What’s a Headless CMS?

What’s this Headless CMS I keep hearing about?

A Content Management System (CMS) is an online platform that helps with organising and displaying documents, blogs, wikis, or even websites. CMSs deliver most of the web content through browsers but now there’s pressure to deliver more than just html pages. 

Smartphones, wearables, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), and AI-enabled voice assistants are delivering visual/audio and even sensory content that falls out of what a standard html document was originally designed for. This is where the concept of a headless CMS comes to the rescue. A headless CMS separates how the content is managed and how it is presented. Headless is the principle of not forcing the content to be in the same form in which it might be presented; that is, content does not have to be saved or delivered as a html format. With this operational imperative, immersive experiences, whether in the guise of virtual or augmented reality, can be managed by a headless CMS which is now structured to distribute any type of digital information.

A headless CMS stores and manages the content as data (files) and live feeds (connections with data streaming options). With this approach the content manager, as the person delivering the goods to their audience, is free to transform the content into presentations that include many of today’s cutting edge technologies, such as: 

  • The delivery of VR/AR experiences as presentations; simulations; digital twins; or panoramic remote instances which control distant processes or machinery in real-time.
  • The implementation of AI visual/speech-enabled agents to aid us by providing information, recommendations and other assistance.
  • The design of visualisations related to IoT or complex data analysis, to facilitate understanding and enhance engagement ( and the list keeps growing…)

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So, what’s the value of a headless CMS?

What was the value of a CMS, when all you could do before they became popular was to hand code html pages whenever you needed an online solution? A nanosecond of consideration (or perhaps a bit more) provides a list of benefits: 

  • The time saved through streamlined processes. 
  • Cost reduction gained through content development becoming accessible to non-technical staff.
  • Risk mitigation through having access to a much larger pool of potential content developers.
  • More control by having a workflow which could include moderators and QA personnel.
  • Enhanced security since all web-pages were addressed by industry-accepted security protocols; and more.

All these gains are now paralleled when people shift from their CMS to a headless CMS model, as custom purpose content that previously would have required software development and technical oversight is transformed into non-technical workflow, still requiring artists and designers, but not the software and technical business analysts of old.

 

How does the headless CMS improve content development and distribution?

Content, regardless of its source, is always classified and accessible: Data and digital assets that were used for earlier projects are not lost in the mountain of material that may have been left behind. Since all material is managed by the headless CMS, every piece of data and digital object is always ready to live another day under a completely different content presentation (for instance, turn your old video into an AR experience.)

Economic value: What could have been a custom purpose, time-limited, silo experience (AR/VR, complex data visualisation, etc.) Can now be an experience that can be managed by your headless CMS. You may wish to extend such experiences to generate new value (for instance, recast a visualisation from just exposing the variables that drive certain business transactions or behaviours to perform forecasts for different scenarios, with the further implementation of AI support.)

Integration of new Solutions: New functionalities within the headless CMS are much easier to develop and deploy since the functionality can be easily encapsulated as a module of a much larger set of modules that form the system. These modules connect and support each other, but are designed in a way that changes to any of its parts does not negatively affect the running of the system.

Uniform Security rather than piecemeal efforts: Any product that is not designed, built, and distributed under a uniform system will always have its security protocols questioned (and rightly so.) A properly configured headless CMS must include the appropriate security protocols to satisfy industry standards. Each product, as a published content type, will be stamped by the umbrella security protocol of its headless CMS, ensuring a better reception by its audience.

The Headless CMS is not going away. They are here now and will continue to grow in acceptance and value. It is no longer a decision of whether you should invest in a headless CMS solution but rather when. 

The importance of Easter eggs

Introduction

The process of adding Easter eggs inside projects is about creating informal inside jokes very well hidden, which aren’t usually revealed to clients or users. Most often, those do find about them by themselves after doing unexpected actions on the application, such as going through fake walls, series of key presses, opening the application at a specific location and/or time, etc.

