Lauren Cason’s XR Career - from Game Designer to XR Studio Owner

XR Bootcamp
March 8, 2022

Lauren Cason’s XR Career - from Game Designer to XR Studio Owner. Key AR/VR Design Principles.

Before: Video Game Designer and Intern at the MIT Game Lab

After: Artist and XR Creative Technologist

Hi, everybody. I'm Lauren. I am an artist and a creative technologist based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. And I mostly work within the space of XR and emerging technology. And I've had like a pretty eclectic career. I started as an intern at the MIT Game Lab.  I had like a whole career in video games before I went all in on XR. And I recently started a studio with my co founder, Sam Jones. And it's an XR studio and includes AR/VR Design. And like, some of the soul searching that you do when you start a studio is like, 

  • Who are you? 
  • What does your company do? 
  • How are you different? 
  • What's your point of view? 
  • What are you making? 
  • And I think my point of view is this pile of trash. 

What I hope XR will do what I see as its potential is the technology, why I want to work with it. It always comes back to this pile of trash and how it made me feel. So this pile of trash is not actually a pile of trash.

This is a meticulously painted bronze sculpture by Gavin Turk. And I saw this in several of his other pieces in a Gallery in London. And they were all on the floor, these beautiful, immaculate sculptures of trash and precious metal. There was, like, a cigarette butt and a fun to go container. And they were so perfectly sculpted and perfectly painted. And I was mesmerized. And when I left the Gallery, this funny thing happened where for weeks after, I was fascinated with every piece of trash that I saw, like, on the subway, on the street, when I was just walking around, every piece of trash I saw was just screaming out to me. I couldn't see anything else. And I was really fascinated by this shift that had happened in my perception. I was seeing things in my world that were totally invisible to me before. Even though the visual stimulus is there, I didn't see it. It wasn't entering my brain before. And now I was seeing it everywhere. And I have this new what felt like this enhanced perception of my world. And I was like, Whoa, that I want to do that. Whatever that thing was that has just happened in my brain this week, I want to do that on purpose.

What the f*** is apophenia? - Seeing Jesus on your toast

And someone told me, you know, there's sort of a word for that feeling, which is apophenia, which is like a crossed wires, meaning making that we do as humans. So

And I was like, games are really good at this. I think it's one of the things I really liked about being a game designer. Like, after playing The Witness, I was seeing puzzles everywhere. I'm sure anybody who played The Witness had that experience. And I think game designers are generally very good at creating those perceptual shifts, and AR especially. And I'm going to go way more into this. But one of the things that first got me really excited about this was having that experience with Pokemon Go. I started noticing parts of my neighborhood that I walked past all the time, but I was not perceiving those things. The information never entered my brain. And then playing this game, it did. And I had worked on a lot of projects that were already about perceptual shifts.

So, like, Monument Valley was about working with non Euclidean, multi stable images and constructing these worlds and puzzles that were really fundamentally about challenging the way that you perceived that image in that world to work already. And I think that also helps me understand why I personally was not super excited about VR. Now, I worked on some VR games, like Luna that I'm very proud of. It's very cool to build totally new worlds for people to inhabit. But I was sort of realizing I don't think I want to build new worlds. 

I 100% want to go play video games and go somewhere else sometimes, especially after the past three years. Like, my plan tonight is to play a lot of Horizon Zero, Dawn, Forbidden West. But, like, as an AR/VR Design, I kept coming back to the trash and how much it shifted my experience in the real world. And that's how I got excited about Mixed Reality, because it's all about this world, right?

Like, if it's good, if my phone is this magic, like, little glass window into other worlds that I can peer into, and VR is magical glasses that transports me entirely to other worlds, then Mr. Is like the magic glasses into this world. And I think I really want those glasses.

Lauren Cason’s wonderful Journey into Mixed Reality - Meow Wolf

And that's began my journey into Mixed Reality and AR/VR Design. And it turns out that turning trash into gold in people's brains is actually really hard. But I'm going to talk about the times that I sort of tried to make that happen, where I think they've succeeded, where I failed, what I learned, and what I think that you, as XR designers and thinkers and creators, can take away from that driving home. What I hope we can do is creators, which is bring people that feeling to not try to displace their world with this technology, but to enhance or alter or shift their perception of this very precious, singular world that we are all already in together.

