Women virtually try on different lip colors

Virtual Makeup Becomes a Reality

Over the summer of 2020, Jenna Jansen and Jamie Zeigler, two students from the JMU X-Labs Augmented and Virtual Reality class, jumped at the opportunity to work with Mary McMahan from withSimplicitya local organic beauty products company—to create a virtual cosmetics sampling application on Instagram in response to limitations around COVID-19. Like any project, it had its challenges, but they kept after it and by September the augmented reality (AR) application was up on Instagram for customers to use.

Check it out on Instagram!

Here’s what the team had to say about the project…

Interview with Mary

Interview with the Jamie and Jenna

Mary McMahan
Director of Marketing
at withSimplicity

student headshot

Jamie Zeigler
Senior in Media Arts and Design
with a concentration in Interactive Design

student headshot

Jenna Jansen

Computer Information Systems and Marketing (double major)

JMU X-Labs: What were your company’s big challenges that you were trying to overcome by building the filters/app?

Mary: When the COVID pandemic started, we were required under state law to close all our testers in our store. They are still closed today, and will remain closed until regulations allow us to open them. Because our customers are unable to try our products, we’ve seen a noticeable decrease in our makeup sales.

The purpose of the Instagram AR filters is to give our customers, both local and national, the opportunity to try on our makeup products from the comfort of their home, contact-free. In turn, we hope to see our makeup sales increase.

JMU X-Labs: What motivated you to reach out to JMU X-Labs about this idea?

Mary: We were connected with JMU X-Labs by Andrea Dono at Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. JMU X-Labs has worked with other downtown businesses in the past, delivering great results.

As a JMU Alumna myself of the JMU SMAD program, I was very excited to work with students that were exploring a similar career path to me. When I was a student, “outside of school” projects were what really grew my skills as both a designer and media student. I saw our AR project as a way for me to give back to the JMU community and to give Jamie and Jenna a real world experience that they could use as a portfolio piece when applying for jobs next year.

Also, the JMU X-Labs students are very talented. I knew they would have the resources, skills, and support necessary to complete this project according to my high expectations.

I saw our AR project as a way for me to give back to the JMU community and to give Jamie and Jenna a real world experience that they could use as a portfolio piece when applying for jobs next year.

Mary McMahan Director of Marketing at withSimplicity

JMU X-Labs: What were your hopes and expectations before you began working on this project?

Mary: My hope was to complete this project as quickly and effectively as possible so we could provide this virtual service to our customers. We succeeded!

JMU X-Labs: What was your experience working with Jamie and Jenna?

Mary: Jamie and Jenna were fabulous to work with. Not only were they professional, they answered every question I had and stuck through the tough times in the beginning when we weren’t sure what direction we were going to take this project. Their knowledge of AR and technical skills gave me confidence that they would create an experience our customers would love.

JMU X-Labs: What were the main obstacles and challenges during the project and how did the team overcome them?

Mary: We struggled at the beginning of the project while determining where this AR feature would “live”, whether it would be on our website or a separate App. Luckily we were able to find a solution via Instagram & Facebook’s Spark AR that we could complete quickly and effectively. Through all the uncertainty of the direction of the project, Jamie and Jenna stayed calm, looked for solutions, and provided me assurance that we would end up with an amazing interactive experience for our customers!

JMU X-Labs: What was your impression of this option as a local resource, i.e., students from JMU X-Labs helping a local business solve a problem?

Mary: I think it’s great! Not only are the students able to get real world experience, but local businesses are connected with young professionals who are learning about the newest, most up-to-date technologies that will help find solutions to the new problems we’re facing.

A woman virtually tries on a lip color

The AR app allows people to safely try different colors of makeup from home.

JMU X-Labs: What does it mean to you and your company to have an app like this?

Mary: It’s wonderful! Since we only have one brick-and-mortar location, our customers across the nation didn’t have the option to test our makeup products. Not only did this app help find a solution to our “covid-related” issue (with testers required to be closed), but it created a new way for our customers to experience our brand that’s free, accessible, and fun! 

JMU X-Labs: What surprised you most as you were working on this project?

Mary: I was surprised by how easy it is for businesses to jump into AR features and leverage this technology to provide a better product experience for customers.

JMU X-Labs: What classes or events at JMU X-Labs have you been a part of?