Many companies, even the biggest ones out there, have been implementing Easter eggs in their products. One of the latest examples of this is Google’s Easter egg at the release of the Marvel Studio’s Avengers: End Game. Upon searching for Thanos and clicking on the glove, a script will run and automate the destruction of most of the web page, as shown on the video below.

Why are they so important?

Even before getting released, those have a clear impact on development. Towards the end of development, employees are usually feeling burned out, in need of both sleep and laughter. Easter eggs easily help brightening the mood of the office, since those are often created out of jokes or silly ideas which grew out of proportion.

After release, they usually are a fun way to tease your users and clients, depending on the type of person you have in front of you. Telling them “there’s an Easter egg in the app, have you found it yet?” make them curious and most often will get them to search the application and use it a lot more often. Additionally, asking your client to add an Easter egg themselves is something we would recommend. For instance, on a project we’ve worked in the past had put their initials on their main 3D model on the production build. Later, they could ask their users whether they’ve found it or not and have it as a joke.

Lastly, years after developing the project, rediscovering them is one of the best feeling. Easter eggs usually creates a lot of memories and good times, and often are associated with the core of the project while being a very discrete and pointless feature.

Example of Easter eggs

One of our developers really likes secrets and Easter eggs in general, and secretly stuffs every project with those without telling the rest of the team. While a lot of trust must be involved in this process, depending on the culture of your work environment, those can be well received.

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One example of something they did, was to add one of their character inside a secret room in one of our demos and removed the collider on the wall so you can walk right past through it. That kind of harmless detail can easily make somebody’s day.

Another example is adding additional needless information in the repository commits descriptions. It’s important to ensure that all the commit information is self-explanatory and accurate but adding a little weird sentence here and there can’t do any harm (unless the repository is meant to be transferred to the client).

Sample from one of our repositories commit list.

A very common type of in-company Easter egg is the misuse of code comments. While most of the comments are either formal and useful, some may include screams of agony or just plain weird content. Those are usually picked up during project review or project de-dusting, and often catches developers off- guard. A silly example of this type is this type of comment.

One of our developer hates series of clothing curvy brackets.

Conclusion

In short, based on the type of culture present in your company and the context of the current project, there is no reason why you shouldn’t add Easter eggs here and there. Do keep in mind that those should remain harmless for the sake of staying a joke rather than becoming a source of problem or arguments.

Have a wonderful day!

Designing Intitutive UX for AR

Introduction

The AR (Augmented Reality) technology is constantly improving with a host of new technologies like big data, machine-learning, IOT, Artificial intelligence, etc. The digital experience has been radically transformed by coalescing the physical and digital worlds, where the user interface has extended beyond the screen with a flexible immersion level.

Jared Spool famously wrote “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done

poorly that we notice it.”

Applications based on Augmented Reality adopt a series of well-defined user experience design principles that are generally consistent, although there are scenarios where there is a need to make design decisions according to the associated industry, style and objective of the application.

Environment

One of the biggest challenges of the UX design in an AR application is determining the environment in which the application intends to run. Some applications are built to interact with the user’s entire body, such as a retail application that allows the user to virtually try on clothes. Similarly, there are many AR applications which are meant to be used in public spaces.

The key is to keep the environment familiar and intuitive. AR provides users, experiences that traditional applications cannot. A new axis is introduced to our digital experiences — we are integrating the physical world through cameras of the various devices. Digital and physical interaction provides an opportunity to explore a dimension where the boundaries are blurred.

As such, user testing is critical in order to predict how different environmental factors will enhance or inhibit the positive user experience. Environmental factors which are pivotal for a positive user experience are the user’s vantage point, colors, sizes of objects, lighting and shadows, moving objects, living beings, and walls.

Interactions

The interaction of the user with the objects, media, and the UI is in the social sphere by default. When considering how to interact with the environment, it is important to primarily consider what hardware the users will be engaging with. The interactions through mobile are different than HoloLens interactions. The interactions should always be designed to align with the goal of the immersive application’s experience.