 So with that, I marched off out of video games into the world of Mixed Reality in Silicon Valley with vague ideas and fumbled around at various places in Silicon Valley for a while. And that was bad. And I started learning how to build things for headsets. And after a short while, I happily marched right back out of Silicon Valley. And I came to New Mexico to Meow Wolf to be their EXR creative director. So MEOWWOLF, if you haven't heard of meowl, it's a little hard to explain, but it was once this sort of art collective based in the desert, and now they create these large scale Immersive exhibits. Let me tell you, I was really excited about meowell. They have the whole perceptual shift thing really down. They are so good at it. If any of you have been there and you walked through this fridge, there's a normal kitchen with this fridge, and then you open it up and you're in this alien world, you know how good they are, shifting your perception of the architecture, of the basic lived reality of kitchens and homes. And they had all these amazing connected, wired up physical spaces that I was going to get to go play and learn.

The first thing that I had the chance to direct for them was an experience called the garage. So the garage was in immersive play that was done in Magic Leaps that took place at neighborhood autos. We had a warehouse in Santa Fe that we set up like a mechanic shop, but everything was not quite as it seems. And the mechanics there had some other things in store for you beyond your 3500 miles oil change. Side note, this warehouse was actually next door to an actual auto shop. And people would accidentally walk in our back door looking for their mechanic, and they would see this ten foot mech and be like, what is happening? Which they talk about perceptual shifts. But anyway, the experience consisted of about ten mini XR experiences. The actors were in headsets, you were in headsets, you were interacting with each other, and then they were connected to various pieces of machinery or artwork throughout the warehouse. And there's a lot of things I learned here. But one of the first was if you were building a narrative experience that you should contextualize your hardware. We renamed the Magic Leaps. We gave them a story, we gave them new stickers.

They weren't Magic Leaps. They were constant positioning systems or compost for short. And I think there's two things that narratively placing your hardware can do. The first is it's an invitation to play a friend five year old will often insist to me that the truck is not a truck. It is, in fact, a plane. And we are copilots. And the dinner table is actually a magical bus to Alaska. And if you've spent time around a kid who's always in that imagination space, like being around people who are already there, it can be very expanding. It's not a great week for a kid to see treasure in a pile of trash. So it might be for adults. And by inviting just like a little pretend at the beginning of something, a little bit of playfulness, you're setting people up for the right mental space. But more importantly, I think what it can also do is invite in those who might feel nervous about the technology. One of the biggest barriers that I have seen with first time users of a headset is this fear that they should already know how it works. If they don't, and if they ask you for help, they're going to look not very smart.


How the Garage was chosen top XR experience by Forbes

I once had a guest go through an entire experience with their headset turned off because they were too scared to tell me that it was broken. And they thought just the chromatic aberration that they were seeing was what we meant when we said, Holograms, I think if you're starting out and you're saying, no, this is not human technology, no one expects you to understand how this works because it's never been on this planet before. It can be a little easier for those people to join in the play with you, but also ask you for help. Another big learning was ambient set dressing is great. Digital set dressing is great. And when they come together, they can also be so much more so. The Garage was chosen as one of the top XR experiences of 2019 by Forbes, and the reporter who gave it that distinction told me that it was because of this part of the experience, because of the trash portal. So big surprise, more trash from Lauren. We had this really big platform in the warehouse that we could not move. So we just piled up a bunch of trash on it that we got from a dump.

 And in the magic leap, we put a portal over it. We assigned an actor to it and put a sign on it, and the actor would just tell you he'd be like, oh, yeah, that's the Trash portal. You don't need to worry about the trash portal, and you didn't need to worry about the Trash portal. You moved on to the next experience very quickly. But people loved the Trash portal, and you don't need every interaction in its digital form to be super complicated and super tech heavy and super interaction heavy. You can have things that have the illusion of depth, the illusion that there is more depth there, that there could be more to it, and that can be really impactful. So, yeah, making sure that you have at least the illusion that there is more there can take you really far. So making simple things. But the biggest thing that I learned actually from directing The Garage was placing your experiences. And again, the biggest impact is probably not actually going to be where you think. So our big finale of The Garage was the Mac. You might have seen an earlier version of this experience at awe once when it was called The Navigator.

