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Development of an Augmented Reality Retail Skin Care POC: Content Modeling and Interaction Building (Week 2/3)

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Sep 17, 2020 | Varia Makagonova

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Week Two: Content modeling for AR; final designs; selecting and programming marker tracking movement patterns and text display parameters.

Welcome to the reality of building an augmented reality demo. This is the second-to-last week of our "live" project documentation (find week zero here, and week one here), and this week we moved away from designs and theory and into hands-on development on all fronts of this project.

In this week’s post, you can read about:

As a summary, we have decided to build the following: A mobile web-browser Augmented Reality (AR) experience to be used with a brand’s skin care products -- for the purposes of this POC, we are focusing on the skin care category of serums. It will help the customer to select the best serum for them in the store; to receive onboarding instructions and personalized recommendations when first using it; and after using it for a while, receive updated recommendations and information.

First up this week: how to actually get all this information into our AR experience.

Headless CMS content modeling for Augmented Reality

In order to provide a content-rich AR experience to our users, a lot of data (brand and product names; product textures; ingredients’ purpose, source, contraindications; usage instructions) must be stored in our CMS (Contentstack) to be easy to query (so it shows up the way we want, at the speed we need, and prepared for personalization), and easy to edit or modify (because products get added; names change; instructions get updated; new ingredient configurations and contraindications happen).

The process of documenting all the types of content you’ll need for an experience (whether AR, VR, mobile app or website) and putting it into logical buckets to ensure your CMS is effectively configured for editing and delivering that content to that experience (or many experiences) is called content modeling. (Here’s a primer we’ve written on this topic.)

With traditional content management systems, which have been designed for building web pages, this is a pretty straightforward process. You basically have a few ways you can organize things: folder structure can reflect your site pages, or it can reflect content types (elements of a webpage like banners, images, forms, text; repeating formats like blog articles, press releases, customer testimonials, and so on). Then it’s just a matter of giving editors page templates that allow them to mix and match these content types within certain identifiable limits. Or in some cases, the CMS even comes with static templates that can’t be customized or made more flexible at all. This is based on the assumption that because there are only a few, relatively predictable ways that this content is going to be used for all customers of that CMS, that it’s easier for everyone to pre-define the content models.

When it comes to headless systems, though, things are a little bit more fluid. Especially for a CMS like Contenstack that was designed to be as un-opinionated as possible about where that content is going to end up. While you can have (and we do provide) lots of solid guidance on specific examples for different industries and use cases, at the end of the day, your content model is going to be hyper-unique to your organizations’ ways of working and ways of delivering your content.

As it turns out, this is actually a good thing when it comes to building out Augmented Reality content models.

Benefits of a headless system for Augmented Reality

Ben Ellsworth, Solutions Architect at Contentstack, says that headless CMS is somewhat of a no-brainer for developing AR experiences precisely because of its flexibility, or lack of opinion about where your content is going to go. He explains: 


"There isn’t a long-standing tradition of AR and VR applications, and there’s no solution that is pre-built for the problems that an enterprise is going to experience when they’re developing for AR. When you’re trying to do something uncharted, you cannot let yourself be limited by something that was built with “websites” in mind.

Contentstack is extremely agnostic to the display and dynamic in the way it relates content to the display layer, so that you can architect the data and the content structure in the best way for where it’s going, no matter what the end goal is.”


“You’re only constrained by the limits of today’s technology,” adds Gal Oppenheimer, Manager, Solutions Architects at Contentstack. “So, in the case of AR: what can the phone browser do, and what can the cameras do? Those are actually our constraints, because that’s where we’re pushing the boundaries in terms of what technology allows us to do today.” 

Content modeling: Identifying, classifying and uploading content

What did content modeling for our AR experience actually look like?

Step 1: What content is there?

 First, we had to figure out all the different kinds of content that it might want to use.

To do that, we had to research some serums so we could know what kind of information exists about them. We found this site particularly useful for discovering the purposes of product ingredients.

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Step 2: Extrapolating - what are the content types that we might need?

In this step, we listed every kind of content that we could identify about skin care products that might be relevant to our purposes. We laid this out in a document with hypotheses for the way that we could structure these in the CMS (text, group, reference, etc.)

