The first internet revolution was focused connecting to the world through the window of your laptop or smartphone. Today, the internet has become woven throughout our physical world. No longer is the internet confined to web pages. Today we control our lights and locks with a voice command. Ordering a pizza is only slightly harder than thinking about it. As experience designers, we need to consider each thread of the digital fabric of user experience.
Interaction Design in this Brave New World of Sensors and Environments and Immersive Experiences
What is an immersive experience? It is a technology, imagery or physical space that actively engages one’s senses and creates an altered mental state. Traditionally theaters broadcast stories to audiences. With immersive experiences, the theater goer becomes part of the cast and touch, feel, speak to the story.
At their core, all compelling experiences have a strong storyline. Interactive theater, museum installations and great retail all engage people with a good story and evoke and emotional response. That storytelling and emotion can be used to deeper connection and provoke action.
The environmental canvas includes everything that interacts with the five senses. Digital elements include displays, lighting and sensors combined to communicate, listen and learn. Perhaps most exciting, people can be empowered by technology to support a deep, personal interaction.
The retail world has long measured store traffic flows to optimize product placement. Now with beacons, WiFi tracking and RFID, companies track physical shoppers almost as closely as traffic on a website. Similar to optimizing web conversion funnels, we can now optimize customers’ every step through a store or brand space. When a shopper enters a store what emotions should they feel? Signage, displays and in-store associates are all additive to the experience. Too much information can be overwhelming, and put off shoppers. To little engagement and the shopper can feel like they were ignored. Each immersive experience should be created with a plan to measure and adjust similarly to new features on a web experience.
The retail has undergone massive seismic shifts. Today, more than 75% of consumers are referencing their phones before making an in-store purchase. To evolve their business model, many brands are working to support showrooming and webrooming. As retailers and consumers continue to evolve their behavior, winning brand experiences will frictionlessly transition from digital to physical and back focused on developing the relationship with every interaction.
With the rise of Amazon, brands are moving to set themselves apart from competition with immersive experiences. Leading brands like Nike, Target and Tesla are rethinking retail. The new retail experience is less transactional and more emotive. Explaining product benefits and demonstrating how it fits into your life elevates the value of the brand and creates a lasting bond.
This trend will continue to evolve and change expectations. Associates will no longer be solely focused on driving sales but building authentic relationships. Today experience designers need to consider the entire journey and empathize with the small pain points that contribute to everyday decision making.
What Draws Brands and Marketers to Immersive Experience?
Today’s consumers are distracted by a myriad of messages competing for their attention. Digital displays, push messaging and advertising all compete for attention across each media channel keeps consumers from engaging deeply with any message. To truly build brand affinity brands must evoke an emotional response. An immersive experience can create this focused space.
Beyond dedicated space, emerging technology should be considered to create a similar reponse.
- Urban Environment: street lights, parking meters and smart bicycles
- Intimate / Personal: Smart watches, Smart wear clothing
An immersive experience endeavors to, for a moment in time, push away those distractions and fully engage the audience/actor. Once the stage is set, storytelling become the element that connects. You have to create a narrative that feels user-driven from every angle while controlling the space from behind the curtains.
This can be challenging when the audience is allowed to explore on their own terms. Rather than try to create a complicated backstory for the audience—which usually leads to boring exposition—give them something to do.
One of the biggest hurdles to engagement is to compel the audience to take a action and start to engage with an experience. How do you convince participants to take that first step? In Google’s pop-up shop in Soho, they designed an urban kitchen and living room set complete with kitschy candles and Google brand cereal. A product expert stationed in each set engaged the audience and took Google Home through its paces
A few blocks away from the Google pop-up the Sonos Flagship store provides an excellent example of a self-guided immersion. Experience pods occupy the center of the store representing different room types such as living room, study and kitchen. When the visitor enters the pod, a tablet has a clear play button to start the experience. Audio and visual cues then walk the visitor through various use cases. The experience feels fun and effortless. It creates a vision of a better life that is attainable if you just buy a Sonos system. The experience includes a clear call-to-action, full 360 degree immersive environment and a compelling storyline.
Clearly the world is moving towards experience over transactional interactions. Crafting an seamless interaction is more challenging yet more rewarding ever.
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