 We had a mechanic, and she would take you over to this ten foot mech, and you would touch it and Solenoids would like, because you'd have this avatar moment where it chooses you, and we have this really slick interface of glowing buttons and beep Boop stuff, and you got to travel the Galaxy. And this is where we really invested on visuals and making sure the magic leave experience was Super, super tight. It was the longest experience in the entire Garage. Do you know what people did when they got up on the map? Like, pretty much to a TV. Everyone took their headset off and, like, pretty much everyone. And we were like, what is going on? This is where we spent all our Dev time. This is the coolest thing. But I was like, okay, I can kind of understand. Like, it's a pretty overwhelming experience. But you know what then surprised me. Do you know where people spent all their time if we just let them wander freely? This box, it was a box that was in the room because, like, the platform, it was already there. And when we got to the warehouse, we were like, we don't really feel like figuring out how to unbolt this thing from the floor.

 So we'll just put some stuff in the box. There's a space here. There's a space here in the box. Whatever. People might look at it for a minute between the mech and the rocket car. But then people were obsessed. They were obsessed with the deer in the box. And I was like, what is going on here? We spent all this time on the map, and people are in love with the box from Home Depot. So here's what I think was going on. I talked about creating perceptual shifts earlier, right? And what is perception? Perception is some combination of a stimuli, and then my personal mental model for that stimuli. So if I see a cat, I have some mental models for how cats work. Cat behavior. If the cat starts to fly, something in this Venn diagram has to shift. I generally have expectations about what a box is going to do. I know how wooden boxes work. I've got a general idea of what they might contain. You know, like, it's a box, but with a mech. Most humans walking around in the world don't have a mental model for what writing a Mac is going to be like.

If you do, I would like to know. You sound like a very interesting person, but you have to have an expectation already in order to subvert it. You can't just be giving people 100% new information, whereas with the box, if a box has behaviors that don't fit my mental model of boxes, that's really interesting. And my brain is saying, we need to pay attention to this because there's cats lying right now. So now one of the principles that I'm trying to subscribe to is you don't necessarily want to put your most beautiful digital experience on your most beautiful physical experience. You might. There's sometimes reasons why you want to do that, but question why it is that you want to do that in the first place. Because I think when AR/VR design ing for mixed reality, you need contrast. You need both the mundane and the extraordinary. You need the expected and the unexpected. It's a pile of trash, but it's made of gold. It's a box. It contains entire worlds. It's a fridge. It's also a portal into alien worlds. Sometimes you don't need a ten foot map. Sometimes you just need a box from Home Depot.

 So, yes, you want to be careful about putting your most impactful digital experiences on your most impactful physical experiences when you can pursue contrast. So I spent, like, two, two and a half years at meow wolf. We did a lot of cool, weird stuff. 


My Journey at Snapchat

And then snapchat approached me and they said, hey, we're launching this new headset. It's untethered. It works really, really well outside. And we would like you to be one of the artists whose work we launched with which I was like, yes, that's awesome. 100%. Yes, I want to do that. And I knew, okay, I learned a lot at meowl about bridging that digital gap and more importantly, how to make those really interesting perceptual shifts. And now this is an added challenge where it's outside. Now, I no longer have the super controlled environment of a meowl exhibit, but I'm outdoors, so I spun on, like, a lot of ideas. I wanted to make, like, a weather bane thing for a while. But then my friend was like, hey, aren't you obsessed with those road signs? And I was like, oh, my God, like, the road signs, the road signs, they're perfect.

They're perfect for an XR experience. So historic Roadmarkers. If you're in the US, you've probably seen something like this or if you've ever been driven through the US, the New Mexico historic markers, they're one of the older state programs, but lots and lots of States have them. And they came about with the idea of the Great American Road Trip, that towns were trying to get people to stop trying to create a reason for you to drive through my town instead of their town. And I think they're these sort of funny, archaic, wonderful things that give you a view into the past and how we used to try and convey information in different ways. Obviously, you have the text that's on the site. That's a given. We also have the weird placement of these signs. So they actually tell you a lot about what the architecture of the state used to look like, because when Route 66 is built, a lot of these towns died. So some of these signs are in ghost towns, but they also have a lot going for them from an XR perspective and from the perspective of some of the things I wanted to continue learning after the garage.