The Contentstack team consulted with the Valtech team on how best to structure this content in the most useful way.

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Sidebar: Flexibility vs Ease of use

The biggest question that comes up when designing content models in headless CMS is whether for a given scenario, more flexibility would be better, or whether some rigidity would actually better serve the end users (editors). Ben explains:

"There is a point of diminishing returns where additional flexibility ends up being detrimental to productivity. When a content creator has access to 1,000 options for structuring a piece of content, they have to make 1,000 decisions every time they create a piece. This is an extreme example but with a headless content management system, the person modeling the content does have the power to create an infinitely flexible system.

“As you model your content, ask yourself why you’re giving the editor the options you are.

“For example: in our application, we were deciding between using a group field or a modular block for the product usage instructions. The modular block would allow editors to move the instructions to any place in the AR content display. However, because we would only ever need one set of instructions, and the single set would need to be mandatory, we went with the group field. It has most of the benefits of a modular block without the unnecessary features like multiple instances.

“On the flip side, we had originally considered using a simple drop-down to choose product categories. In a non-headless system, this would be par for the course since the editor needs to be able to pick between many options for each product. With a headless system, we can do better and use reference fields. This lets us create a whole new content type for the categories where we can store their names as well as additional information like descriptions, links, and images. We then let the editor reference that field in the product content type. If we need a new category added to the list, we don’t have to change the content model directly, which would require a higher level of access in the system that could break other processes. We simply create a new entry of the category content type and it will automatically be available to all product entries.”

Step 3: Input the content for the AR experience into the CMS

With decisions on the content types made, it was time to build out and populate our content model. To do that, we had to create some serums! We did this by taking inspiration from the real serums that we researched in step 1, and coming up with some ingredient combinations and usage scenarios of our own. 

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We entered the content data into the CMS. This part was pretty straightforward, since we were following the model that we had already laid out. The bonus aspect of this is that now, when a brand wants to build out an AR experience like this for their products, the content modeling has already been done. So we’ve got a template to work with in the future (of course, customized to their particular use case). Below, you can see some examples from the live stack!

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Step 4. Querying the database

The last step was figuring out how to get data out of Contentstack and into the AR experience. Contentstack has two ways to retrieve data via our Content Delivery Network (CDN), and the team wanted to test both of them. So Valtech wrote a quick sample that pulled down the data we entered (as JSON) from each in turn. They decided to use the new GraphQL API because of the simplicity of queries, and because it returned fewer data properties. They then added an additional function to process the response JSON to simplify the object structure — removing extra nesting on reference field JSON, rearranging how the data was organized in the response from the API — so that it was more easily and efficiently consumed by the AR code they were already writing.


Designing what the live experience will look like

Following last week’s progress on creating sketches and comps for how to display the AR information around the product bottle, this week Svante (our designer) worked on figuring out what the whole AR experience will look like. That meant going beyond the “augmented” part of information display and marrying that with the “reality” side of things.

For Scenario 1, shopping in the store, we created a way to hone in on a particular product while in a brightly-lit, colorful shop. As you can see in the graphics, the idea was to darken and blur the background (more on how we developed this below) and zero in on exactly the product that the customer wants to see more information about.

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For Scenarios 2 and 3, a similar “darkening” effect was applied so it would be easier to see the displayed information no matter what kind of colorful or distracting bathroom the user might be accessing the experience in!

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Then it was over to the developers to figure out how to actually make all of this happen.

Developing the live interaction

This week, the development focused on three major elements of the AR experience that we need to nail down for this POC:

  1. Finalizing what the fiducial markers will look like,
  2. Figuring out exactly how we’re going to track those markers to create the best user experience, and
  3. Figuring out how the AR elements will be displayed, including the background dimming effect
1. Fiducial markers: smaller & customized

Last week we figured out that fiducial markers (those black square things) would work best for this POC as they were the easiest for our AR framework to latch onto. But we also want our product to be as pretty as a skin care label usually is, so we tried to see if we could shrink those markers down for more design flexibility. The standard size is 1 inch, and we were able to get them down to 0.5 inch and still have them tracking the bottle movement - in all 3 axes - really well.

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We also tested creating custom markers, which is of course going to be crucial for designing stylish skin care bottles. These also worked - in fact, in some cases they worked better than the standard markers.

