We’re living in the age of experience. And while everyone is still obsessing over millennials, because half the world’s population is under 30, we need to start thinking about the iGen – the generation born with mobiles in their hands.
So, where do we start?
AR, VR, MR… WTF?
Just to clear up any confusion:
‘Augmented Reality’ is a layer over our world, ‘Virtual Reality’ is a step into a world, and ‘Mixed Reality’ is a mixture of the two things.
Mixed Reality is a mix of virtual and holographic imagery, using glasses. It’s a group or shared experience, and most people are talking about Magic Leap in this area – a US startup company that is working on a head-mounted virtual retinal display which superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real-world objects.
Apple has now stepped into the AR arena, too, revealing one of its games – produced by Sir Peter Jackson’s Wingnut studios – at the tech brand’s annual conference this month.
This is massive news. It means that this technology isn’t just being baked into the products’ hardware, it’s being baked into the platform and developer kits. The AR explosion is going to be as big as when smartphones were introduced, and top talent from Ridley Scott to James Cameron are already getting themselves into this world.
What’s more, Robert Scoble, a futurist and one of the world’s authorities on Mixed Reality, says that every brand needs to have an AR strategy. With Apple in play, people are going to expect brands to have these types of experiences, and that will be as soon as the iPhone 8 comes out.
But why is this all so important? To work this out, let’s look back at how technology has changed us already, and why this has happened.
Technology Changes Us Physically
When the fork was introduced to Europe around 250 years ago, it was a cutting edge piece of technology. But it also changed people. Anthropologists can date human remains to before or after the introduction of the fork due to the way our front teeth changed from meeting together when we closed our mouths to the development of the overbite humans have today. This is because we no longer rely on our front teeth as scissors to cut our food.
Fast forward to today and modern technology from smartphones and tablets to portable computing is starting to have an even greater effect. A study conducted in 2009 looking at activity among six to eight year-old children found that only 51% of kids in the UK were getting the recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day due to the exposure of these new tech products and gadgets.
Technology Changes Us Socially
One of psychologist Sherry Turkle’s studies showed the effects of technology on what she calls “coming of age experiences”. Looking at teenagers aged 15 at parties, where people start to become interested in the opposite sex and experience awkward social situations, she found that today, rather than being faced with a slightly challenging situation at a party, children bring out their phones. Turkle says the children are no longer ‘in the room’ when this happens; they’re physically there, but mentally and socially they’ve gone somewhere else.
The presence of mobile phones has also been shown to have an impact on conversation. One study found couples with no phones present would get into a deep conversation, while couples sitting with a phone on the table would have a much more shallow conversation. It shows how much our phones impact on our lives.
Technology Changes Us Cognitively
Microsoft’s research lab has looked at human attention span, which it found has dropped as technology has had an impact on the cognitive effect on the brain. The suggested attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds, but humans now have a shorter attention span. In 2000 the average attention span was 12 seconds. In 2013, it was eight seconds.
So, What Are The Building Blocks Of An ‘Immersive’ Experience?
We interpret experiences coming into our brains as stories, which form memories. As designers, we shouldn’t be thinking about designing experiences, as really, we’re designing memories. The way that you tell a story and design a narrative when creating an immersive experience really dictates how memorable that experience is going to be.
What is most interesting as a designer of experiences is just how open our brains are to being manipulated through our senses. Neuroplasticity is this unique ability for our brains to accommodate and become accustomed to different situations very quickly, which means appealing to the senses is an important part of designing any new user experience. Appealing to multiple senses at the same time creates an even deeper engagement.
This is the state that people get into when they’re so engaged in a process or experience that the world starts to fall away. Creating a state of flow is made up of five key principles: being able to communicate a clear goal; the goal must have a strong sense of purpose; giving people a sense of ownership and control over their decisions; knowing what you need to do; and knowing what you can and can’t do. Most important is ensuring that experiences are designed to have the right balance of difficulty. Too difficult, and people will become frustrated. Too easy, and people will become bored.
Putting Them Together:
Think about the story of the narrative and how to communicate it because that’s how we help people remember. Vision may be the quickest route to perception, but a multi-sensory experience creates more engagement , and finally, consider how we can create a better sense of flow.
Harnessing The Power Of Risk Versus Reward
Always consider your product through the lens of risk and reward and how this affects the role of immersive experiences for you and your customers. In 2009, WARC conducted research analysing 150 types of products and placed them into four categories based on their risk vs reward ratio:
Low reward, low risk: deodorant, furniture polish, batteries, petrol, bin bags. These are everyday items that don’t pose a lot of risk. If you get the wrong type of batteries you can easily just replace them.
The opportunity for brands here is to maintain their lead in the category and jump on the tech. It is possible to tell stories in new and surprising ways, such as Shell’s immersive and engaging VR ‘hydrogen experience’ and Gillette’s ‘pressure chamber’ launched at SXSW.
High risk, low reward: insurance, tyres for cars, credit cards, anything to do with banks such as mortgages, telecommunications such as phone packages and tax services. Products here come with a high risk, but yield a low perceived reward to the customer.
Immersive experiences for products being sold in this quadrant are quite different, and can help support customer decision processes through making sense of complex data and making the process as frictionless as possible. Citibank are working on reimagining complex data for pro-traders so they can break down information for people to be able to touch it and interact with it.
Low risk, high reward: beer, cake, greetings cards, coffee shop, soft drinks and sweets.
These brands have real license to experiment. Coca-Cola created a ‘Christmas Spirit’ VR experience riding Santa’s sleigh. Cadbury’s created an AR game where you could become Willy Wonka, creating a whole world you could dip into.
High risk, high reward: designer clothing, holiday, games consoles, baby food, organic food, home improvement stores.
This category is also about trust and reassurance so, if you can provide a context, that feels more real – such as Dulux’s VR hub or Ikea’s AR work around designing a living room. Thomas Cook are doing try before you fly VR experiences, while fashion brands such as Dior are doing VR runway experiences. Customers also expect more social interaction with products in this category: you should leverage this.
It’s not just people driving changes in technology. For better or worse, technology also changes us.