 So from the XR perspective, they are in these huge pullouts. So you're supposed to stop at them. That's the whole idea. So it's not like a lot of other signage architecture that's out there in the world where you're supposed to be driving past it at 75 miles an hour. Like, you don't probably want to build XR on top of that. That feels pretty unsafe. But they're really big. They're high contrast, so it's relatively easy to do image tracking on them. The information on them is in the public domain, and I love them. So that was it. And that's what I wanted to do. And then from the perspective of continuing the learnings that I'd gotten from mailwolf, I was starting to get the inklings around. You know, I want to extend that feeling of the box and of the trash portal that here are these things that are part of the architecture of driving on an old state road. You probably drive past them, you're not noticing them, they're not entering your brain. But if you can make these a portal into some kind of new magic, maybe people would start seeing them again. And if you can bring magic to an old highway sign on a pull out, I thought that would be pretty cool.

 So I knew I wanted to work with these signs, and I saw three possible approaches for this project. The first was just expand the educational content. How do you bring what that sign is trying to teach you into the world? How do you make it immersive? How do you make it really about that place? The other was this idea, and this is a zone of learning that I still really want to expand on. But the idea that mixed reality can bring hidden layers. So there's a lot of stories that they're not going to get government plaques. There's also a lot of stories that have government plaques that probably shouldn't onyat was this very famously cruel conquistador who committed horrible, violent crimes against the Indigenous people here in New Mexico. He's got a historic marker. It's regularly defaced. But what would it look like to replace his marker with a story about why that bit of land is important to the Taiwan people instead and have it told by them? Land has lots of stories that can be told in a lot of different ways. And we have the architecture, the physical architecture to do that, and we can build the digital architecture to tell those stories when it's really hard to change the physical architecture.

 New Mexico is weird, and it has really good stories and Legends and people that they're not going to get the plaques. So finding other ways of showing the world. And then lastly, there was this really cool thing that New Mexico did, which was they have a program for women's historic markers. So there's over 100 new markers in New Mexico dedicated to all these amazing women. The first female black soldier Union organizers like bandits and artists. And I wanted to approach the project as a curatorial, one pairing modern New Mexican women artists with historic figures and have them create work about those women that you'd be able to experience on site. So you could go on this road trip following women across the street and still do the pool New Mexico stuff and see why it stands in Carlsbad, but also have this massive, multi mile immersive storytelling experience with different generations of women on highway pullouts so instead of looking at the brief and being like, Snapchat asked you to make one experience, maybe like, pick one of these things. I was like, no, man, I'm going to do all three and it's going to be fine.

 So March 2021 was a really fun month where I slept a lot and I felt really good about my choices. Hot Tips It's always going to take longer than you think it will, especially when you are working with new hardware. That should be obvious. It's not obvious. Always remind yourself that when you get a new headset and you're estimating your timeline. But I made some cool art. So the first thing that I built was the caldera experience. So this was based on the VA Grande historic marker, and it would let you see a topographical map of the VA caldera, this 13 miles wide volcanic caldera that formed in an eruption, like one point 25 million years ago. So you'd see this educational visualization, you'd hear a story, but then you look out over the caldera and you'd see the mountains labeled. So ideally you'd get a sense of scale of the eruption based on sort of this little diagram and then being able to see things. And I learned a lot here. This was the first outdoor experience that I built. First thing that I learned was I needed a fake road sign to work with at home.

 I needed to actually stand in front of a physical sign and walk around it and to have a physical facility of the thing. So I made like two minutes, this big fake road sign for the studio at a foam core. If I could go back, I would make this super accurate to a historic marker. Like, I would see if I could go buy an old one, because things like the Brown color or the different reflectivity of the material at different times of day, that would have been really good to have a better idea of when I was working. But whatever you can do to have that facsimile of a physical object makes so much difference in terms of how you build experiences. So if you are doing something where there is a physical thing or a place that is going to be important to how you're interacting, like go to the place, make that thing out of foam core, do whatever you can to fake that while you're building, because it is going to change so much about how you are designing. And then the other thing that I would change if I could go back, honestly, as I would approach this whole section of the project really differently.