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Developing empathy for the users enables the designer to preemptively address the limitations that certain users might encounter during their experience. By virtue of taking the time to envision the user’s needs, the designer can make the interactions holistically accessible and useful for all the users.

Presence of cues

Cues play an important part in developing a strong UX experience, as they offer direction for users. Simultaneously, cues are designed to hide or reveal certain features dependent on gestures made by users. Visual cues present the users with off-screen elements such as buttons, which the user can hover over for additional features. Cues are simple clues that inform the user what elements of the UI are designed to be interacted with, and how to interact with them.

Audio cues are useful as well, allowing users to command the application to do something just by speaking. Similarly, an application could be created to recognize certain sounds which can trigger it display hidden features.

Color and text

Vuforia Chalk app

The science of Color theory works the same way in AR, just like how it influences us in print, mobile, web, and the other elements of our life. Consider the environmental context, the culture of the users, and the psychological effects of certain colors while selecting the theme of the application. Lighting is an integral characteristic which defines the effectiveness of the immersive experience to the user, if the users are enjoying the experience or leaving them unconvinced. Projection of shadows from the objects enhance the visual effects and brings them to life. For text, it is important to ensure it is relatively large and easy to read, but not overpowering. Choosing a font that works well with the color scheme and environment is important.

Appearition Enterprise Jam #1

Introduction

Last month, we had decided to start an enterprise App/Game Jam internally. The concept behind a jam is to run a 48h straight event with the objective to create a prototype by the end of it, allowing as much freedom as possible to a given team while they respond to a given theme.

This jam’s theme was “Rewards“.

Why though?

To begin with, the main goal of this jam was to reunite the developers and designers at Appearition together and have them work in a single team. While we had worked together on various occasions and projects, we never had experienced a single project with all of us working towards a single outcome at once.

Although, each of us knew what others do, a jam (along with the pressure it provides) offered us the best way to bond further and learn more about out various skill sets, especially secondary skills and things we prefer doing in a project. During this jam, some of us found out that one of us had artistic skills, another with a preference for developing UI rather than code, and another with a strong desire to learn game programming. Participating in this type of event helped learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as working as a team to achieve the single outcome.

While most projects we do are on an individual scale or a bigger scale, this was a great opportunity to test how we would come up with solutions for different time zones and remote work for a project with a tight deadline and heavy pressure.

Lastly, this was a great opportunity to change from what we usually do, which is more along the lines of R&D, enterprise application development, proof of concept, etc. Quite a few of us had never worked on a game before, or not for a long time. Being able to develop a prototype for a different type of use and audience was a challenge to us, as well as being refreshing.

Doing the jam

We started the jam with 6 of us:

  • 2 Programmers (1 lead and 1 mechanic developer, both actual developers)
  • 1 Game Artist (R&D developer but could do game art)
  • 2 UI Designers (one pure UI Designer, one who prefers UI design over development)
  • 1 Project Manager

We used Slack as our main communication tool and ZOOM and Skype for group calls. We started the jam all in a call, were briefed about the theme, then decided to individually explore the theme and return as a group to discuss our findings. Once on the call, we proposed several ideas, projects, talked about them and expanded them. After making sure each of us had something to work on, we started working. The team was divided in two locations: two people
in one house in Australia, and the rest of the team would meet at the office or at somebody’s place.

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We agreed to work on an Appearition Simulator, which would be a game inspired from Game Dev Tycoon (2012, developed and published by Greenheart Games), where the player starts as our CEO, takes on projects, expands the team and builds the whole company from scratch. Part of this idea also helped explaining what the origin of Appearition was, and how it became what it is today.

The prototype of the game was meant to be a 2D horizontal management game, where the player controls several employees by selecting them one by one and giving them orders individually. Our CEO would receive calls about a client wanting a project, along with requirements and modules.

Client project panel. Gives some background on the project and client, including salary, time and tasks. The client stats affect the flow of the project, change of requirements, etc; and are meant to improve as we educate them.