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Custom “umbrella” fiducial marker.

2. What’s the most user-friendly way to display AR content in response to markers in motion?

We tested different ways of spinning and tilting the bottle to display what was being shown on-screen. Alex Olivier explains that her main concern - other than supporting natural hand movement - was to lower the risk of the marker getting lost. “In many AR experiences, the content disappears entirely if the marker is lost for a second, which I think is a mistake,” she says. For this reason, the most compelling motion they found for the bottle-as-controller was a rotation around its own axis.

A big decision point at this stage was how to display the content that would be controlled by rotating the bottle to detect multiple markers. The team created a system to have keyframe rotations around a 3D layout and then animated / interpolated as different markers were detected. “We had to dust off our trig books!” says Alex.

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Using this rotation motion (instead of a back-and-forth tilt, for instance), we are lowering the risk of losing the marker, allowing the content to persist in a natural way, and making it more likely that the final user experience will be seamless.

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3. Maximizing AR element visibility for a content-rich AR experience

Here’s something we learned about content-rich AR experiences, from Alex:

“Displaying text (and doing it beautifully) is difficult in computer graphics. You need text to look good at multiple scales and at multiple distances and from multiple angles! That’s why we ended up generating a signed distance field font, which is a bitmap font (but a special one) that uses signed distance fields to beautifully raster text. (You can read more about it here.)

“The other thing about text in 3D graphics is that unless you’ve written yourself some handy library, you’re having to do all of the content layout manually. There are a few basic features that were available to us (e.g. alignment of text), but a lot of the work involved flat-out building the layouts that Svante had designed and calculating where to put text & writing functions that could generalize this so it wasn’t 100% hard-coded. If you’re used to slinging CSS or using nice built-in iOS features, you may not appreciate the effort that goes into text in graphics… and now you know why you rarely see text-rich AR apps!”

The last element we built out this week was making Svante’s cool darkened-background design come to life. Alex explains, “to do a blur, the most efficient way to do it is usually to use a “shader”, which is a program you run on a graphics card. You take a texture or an image and you pass it through that shader, where all the pixels get transformed.

“There were some tricks to this for plugging everything involved in this into AR.js via A-frame: for example, making sure the blurred area is always the same size as the webcam screen, which involved transforming those vertices to be a certain size. It wasn’t necessarily difficult - but it was a lot of things to learn in a short amount of time.”

Despite these challenges, we were able to get this working by the end of week two, which was a win!

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P.S. Tip for all AR developers: ngrok.io turned out to be invaluable for helping us test things out on our phones. Before we discovered it, running code on the phone required a pretty complex choreography of copying over security certificates. ngrok lets you run an HTTPS server on your local computer that can be easily accessed from anyone on the internet, with the proper security settings for AR to work, which made testing so much faster.

Check out Week 3: It all comes together! The pieces we’ve been tracking thus far (content, design, and development) must all integrate with each other into one working demo.

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Pushing successful content to other channels would be another available option with Agile marketing.Social media comments and shares, website page views and conversion rates, and video views are some of the many types of data that can be leveraged to influence Agile marketing strategy.Creating high-quality content not only engages audiences and helps to convert new customers, it provides a steady stream of new ideas for the marketing team so they know which strategies or topics to focus on next. 5 benefits of Agile content marketingAgile content marketing has many benefits. Here are the five that we believe are the most important. Greater success: Several research studies have proven that Agile marketing content is more successful than content created using the traditional waterfall approach. This includes the Standish Group Chaos Report 2020, which determined that Agile projects were three times more likely to succeed.Speed: The Agile approach enables marketers to launch content faster, especially when sprint lengths are tailored specifically to different content types.Efficiency: Agile marketing teams are able to do more with less because they can focus their full attention on the content that’s prioritized at any given time. The content creation process also becomes more efficient over time because it’s evaluated after every sprint for ongoing improvement.Greater flexibility: With Agile marketing, there’s a built-in process for changing content strategy or the content itself based on data, consumer behavior, current events and other insights.Happier marketing teams: Not only do Agile marketing teams report greater productivity, they’re also happier. Research has shown that they have improved morale.Learn more  Learn more about Agile marketing in our guide, “How to get started with Agile marketing.”Schedule a free demo to see how Contentstack’s composable content experience platform can help jump start your agile content marketing strategy. 