 There's so much to learn here that I still want to explore. But building an experience for this thing is very different from building an experience for this for the biographs. And all the thinking I had done was around the scale of a road sign and augmenting something that it's not that beautiful. I love them, but it's not this. And what did I learn at MEOWWOLF?

And I don't actually want to compete with nature. I question if I could go back whether I would just cut this one and do the educational experience in one of the ghost towns on, like, a dirt highway, just like, maybe don't put your check on top of this. But also, I do think there's a world where XR could be good in a place like this and mixed reality. And regardless of what I had ideas about putting tech in nature, this is what we're already doing. This is already how we're experiencing our nature. Our devices do go with us when we go into the natural world and we can poopoo that, but maybe we don't fight that and we say, okay, this is the world, and this is the world that people want because it's what they're doing.

 So what do we do with that? Because if it's phones today, it has sets tomorrow, and we have the chance right now to think about and to AR/VR design this experience and to hopefully make it a little bit better and more connected than the one that we're all currently doing. And I think ideally, any XR experience would hopefully be like a meditation in nature that it would ground you. It puts you in a good head space. It makes you more aware of your space and your present, and you're looking at new things with new eyes and maybe perceiving new things. But yeah, those are some things that I want to explore for XR nature in the future. And then I hope those of you who are here who are starting your journey in XR, that might be an AR/VR design issue that you want to tackle it. If this is coming, how do we make that a positive experience and how do we do it better this time than we did with funds? So that was the Caldera. The next experience that I built was called Anita. And this is based around Anita Scott Coleman sign in Silver City.

So Anita Scott Coleman was a black poet and ses living and writing in New Mexico around the turn of the century. And she wrote a lot about the Black experience of the Southwest at that time, which is like a really, really interesting history. You can look up the history of people like Buffalo soldiers and the Black home studies. But her writing was considered unique in that it was associated with the Harlem Renaissance, even though she lived in Silver City, New Mexico, not Harlem. For this, I collaborated with local Albuquerque poet Ebony ISIS Booth. She did a performance of one of Anita Scott Coleman's poems called Portraiture. The poem speaks about tall trees as a metaphor for the strengths of black men. So you have Ebony's beautiful performance that you're experiencing, and it's like a merciless forest that fades in while you're viewing and disportrait of initiative. And I think this was the most successful piece on the project. I think walking up to that sign in, reading what is honestly like really dry text in this weird piece of sidewalk in Silver City, but then having that totally transformed and hearing this beautiful performance play out around you and seeing the forest, like 100% was the best part of the project.

 And you can see the animation of it. Another little process thing that really cemented itself here was quick and dirty. Photogrammetry doesn't have to be good, but that can do. You wondrous while you're building. Now, there's like a lot of pipelines coming up that are pretty much just like incorporating this into the process, but you don't have to have the fancy new pipeline to get the benefits of this. Like you can just get out scanners on your phone and pop something into blender in order to be able to block stuff out. And it will get you where you need to go in terms of your design so much quicker. That was the New Mexico project, and that led into the next project that I ended up doing for Snapchat in collaboration with Hashtag our stories, which was another outdoor historical exploration, but this time in Boston and looking at location triggers as well. We learned from the New Mexico project with the vehicle therea. Don't put it on the beautiful thing. I'm making this in McDonald's parking lot, underground entrances like alleyways. I'm going to stay away from the beautiful gold domes and fall foliage of Boston.

 I only want to enhance things that you are not perceiving already. So there were two parts to this project. The first part, I worked with photos from the Library of Congress and with local youth poet Kevin Goo to create. They were very simple experiences where I just broke apart these historic photos and then you get to walk through them and the place that they were taken while listening to a poem that Kevin wrote in reaction both to the photos and to the modern historic site. This is not a super new idea. We've done overlays of historic photos in AR before, but I think this being in a headset and not on a phone and being outdoors and being something that you were physically walking through and seeing this woman at your eye level, that actually did feel pretty different when I tried it for the first time. And I think there was something really delightful about the relationship between the person in the headset and whoever took the photos. Right. So you're standing where they stood, you're seeing with your eyes something like what they saw. And you're both using this new piece of technology that's in its early days.