Once accepted, all those requirements would appear on a blackboard as tasks (like a Kanban workflow, to-do, QA, done, etc) of different field of practice. Each of those tasks could be assigned to employees, who would have skills and preference in said field.

Task board, where employees select tasks. Here, there is a lvl5 R&D task, lvl0 UI Design and lvl0 Q&A. Those values aren’t meant to be absolutely accurate.

Upon project completion, each team member would receive skill proficiency, happiness if they worked on skills they liked, and food. The company would also get the money from the commission, and the client would gain trust in our company. If the project was not finished in time, the company would not earn a cent and every employee would lose happiness.

Our CEO currently working on a task. No time for sitting animations!

The outcome

Unfortunately, we did not have sufficient time to push the project to a prototype level within the 48 given hours, mainly due to the way we worked as a group and had seek an extension in order to complete it.

However, the primary objectives were more along the lines of team-bonding and having a good time with colleagues by doing something different, and we did great on that. Additionally, most of us learned a lot from working on a non-enterprise project, since this isn’t what we’re used to.

Through most of the jam, we were using Slack to post work in progress of what we were each doing in order to keep the team informed. Once any of us had any struggle or was done with their task, we would get in a call together and keep ourselves updated. On the last day, we had a nearly constant group call ongoing to ensure that we were going to deliver properly and go through the problems we had.

Overall, we were happy with this opportunity given to us. On presenting this project to the entire company, we agreed on expanding this project as an introduction to Appearition, as well as a way to learn more about our colleagues.

Why content is key for AR platforms

Content in the context of Augmented Reality (AR), is defined as the presentation of existing information in a format applicable to the current world-view. This takes the form of visual and/or audio but can also take on other sensory formats such as touch or even smell.

This distinction between content and information is important to understand when considering the functional applications of AR platforms. In simple terms, an AR platform will not create information but rather consume it from existing sources and create, package and deliver it as AR content.

AR platforms such as Appearition’s Experience Management System (EMS), rely on the availability of information to create and deliver contextually relevant content to connected clients. AR platforms should, therefore, be regarded as mediums for connecting to existing data stores and aggregating and formatting that information based upon the context of the intended audience.

There are several challenges facing AR platforms today. At the outset, any effective platform must provide an intuitive user interface that is accessible and available to non-technical users. More often, it will be business staff who will be interacting with the platform to manage and create information and content.

  1. Access to information

A key concern of AR platforms is access to information. This demands connection and integration to various types of data stores. It comes with adherence to security and authentication protocols, data privacy laws and compliance and the support of various types of data formats such as CSV, XML and JSON.

With this concern comes the fundamental need of having a scalable, robust and highly responsive infrastructure for reliable functional performance.

  1. Contextualising information

Once information is available to the AR platform, it is important to be able to classify and group it. This will become an integral step in content creation as it will be important to link the context of the audience with the context of the information.

Meta-data is a common concept used in IT systems to help with classification. You can apply meta-data to existing information and then filter and query that when creating content.

  1. Delivering a good user experience (UX)

A well delivered UX has these two common properties: relevance to what we are doing and is quick to load. The former is something we have already touched on above. The latter is about network latency and is best understood when we think about today’s websites. According to studies, more than 40% of users bounce from websites that take more than 3 seconds to load. This is directly related to internet connectivity speeds and the amount of content being delivered to the browser. The same principle applies to AR experiences, however, instead of the latency concerns of HTML, AR is concerned about the speed of recognition, the stability of tracking and the download and rendering of immersive content such as 3D models or 360-degree videos.

A critical factor for AR is a reliable and fast wireless network connection. Whilst the current 4G technology does enable us to watch videos and images seamlessly, when it comes to immersive AR experiences, content is much bigger and heavier than standard website content. As such, we eagerly look forward to 5G which aims to revolutionise our world again with quick access to immersive content.

Whilst the promise of 5G is very much a future aspiration, there are strategies today that can be considered when designing and building AR solutions with latency in mind. Can you anticipate and pre-download AR content before the user has asked for it? Can you place content closer to the user to minimise too many hops around the world? Can you break up the content into smaller chunks and stagger how and when it’s presented?