Oct 18, 2022

How to choose an omnichannel marketing platform

Omnichannel marketing allows businesses to create customer-centric experiences that are personalized and consistent for each consumer across all channels. This modern way of thinking about content management can help your business build stronger relationships with customers and increase sales.Today's marketing professionals need to pursue an omnichannel experience that customers can use whenever, wherever they want. This approach means creating a consistent experience across all devices, whether customers use a desktop computer, a mobile phone, a tablet or a smartwatch. By designing an omnichannel experience, companies can ensure that their customers have a positive and seamless experience no matter how they interact with them. This article will explore what marketing professionals should look for when considering an omnichannel marketing platform.What is an omnichannel marketing platform and why do you need one?An omnichannel marketing platform allows you to connect with customers across all channels, including online, offline, and mobile. Using this customer-centric marketing approach, companies can provide a consistent customer experience no matter how the customer interacts with them. An omnichannel platform can also help businesses to better understand customer behavior and preferences, which can help to improve marketing strategies and ultimately increase sales.Omnichannel marketing is similar to multichannel marketing. Both of these strategies involve engaging customers across different channels. However, there are some critical differences between these two approaches. Multichannel marketing promotes a unified message using various channels. In contrast, omnichannel marketing takes a customer-focused approach. It adapts to the customer's cross-channel preferences, allowing them to move between channels seamlessly. This capability means omnichannel marketing is better equipped to provide a personalized experience. Benefits of using an omnichannel marketing platformAn omnichannel marketing platform can provide many benefits for your business. The products and services you offer, the customers you serve and other characteristics unique to your situation will determine the advantages that benefit you most. Here are the most common omnichannel use cases.Add virtual inventory to your store: Omnichannel marketing allows you to promote the idea of an endless aisle. You can use this virtual merchandise presentation to complement your real-world store's physical inventory. This type of shopping experience is nearly impossible to achieve without an omnichannel marketing platform.Recurring payment model: Recurring payments are becoming an increasingly popular way for consumers to pay for goods and services. This payment model allows customers to regularly authorize a merchant to charge a designated amount to their credit card or bank account. This can be a convenient way for customers to pay for monthly subscriptions, such as Netflix or Spotify, or for larger purchases spread over time, such as a new mattress.Recurring payments help your business build stronger relationships with your customers by making it easy for them to continue doing business with your company over time. Omnichannel marketing helps your customers move seamlessly between making an in-store or online purchase and establishing continuing services.Buy online for in-store pickup: This omnichannel feature has quickly become a staple of e-commerce. For many types of goods, if customers can't shop for items from the comfort of their homes, they will shop elsewhere.Increasing customer loyalty: A well-designed omnichannel strategy can help your business better understand customer behavior and preferences. You can use this information to improve relationships, fortify customer loyalty, and ultimately increase sales.Improving customer experience: By using an omnichannel platform, businesses can ensure that they are providing a consistent customer experience across all channels. This consistent experience can improve customer satisfaction.How to choose the best omnichannel marketing platform for your businessWhen choosing an omnichannel marketing platform for your business, the most critical consideration is finding one that is truly focused on the customer, not just brand-centric, using multiple channels. Brand centricity is all about promoting a unified message across various channels. At the same time, customer-centricity considers the customer's preferences and needs. Adopting this paradigm can be challenging for some marketing solution providers that cut their teeth on multichannel marketing. It's not enough to provide the same branding message across your customers' channels. A customer-centric solution helps you tap into your customers' historical behavior to understand their needs better. To provide your customers with the best possible experience, you will also want to consider how user-friendly and easy to navigate a potential solution is. The platform's ability to integrate with other software applications used by your company is also an important consideration. Once you have considered these factors, you can compare the different omnichannel features that are available. Reading reviews and comparing attributes is essential to ensure you choose the best platform for your business.Features of the best omnichannel platformsHere are some of the top features to consider when choosing an omnichannel marketing platform:The ability to provide a personalized customer journey across all channels: An omnichannel marketing platform should allow you to manage your marketing activities efficiently and effectively across all channels. This approach can save time and money.The ability to connect with customers across all channels: An omnichannel marketing platform should allow you to connect with customers across all channels, including online, offline, and mobile. This can help to improve customer loyalty and increase sales.The ability to understand customer behavior and preferences: An omnichannel marketing platform can help businesses better understand customer behavior and preferences. You can use this information to improve marketing and ultimately increase sales.What to avoid in omnichannel marketing platformsWhen considering an omnichannel marketing platform, it is essential to know the available features and choose the platform best suited to your business. However, there are also some things to avoid when choosing a platform.Be sure not to choose a platform that is too complex or difficult to use. The platform should be easy to navigate and use so that you can manage your marketing activities effectively.Also, avoid platforms that are too costly for your budget. It is crucial to find a platform that offers good value for your money.Finally, avoid platforms that do not offer good customer support. The platform should be easy to use, but if you encounter any problems, you should be able to get help quickly.Learn moreLearn more about omnichannel content management in this informative guide.Is your CMS holding you back from creating the omnichannel experiences your customers expect? Schedule a free demo to see how Contentstack’s headless, composable content experience platform can transform your digital marketing strategy.