 So for them, it was a camera. For you, it's a headset and knowing when you're using that thing that it's likely to change how we experience things in the future. The camera certainly changed everything, and headsets probably will, too. And I think it's a very similar experience. We're having to be tinkering in the early days. I also like to think the pigeons in the shot might be the ancestors of the pigeons that are behind them, the real pigeons. I think this got closer to that idea that I talked about earlier in the New Mexico series of hidden layers to a world. And then the last piece in that series. This is probably my favorite thing I ever worked on was about a woman named Catherine Switzer. So Catherine was the first woman to register and run the Boston Marathon in 1967. And during her run, she was tackled by race officials who tried to physically rip the bib number from her body. When they realized that a woman had registered and was running the race, she finished the race. She's alive. She's still running and being a total badass. And Yusuf Omar from Hashtag, our story has interviewed her, and you get to hear her on site, on the site that had happened in her own words, tell you what it was like that day for her and to see the scene play out before you using historic photos from the press that day and that one, that experience is like, animated and much more complicated.

 This is an early version, but this video shows you the best view of what that street looks like. It's a really non descript street in Framingham. There's like an empty lot for sale next to it. And I think there's total magic to standing in a place that you might just walk through and see what happened and hearing her tell you this amazing story all these decades later. And this is all over the world. The potential for this sort of thing, for mixed reality, to bring these sorts of experiences that teach us about the places that we are in or makes them feel more magical. Like that is there for mixed reality. So that's all outdoors. I spent a lot of time thinking about outdoors and mixed reality. But if you've seen any of my work, the most likely thing that you've seen is, like, one of the few things that I made indoors. So I made this, like, why is it not playing? Yeah, I made this little baking demo. You see the recipe and having things labeled being able to see sort of like where things would go and having physical measurements, having temperatures and timers that are local to eat a cookie.


The AR Cooking experience

It's a good cookie. So I made that. And then it was accidentally the most popular thing I have ever built, which was a surprise. But baking for me is like a pretty special space. I bake all the time, and I spend a lot of time thinking about physicality and what it means to be inside of a body in the relationship that that has to digital spaces and digital sort of manifestations in our physical world. And there's not many things that are more physical or corporeal than eating and food. That is very much about having a body, which made it one of those spaces that I was actually a little bit nervous to get into because, like, the VA Caldera cooking is already a very beautiful thing. Do I really want to put my beat boo part on a beautiful thing? Do I have my shirt? Am I really, really short? And I did. I decided that I did. And here's the biggest reason why we're, like really into presenting very dystopian visions of AR and food. So we have the classic scary cucumber video game, Scary Fork, where the fork yells at this nice old man that he needs to eat more salad and not have his breakfast.

 Scary grocery store. Another classic. And this is good. I actually I love all of these. I love Kiqi's work, and we need Dystopias so that we can say like, hey, we don't want to live in that world. That one seems like a bad one. And this is kind of harder. And what I hope to see out of students from XR Bootcamp and what I think I have seen from students from XR Bootcamp, honestly, is to be like, what about this world? It would be nice to live in this world. Maybe we could make something like this. This would be a nice thing. And I decided I was going to do that. I was going to make the version that I thought was good, or at least say like, maybe this one, because there was a lot about food, Dystopian, AR and Mr. That irked me because it felt like there's a fundamental misunderstanding going on here of what is good about video games, what is good about making food and what is good about mixed reality, and somebody who cares a lot about all three of those things. I play video games a lot, and right now at least it's for escapism.

 There's a lot of reasons to play, but that's the big one for me right now. And baking is a lot more about escaping into your real world. Like, maybe the world is falling apart, but you know what? You can control those eggs and you can control that flour, and you can make those cookies and show someone you love them by giving them the cookies. And honestly, I could give a whole talk just about food and augmented reality and mixed reality. I gave a talk, actually, about food a couple of weeks talks. So if you're doing food, things hit me up. I have thoughts, but what I wanted to achieve here was to make sure I was not fundamentally altering the experience of baking. I'm not making a video game. The only thing that I'm doing is removing points of friction. So things like I have to touch my phone and then I get batter on it, or I'm checking this timer, or I have to pull out a ruler to measure how far my dose should be. So just from rule of friction so I can maintain flow and focus on what is already a really enjoyable thing here.