Conclusion

In many respects, we are exposed to information all the time and in different ways. Since the dawn of humanity, we have exchanged information by communicating and interacting with each other. We then became exposed to printed information in the form of books, newspapers and magazines. In more recent times information has emerged in the form of TV and radio. Finally, the invention of the internet and social media has exploded our access to information at our fingertips. We use information all the time to make important decisions at work, school, home and in social settings. Filtering and deciphering this information in a way that is relevant to what we are doing now, has always been and will continue to be a struggle.

AR content is the means to access and view contextually relevant information in our world.

Simon Galanakis is a passionate advocate of effective AR experiences and is currently Appearition’s Platform Architect and Senior Solution Designer.

Register your Interest for our Unity SDK Beta Test Program

Appearition invites users to join closed beta testing group for Enterprise SDK – here’s how to sign up.

Appearition is looking to recruit about 50 people to a closed, private group of beta testers to help in early builds of software for the EMS Enterprise Unity SDK. Eligible users would need to, be active in the Unity developer community, be willing to give feedback, and also sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Closed Beta program is an opportunity for us to listen to your feedback and refine or revise our product strategy based on that. It also helps us to find major bugs at an early stage and release more stable Open Beta and official builds.

The Closed Beta Group is the closest group to Appearition staff. Given the privacy aspect, you are required to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with Appearition to be part of this program.

Register your interest here. Simply fill out the information required.

Designing for a difference – Part 2

Deepa Umesh, Head of Delivery, Appearition India, talks on how design makes a difference in Branding, Digital Transformation and more:

– How to achieve branding using design?

Consistency is the key to branding. We drive the end user to build a perception of our brand through design. If there is a disconnect in a medium or between digital and physical communication or design, the ability to identify our brand is lost.

A repeated systematic approach will provide the solution to business branding. It is a journey not a process that is definitive.

Imagination + Creativity + Empathy + Innovation results in Value creation.

Along with these components, conducting a SWOT analysis will help in market segmentation and identifying targets. It gives an outline to a pragmatic and holistic approach.

Semiotics – the study of symbols opens more avenues in terms of design as these are based on language and culture. Human Psychology + Semiotics lead to solution building – a spot where design plays a pivotal role.

In recent years, symbols have replaced text. Symbols indicate, designate, and process the visuals. This results in creating a likeness, providing an analogy and acts as a metaphor for the objects that symbol represent.

A culmination of the above-mentioned aspect(s) leads to clarity, consistency and credibility of branding.

Thus, Branding is automatically achieved when we focus on the solution as opposed to the problem.

– Digital Transformation: What will be the role of a design in this next big thing?

As we know, design facilitates that oneness in tone and thinking. To me, being able to change what we do and how we do forms the crux of digital transformation. Design plays the crucial role in being able to set the tone, track and deliver it.

Design is constantly evolving with time and technology-your task is to take puzzle pieces and make the final picture without knowing how it should look. The key isn’t gathering a lot of pieces, it’s gathering all the right pieces.

Mapping and analysing, an activity reliant on design, is the underlying factor that lets you take stock of the direction you’re moving toward. Furthermore, demographics and psychographics play a key role in deciding how we go about designing change.

People might think design to be as simple as creating fancy logos with Photoshop or any other software you can get your hands on but what they don’t realize is all the back-end work that goes into the final product which conveys the innate depth of a company’s mission and vision.

– According to you, what are the factors to consider when balancing content and design to deliver the best product? 

Content dictates the design form. We are amid multitudes of communication channels such Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest etc. Each of these mediums have developed a form of presentation and content for itself. So much so that when we colloquially say, ‘write a tweet’, people understand that it is within 280 characters. Thus, social media has given a whole new meaning to the term ‘in a nut shell.’ And design wise, 1080 x 1080 has become the new informal standard for pictures on Facebook and Twitter whereas WhatsApp and Snapchat are a whole new ball game.