Sep 22, 2022

How to launch an online store in under 90 days

There are two absolutes in a digital economy: impatient, demanding customers and the need for an e-commerce presence. If you don’t have an e-commerce presence or the one you do have fails to meet customer expectations, you’re likely considering how to solve your problem.What’s been your experience with a software development effort? If you’re like many, it conjures images of:Rounding up the best qualified (and already overworked) team membersSlogging through endless team meetings on top of your other job dutiesWorking through months of coding, testing, refining and debugging to field a minimum viable product (MVP) e-commerce siteWe’ve all been there and have the T-shirts to prove it. But how would you react if we said it is possible to launch an e-commerce venture in under 90 days? Not a work-in-progress, bare-bones MVP placeholder, but a fully functional, customer-centric, remarkably agile e-commerce site built by a team of six people using four independent technologies in less than three months.Why build a working example?How do you address the incredulous responses to the “up and running in under 90 days” claim? As professional baseball player Dizzy Dean said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” So, we decided to prove the power and ease of using composable commerce tools by building and demonstrating a working e-commerce site at ContentCon 2022, our annual conference.Why tie the project to the conference? A swag store was the natural choice to launch at a conference as attendees could access the store, select their items, create digital receipts and collect their items at the vendor’s booth.“We wanted to use this as an example to give you guys an application that you can actually interact with that we’ve built with our four technologies to show it’s really not that difficult,” said Piyush Patel, chief ecosystem officer at Algolia.The team planned the project as more than just a conference presentation, however.“This is just the starting point,” said Gary Ballabio, VP of technology partnerships at Cloudinary. While every business will have its own requirements, the team used their four technologies to create a proof of concept “but also [to create a reusable platform] for anybody to use afterward, for everybody to branch off and use really for a starting point themselves.”How do you launch an e-commerce store in under 90 days?How did we pull this off in less than 90 days? By partnering with three other industry leaders, BigCommerce, Cloudinary and Algolia. We each contributed part-time team members and our software to the project. Here’s a rundown of the platform software each company contributed:E-commerce enablement by BigCommerceImage and video management by CloudinaryHeadless CMS by ContentstackInstant searchability by AlgoliaThe next step was setting up our goals and success measures with the technologies chosen. The resulting project parameters were simple and to the point:Our working premise was that the four technologies working together would meet all project requirements.The site would include four pillars: content, search, commerce and media.Each technology partner would provide part-time technologists, not full-time developers.In a nod to the reality people face developing and deploying software today, all team members were remote, spanning time zones from India to California.Assess the ability of each technology’s integration framework to facilitate information flow seamlessly between platforms.Deliver a solution other e-commerce ventures could use as a starting point.We wanted the development effort to reflect the real world, not be an academic exercise. “This really mimicked what many of your organizations have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” said Nick Barron, senior director of partner enablement at Contentstack. “We’ve got a lot of remote employees; we’ve got a lot of dispersed teams that live in little siloes, specialties and little centers.” So, a 100% remote team was an ideal test environment.The results? We met all our goals and delivered the e-commerce site in well under 90 days. The team became so enthused and productive that we finally called a hard stop as we had more than enough to prove our concept.Here are the project’s summary stats:How it worksHow do you bridge the integration gap between different technologies to deliver functional e-commerce sites and other applications quickly and easily? The short answer lies in using application protocol interfaces (APIs) to manage communication between technologies. Configuration settings replace software customization, allowing users to compose the processes and actions needed to make the application meaningful to customers and the business.Here's a high-level look at how the ABC Swag e-commerce site brings a new product to life.The product manager creates the product in BigCommerce, entering the required