How can the prospectus survive the digital age?

Augmented reality could future-proof this humble booklet says Kaan Aydogmus of Magnetic London

As publications go, the humble university prospectus is rarely hailed as the copybook of creative innovation or indeed a leader in style and content.

But it may be the very first taste a new student gets of a higher education institution, so eye-catching design is well worth the investment. The prospectus is one of the rare souvenirs of print that has survived the rise of tablets, e-readers and smartphones. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be hauled into the 21st century.

Thanks to technology, there can now be far more to print than just text and photography. Prospectuses can be made more relevant to tech-savvy applicants – and the solution is Augmented Reality (AR).

Put simply, AR bridges the gap between print and digital content via a smartphone app, which brings text or images ‘to life’. This means printed material can effectively host hidden layers of digital material, so videos, links and images can be integrated with the user’s physical surroundings.

Scan a photograph of available accommodation on campus, for example, and up pops a 360-degree virtual tour of the room, bathroom and the surrounding corridors, alongside square footage and pricing details.

Course details could be ‘scanable’, too, revealing videos of tutors and students giving their accounts of how a course is structured and which modules appealed.

A section on catering could ‘hide’ a typical menu, or a video of the chef being interviewed in the canteen. Interactive maps could allow users to locate popular student hangouts in nearby towns, or student reviews of local nightlife and eateries, conveying a richer sense of a university’s character than is possible in print or with static images.

It’s immersive experiences such as these that could be invaluable to overseas students, who may not be able to visit before applying.

AR is relatively old news in the fast-moving tech world, but its potential is only just being realised in the wider world. Big brands are flirting with AR via exploratory campaigns, but with costs starting at £450 for a simple project, this technology is no longer limited to household names.

For students, any barriers to accessing AR campaigns are massively reduced. According to Ofcom data, more than 90% of 16-24 year olds own smartphones. That means accessing the AR apps required to see this hidden digital content is less of a problem. To give you an idea of its scale, Layar – the world’s biggest AR app – has been downloaded more than 40 million times on iOS and Android. It’s already mainstream.

Exeter University has already trialled this technology, with an AR prospectus that provides audio commentary for every sculpture on its campus – the collection includes pieces by Barbara Hepworth. Meanwhile, the University of Bath is leading the charge for sustainable campuses by using AR to highlight recycling facilities and cycle racks across the site.

Sitting on the cutting edge of technology – and visibly so – is a primary concern for higher education institutions, which aspire to enjoy the practical and reputational benefits of staying ahead of the digital curve. Aside from attracting students from across the globe, AR gives universities access to a rich seam of data allowing them to analyse whether their material is making a real impact.

The fundamental appeal with AR, though, is its facility to communicate greater quantities of information in a more engaging and entertaining way. Universities have a chance to make use of a technology that works in their favour. It’s time for the prospectus to be something a little different.

Kaan Aydogmus is the founder of multi-disciplinary design agency and augmented reality specialists, Magnetic London



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