Freedom and the kind of work we do decides what we design or how we design. A newspaper design depends on the content, an advertisement can be designed to be bold and bright. In the same scenario, content will be in-depth in a newspaper and very minimal for an ad. The best of both worlds can be achieved when we know the end product we are working towards delivering.

Also, they work in tangent to one another and cannot function independently.

To be able to deliver quality content, we need to accurately plan out how we convey what we convey – should the design be bold and represent our company culture or should it play second fiddle to text which will drive the background design.

As long as we are clear on this aspect, we can always deliver the best of both worlds. Like I said, content and design are very much interdependent.

Designing for a difference

Deepa Umesh, Head of Delivery, Appearition India, talks on how design makes a difference in Branding, Digital Transformation and more:

– Design: why it is a key element to present anything

Design crisps down and presents what we want to convey aesthetically. It communicates ideas that inspire, inform, or captivates consumers. A brand or an advertisement is just another name till you design a logo and a tagline to go with it. From selling products to services, designs, their colours, shapes are what defines and differentiates one from the other. Brand recall happens because of design.

Design outlines 3As – Appeal, Address, Associate.

It attracts (appeal) the attention and gives an introduction about a Brand and thereby creating the FIRST IMPRESSION.

Furthermore, it promotes (addresses) the 5 P’s Product, Price, Place Promotion and Packaging.

Association means positioning and differentiating through a unique value proposition. (Who we are, who are our target audience, and how we can cater to their requirements)

How has design evolved over the past few years?

The fundamentals have always been the same. These days, however, designers are going bold, experimenting with spacing and usage of images, shapes etc. Amongst this metamorphosis, balance has been the constant. Technically, typography, especially negative space typography (space behind the text) is being greatly used, a disruption of basic design principle. Learning to unlearn helps designers greatly because design evolves constantly.

In today’s world, design must appeal in a specific time frame. People consume everything on the move and hence dynamic data design is essential. Design should reach them quickly and efficiently and this can be achieved when we understand human psychology.

Earlier, few brands and few products were there. Now, with the advent of huge retailers and the saturation of the market with innumerable brands and products, bold, bright and minimal designs win.

Not just many brands, but also many social media channels through which ads are being posted.

However, in the enterprise space, corporates prefer black and white to keep it subtle. These two colours reflect any other colour thrown at them. Google’s logo design and layout is one of my personal favourites. They thwarted the idea of more the merrier in terms of design.

Interactive design in terms of UI (User interface) and UX (User experience) seems to be the current. This is due to a largely mobile-first mindset of consumers.  Bright colors plus a 3D composition is an absolute winning combo these days. Custom hand-drawn illustrations are always on the wave of popularity.

– (Generally) what are some key challenges that design can convert into an opportunity?

In my view, creative people provide the skeletal framework – which leads to actual solutions. For instance, designs provide that clarity of thought during a brain-storming session, provides a demo or outline of what is expected.

Innovation creates an opportunity – Brings out customer centric solutions. Ideation unfolds the hidden opportunities. When initiating change management, alteration in design is usually a breakthrough in visual appeal. It sets the new tone.

Design also facilitates in making a roadmap. Numbers, plans of action, goals, activities, time – you name it, design is the one key factor that helps you visualise and provide a sense of direction. This design has evolved over years to PPTs, brochures, goal setting apps or data analytics.

– Visual retention: How people perceive pictures

Studies suggest that people process a visual scene within 0.01 seconds! That is how powerful the visual medium is. This is essentially why people say design speaks volumes. Everything from colour, to the font, to accompanying design or layout, sets a tone to what we try to say.

For instance, red is generally perceived as flashy. So, it is usually used in abundance for emergency response related work or sale – two places where it is necessary to be catchy.

Whereas, blue, white and black for text is considered to be very professional for enterprise communication.

Design drives the tone of the content, and the end user drives the idea of design. It is a small, sort-of vicious circle.

Follow this space for Part-2 of the interview.