Exploring the Power and Passion of AR Design with Don Allen III

A collage of Don Allen III interacting with augmented reality experiences.

by Patrick Faller

posted on 06-24-2020

The most incredible artists are those whose energy and enthusiasm for their craft shine through their work. This is undoubtedly the case for Don Allen III; ask him about his art, particularly his work in augmented reality, and he positively beams. He uses AR and 3D design to take viewers on a journey to futuristic worlds, always compelling, never bleak, and, above all, exciting. With a science background and a passion for technology, he has set out to use his digital art to do good – and he sees AR as the best way to do that.

“What excites me about AR as a medium is that it literally offers limitless potential for change and growth. Augmented reality is not just a bunch of filters, it is so much more than that. It is literally a paradigm shift in how humans value a virtual product entity or story. I feel like we are just dipping our toes into the matrix,” said Don.

But, like many multidisciplinary designers, he has tried many mediums and embraced all sorts of forms of technology in his digital storytelling along the way; it just so happens AR ticks all the boxes for him. “AR literally combines all of my passions into one form. It offers the widest range of flexibility and growth out of all of my passions. It combines my love for 3D animation and storytelling with technology and sound design, and futuristic tech with interactive, game-like experiences.”

We spoke to Don about how he came to learn and love AR design, and asked him to share some of his top tips for other designers looking to break more into this exciting field.

A design evolution from Photoshop, to After Effects, to AR with Adobe Aero

The start of Don’s design journey began at age 11, when his dad persuaded him to stop playing with MS Paint and to pick up Adobe Photoshop instead (father of the year award!). He was hooked, and quickly began trying to emulate the work of pro designers, putting out his own creations at a young age over social media. It was during this time he also discovered After Effects and animation. Over time, he began to develop his own style, and was drawn to 3D and immersive design for its storytelling power and newfound significance in the industry.

“In 2015 I had a realization that if I wanted to stay relevant as a designer in the future I would need to have a lot more 3D under my belt; I would need a lot of skills and practical examples of work that I had done in 3D. I felt like people were starting to see the limits of what live action video could offer and people were expecting something more,” said Don.

Like he had done, back in the day, Don began combing the online world for examples of artists he could learn from. “Along the way, I found a very welcoming community of artists in the 3D space and seeing their work on Instagram has been endless fuel and motivation for me to keep expanding my skills,” he said. Don’s routine is one of constant improvement – his mantra is to learn something new every day. “I try to learn skills that would put the past version of me out of work.”

For Don, this has included learning Adobe Aero, which he now uses as his ‘go-to’ for creating and sharing his concepts for immersive AR experiences. “Aero has allowed me to speed up my workflow and iterate demos and final results quicker. It’s allowed me to visualize the wild concepts in my head in a format that other people can understand. It’s also removed my greatest constraint to creating, which was server space to load and share 3D experiences.”

Using your imagination to cultivate a design POV

One of Don’s most popular pieces he’s created, to date, has been his “Clear Mirror” AR project. Not only is it an incredibly cool and fun project to watch (first-person interactions with robots in AR), but it also showcases his unique point of view; one shaped by external influences and culture, but entirely his own interpretation.

“Clear Mirror was inspired by the show Black Mirror. While I loved all the technology aspects discussed in Black Mirror, I was very frustrated by the overall negative outlook it has painted for humanity and their relationship with technology. I figured that instead of complaining about Black Mirror the best way to fight it was to develop a series that shows technology and humans interacting in a much more positive light, with much better outcomes for all,” he said.

Don says his best friend as a designer is, undoubtedly, his imagination, free of other people’s thoughts and expectations. His guiding principle is to try to start his designs from a place that is purely a “matter of imagination”; to try very hard to not care what others think and to create what he wants. His mission is to help others achieve this in their own creative work.

“Imagination without judgment is truly limitless. You can see my passion by seeing how much stuff I have made public over the last six or seven years and how varied the work is. I try my best to learn something new every single day and then I try to teach it back to the world. I have found that by teaching what I have learned I have been able to really understand the things that I do more deeply,” he said.

To learn to create amazing AR experiences, look to 3D game design

When asked about the best way aspiring AR designers out there can learn the craft, Don has a strong piece of advice; one that has helped him advance his career in AR considerably. Look to game design, he says, as a lot of the pipeline workflows and tools of video game creation closely mirror those of AR design.

“For anyone who wants to get started in the world of augmented reality design and creation, my best advice is to study the processes of 3D game design. Learning how to develop a game is almost like learning how to develop for AR.”

Don advises that anyone who wants to learn how to design in AR should research these three topics, learn what they mean, and watch videos related to them:

He also recommends paying close attention to the latest developments in artificial intelligence and mobile technologies. “The future of AR is going to have a lot more artificial intelligence embedded into each and every experience. Also, augmented reality will be persistent across different devices as well as locations. In the far future, but still in our lifetime, I think AR will replace the use cases of smartphones as people will come to expect their glasses, for example, to take care of just about everything that they do with their phones today.”

Future goals: A school system that makes full use of the power of AR

Don is a socially-minded designer, and he wants to do good with his craft. He hopes to use his skills in AR to positively impact the school system, creating a school that is free and accessible for all. Much like his previous work, this idea takes inspiration from movies and television, but comes with his own goal and POV.

“Essentially. I would like to create a high-performance school for people to interact with through AR and AI integrations. I want to create a school system that has a major focus on mental health, that is driven by the interests and passions of the learners rather than the other ways around,” he said.

Creators, like Don, are embracing emerging tech as a way to manifest new ideas and make them a reality. He says that is the true power of AR: absolutely anything is possible, from anywhere in the world, and with little impact on the environment.

“The power of AR comes from its ability to create stories out of thin air. The ability to turn any spatial place into a canvas for storytelling and creation. It’s also one of the only art mediums that is completely sustainable, as it doesn’t use any resources other than charging your devices,” he said, adding that these experiences do have the possibility to impact people in monumental ways.

“The power of AR comes from its game-like nature. This makes experiences more interactive than watching a screen one way. It’s impactful, and it’s kind of everything to me.”

To see more of his work, check out Don Allen III’s Instagram profile. And to get started creating and sharing your own AR experiences, download Adobe Aero.

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Topics: 3D & AR, Emerging Technology, Design

Products: Photoshop, Creative Cloud