Jamie: Augmented/Virtual Reality & 360 Media: Spring 2020 and currently in Community Innovations

Jenna: I have taken three JMU X-Labs classes: Community Innovations, Creativity and Innovation, and AR/VR.

JMU X-Labs: How has being part of this project changed you, your life, your way of thinking, your outlook on life, your education, or your career, if at all?

Jamie: At the beginning of this project we were given a task to create a platform for withSimplicity’s customers to try on makeup virtually in the midst of a pandemic. We started looking at our options with a narrow view, but quickly learned that with our time, resources, and skill set that we would need to get creative. How can we implement an augmented reality experience within withSimplicity’s current digital presence? This project helped me be more adaptable and resourceful in my professional and personal life. I am looking forward to seeing what new, creative, and innovative projects will be in my future.

Jenna: I had a lot of fun with this project and it made me realize that I would love to work with augmented reality in my career. It was also so nice to be able to work with a local business. I love supporting local, so being able to use skills I learned in classes for a real business was great!

JMU X-Labs: How did your JMU X-Labs experience inform how you approached this project, if at all?

Jamie: JMU X-Labs teaches you how to be flexible and adaptable. We work with students from different disciplines and are encouraged to look at issues from multiple perspectives. Also, before the spring semester I had never worked with augmented reality. The skills I learned through using Unity and Vuforia opened up new opportunities for me. I was able to apply my existing UX/UI and design skills into the class helping me deliver a usable product for withSimplicity.

Jenna: JMU X-Labs classes taught me to 1) think big and focus on innovation and 2) realize that sometimes your innovative ideas don’t work, and that’s okay! We modified this project a few times over the summer to balance our skills, the client’s needs, and what the current technology available to us can do.

JMU X-Labs: What were the main obstacles and challenges during the project and how did the team overcome them?

Jamie: At the start, our original intention was to create a web portal that allowed users to try on makeup virtually, upload photos, or test makeup on images of models. This was something we knew was unattainable for us due to our resources, time, and the fact that there were only two of us. Our challenge was to come up with a creative way to implement the services they needed that was within our scope. Over several weeks and many discussions about what could be possible and effective, we landed on creating the Instagram filters. withSimplicty already had an Instagram shop, so adding this feature would add another dimension for potential and existing customers.

Jenna: We started by wanting to create an AR web application but quickly found that we would either need a lot more students to work on the project, or we would have to buy face tracking technology, which can get really expensive. We worked with Mary from withSimplicity to modify the project a few times. AR is becoming a lot more prevalent, but there are still a lot of limits to the technology. Every time we thought we found a solution, another roadblock came up. To overcome this, it required a lot of research into the technologies available to us. We ended up deciding to go with a social media-based application. This allowed us to use a great AR program called Spark AR that I have prior experience with. The project went smoothly after we decided on this modification.

JMU X-Labs: What surprised you most about working on the project?

Jamie: Honestly, how good it looked. As the designer, I created all the assets (makeup) in Illustrator and Photoshop. After a few rounds of refinement the makeup kept looking more and more realistic. I was over the moon with how it turned out!

Jenna: I was surprised how certain software and programs don’t allow for AR functionality. I assumed that most companies were putting a lot of resources into AR technologies, but a lot of the problems we ran into were because the technology just wasn’t there or wasn’t accessible to the general public. I think AR is going to continue to grow for e-commerce and seeing how a lot of e-commerce sites just aren’t fully supporting AR functionality was a surprise.

JMU X-Labs: What was your favorite thing about working on the project?

Jamie: I really enjoyed working with Jenna and Mary on this project. We had great communication throughout and worked well together as a team. Although Jenna and I fell into certain roles, we continued to support each other to provide the best product for Mary and withSimplicity.

Jenna: I loved being able to work with a local business during the COVID-19 pandemic to come up with an innovative solution for a timely issue. withSimplicity is also such a great company and I had a lot of fun working with Mary, the Director of Marketing, and Jamie, the other student on the project.

JMU X-Labs: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Jamie: Thank you to JMU X-Labs and Nick Swayne for getting us on to this project. And thank you to Mary and withSimplicity for trusting Jenna and I throughout this process. It was a wonderful experience and I am honored to have the opportunity to work with such amazing women and be a part of JMU X-Labs.

Jenna: You can try out all of the filters on withSimplicity’s Instagram!

Posted October 6, 2020

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