural evolution? Can we develop new cultures—and I say that plurally “many cultures”—that are regenerative in nature, which means that they create more conditions for life to flourish? I’m most curious about exploring these emerging new ways of being: How do we relate to the earth? How do we relate to each other? 


Can you share more about the podcast you cofounded to explore transformative design? What does that mean, in your words, and what are some implications for it within this community?

In 2020, along with my collaborator and cofounder Pavani Yalla, we started this podcast project: Outside In. Originally it was just us getting curious about how change happens and the role of experience design in that change. We noticed a couple of things: firstly, everyone is a designer. That’s the natural state of being a human being; everyone has that capacity. Also, design can be a potent tool when used properly. In the years leading up to this, there had been much talk about transformation—so many companies touting “digital transformation.” To us, this all felt like hype. But that year, so much real change was in the air; we wanted to move beyond all the marketing and posturing and get serious about design for change. 

That’s where we started to get critical about understanding “what makes an experience transformative?” How do we intentionally design for this outcome? 

So we started to look around and talk to people who we believed had designed transformative experiences. We sought to experience them for ourselves and unpack the design decisions with the creators. Many of these experiences are really out there, and the creators wouldn’t always think of themselves as designers. So, the goal was to pull inspiration in from the margins and cross-pollinate these insights within the broader design community. 

I feel like many designers are starting to wake up to the truth of the situation we’re in, and they have this desire to use their skills and knowledge in a meaningful way. This podcast is in service of meeting that need.

And for folks that want to practice design for good, the reality is that we need to develop ourselves first—before we can really affect the kind of change we want to see. We need to get curious about both the inner and outer work required to make a difference. I think you can look out in the world and see many examples of really well-intentioned people who are designing interventions that are going to make things worse, and it’s because they haven’t done this inner work yet.

That’s the podcast on two levels: outside-in—bringing inspiration from the margins—and the inner-outer work needed to design for real change. 


Understanding AR’s possibilities

Speaking of transformative experiences, what was it like shifting from designing experiences to creating a new tool that ultimately transforms how designers work in this space?

So, at Second Story, a lot of our work was interactive museum exhibits, flagship retail experiences, experiential marketing, or event spaces. We activated these places—making them interactive—by embedding technology into the built environment around you. In many ways, I see Magic Leap as a continuation of that journey. Instead of integrating technology into the environment, we’re wearing it. And instead of designing exhibits, we’re developing tools for people who design spatial experiences. 

When I first joined Magic Leap and started to get into the work, I almost immediately felt like, “wow, if only I had known about this at Second Story.”

I think this tool represents a leap forward in terms of a more human way of interacting with technology. In the old way, we were stuck in an abstract representation of a space or an exhibit, working alone in a 3D program, staring at a glowing rectangle. So instead of this mediated experience through a screen where we’re doing most of our design by tapping buttons and clicking things, it allows for a more natural, embodied experience, like picking up and touching virtual objects in a real physical space.

Collaboration and co-creation are such a big part of this. To understand the power of this tool, you first have to think about how design takes place today. It’s this kind of separated abstraction from reality. With AR, we’re talking about a future where you can design in real-time, in place. So instead of being in software, your software is a space. You’re designing live in that space, and you’re doing it with others.

Because it’s context-aware and in place, I think AR makes a powerful review and design presentation tool. So, imagine how different it would feel to be working on something like a museum, and you can actually be in the shell of that space, walking around with your clients and stakeholders. You’re looking at your designs at human scale, talking about things, and interacting with virtual prototypes. That’s a totally different process that I think enables completely different outcomes. And ultimately, it invites more people into the design process.

Then, as a display surface. Imagine how much it costs to kit out a space with screens. There will always be a place for screens but consider how you can augment more space with just one headset. The amount of coverage you can get from an experience standpoint is much greater. 

So it’s both a tool and an experience. And it’s absolutely going to change how we do design.