And you know what? I don't think I got it totally right. There was a lot of home cooks who were like, I'm kind of freaked out by this idea. I don't know why it makes me feel bad. And this is something that I'm still iterating on. And I think it's so important to not just poopoo your naysayers and say like, well, you don't understand video games or you don't understand food or whatever it is. I think we're really bad about that in the XR space. And then also this isn't a space, but also NFT. I think we're really bad about being like, well, you just don't believe in the future. Well, if you think that they're not getting it right, like code talks, AR/VR design talks, put your ideas out there, put them on the line about how you think this could actually be positive and then also be ready to be humble and change it, because your first idea is probably wrong. I think designing for something like this for a space that we're not going to perceive is really different from designing for a space that's already really precious. So this is a principle that I'm sort of grappling with currently.

 But the idea that if you're in a space or you're doing a thing or you're looking at a thing that you're not engaging with, if it's a McDonald's parking lot if it's a wooden box and you don't care about it, how can he change that and invite you to be more present through the work that I made? Whereas if you're in space or you're doing an activity or you are engaged with it and you do care about it, how do I step back as a designer? How do I try to just remove friction from this experience that you're already having so you can be present? And I've talked about presence a little bit over this, but we spend a little under half of our time with our mind wandering and imagined future worlds or ruminating on past worlds where we said something awkward on a date. And there's really strong research that shows we're happiest when we're actually living in our present moment when we're in our body and we're in the space that we're in and we're paying attention to those things. So I think like a designer trying to understand, where are you right now?

 Are you in a moment like that where you're present, then I need to step back? And if you're not, if you're spacing out of the bus stop, is there a way that I can shift the way that you are perceiving where you are in your world right now and give you a reason to pay attention and to be present. And here in the space that you're in, this is hard. This is really hard, and I don't think I'm totally getting it right. But we have to make our awkward attempts at proposing good things because we are at the very beginning of this technology of its possibility of being in our daily lives and being on our faces and changing the way that we look at our world. Its way out here is like the topic hellscape and way over here is utopia. And let's say for the sake of argument that we think we're leaning just like a tiny bit towards Dystopia right now, like not really big consequences in the future and a lot of ground to cover to even get back to neutral. But if we Scoot this up just a little bit, we didn't squeeze it that far just a tiny bit.

It makes such a difference in our trajectory in the future. And there's a couple of ways to do this, and I think the big way we're doing that in the public discourse currently is in reaction to the bad outcomes we're showing Dystopic worlds, and then we are reacting to those worlds and saying no, we don't want that. We also need people to be pointing at the ones that we do want. We need to be at least trying to propose good outcomes. 

And if people are saying no, actually that feels bad and I don't mind that listen to what they're saying and be ready to change. And not just people like your internal team, there needs to be more of this happening publicly, not behind closed campus stores. So we can actually find our blind spots and actually make good work. So while you're making things for all these different places for your dining room or for the mountain or for the McDonald's parking lot, whatever it is, I hope that as you participate in constructing our future that you will take that thought with you.


Turning Trash into Gold with Refract AR

If not, just how do I build a cool thing, but how do I do that? Well, how do I take that responsibility seriously, considering the moment that we are in for this technology? How do I give people new ways of perceiving the world? And how do I also respect the things and the spaces where maybe somebody doesn't want some new view and they don't want you to change it? Maybe the only thing I want is to be more present there is to not look at my phone and to pay attention to my pie or like my partner or my mountain or whatever it is. And then as a AR/VR designer, knowing the difference between what those spaces are and that's hard and being ready to be humble and to change in service of trying to get this right. Because with mixed reality, the stakes are high. Again, this is a literal faces like our human meat eyeballs that we are going to be viewing the world with. So ideally, we'll all be turning trash into gold, but then also not accidentally turning to trash what is very golden about being a human already. And that is what I have for you.

So here's my information. Refract AR is available for work and I really want to talk to you. If you are doing things about food, if you were doing things about bodies or dance or about large outdoor spaces or history. So, yeah, thanks for listening to me, Rainbow for the past hour.


Thanks for reading so far. This was an extract from the full session with Lauren Cason. For more events, check

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