information like SKU, product name, product specifications and more.BigCommerce automatically creates the product detail page (PDP) in Contentstack, notifying the product marketer that it’s available for enrichment.The product marketer adds enriched content, including images, videos, 3D models and more, to the PDP from Cloudinary.Contentstack updates Cloudinary assets with metadata describing the location of each asset used in the PDP.When Contentstack publishes the product, it sends all the details to Algolia to index and prepare for searching.As the product manager or marketer makes changes based on analytics like sales, clicks and customer questions, the system automatically manages them, eliminating human error and increasing system responsiveness.Why it worksOf course, technology underpins everything, but people and a cooperative spirit are the two things that make technology valuable and usable. At Contentstack, we call this “Care Without Compromise™.”Here are some observations from the other team members about why the project worked:“The ability to reach out to the other vendors with questions made everyone’s job easier,” Patel said. “I think that’s the lesson we learned is, have help.”Ballabio said the team members were technologists, not full-time developers, working part-time with new tools and working full-time with the tools they were familiar with.“It is a testament to how well documented and how well set up those other tools are for them to pick it up and to create this proof of concept together,” he said.The project also illustrates the dedication of the companies leading the Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless (MACH) evolution to solve their customers’ problems. This dedication extends to getting help from other technology partners when necessary.Powered by composable architectureWhat made it possible for our part-time team, working remotely in their area of expertise, to build this e-commerce venture in record time? Composable architecture. Composable architecture takes advantage of APIs and scalable web services to create a digital-first enterprise.A simplified definition, to be sure, but it’s more important how composable architecture helps enterprises than how you define it. According to Architecture & Governance, Gartner says, “supporting composable architecture means architecting your business for real-time adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainty.” What business cannot benefit from adaptability and resilience?Acceptance of the MACH/composable architecture approach to e-commerce continues to grow. More organizations are finding they can no longer meet the demands of today’s consumers with traditional monolithic systems and dated development methodologies. To survive and thrive, they are making the move to composable systems. According to a recent Salesforce State of Commerce report, 80% of businesses that don’t currently have headless e-commerce technology up and running plan to implement it in the next two years.Composable architecture using MACH components enables teams in any size company to develop, deploy and maintain responsive e-commerce ventures in record time. We demonstrated that combining headless CMS, media enrichment, e-commerce enablement and instant search replaces monoliths with superior solutions.Connect Without CompromiseContentstack and our partners are taking Care Without Compromise™ to another level with Connect Without Compromise™. We want to assure our mutual customers that our tools will work as described. Should any customer experience issues, we'll work with our partners to find a solutionHow does this differ from our Care Without Compromise? Think of it as a combination of technology and best practices.Marketplace: An extensive ecosystem of features, services, apps, integrations and accelerators.Automation Hub: Simple, no-code, cross-stack business logic you can implement immediately.Blueprints: Extremely detailed best practices and implementation guides to get you from zero to operational in the shortest time possible.For example, if you want to set up a store using the same technologies we used to build our ABC Swag Store demo, we have a blueprint that will give you a jump start on creating a similar application for your business.The passing of the age of the monolithsIt’s fair to say that the age of the monoliths has passed, replaced by the age of composable architecture. Rather than waiting weeks for developers to create a simple integration in a monolithic system, businesses can model, evaluate and deploy them in minutes. We think that’s worth celebrating. If you agree and want to learn more to move your business forward, we offer these options:See the ABC Swag Store in action.  For a deeper dive into the building of the ABC Swag Store site, watch our webinar series, “The ABCs of Composable Commerce.”Want to build your e-commerce venture or headless CMS? Learn more and schedule a free demo.