Immersive experience is smart business

July 9, 2018

By Chirryl-Lee Ryan, Director of Experience at Idean New York

AR and VR are expected to grow into a $108 billion market by 2021, which means investing in immersive experience is smart business. As infrastructure becomes more sophisticated, processing becomes more powerful, and machine learning gets smarter, immersive technologies have the potential to spark endless new points of interaction that will be more useful, engaging, and scalable than ever before.

While there’s a lot of hype about immersive experience, general purpose application of immersive technology is in its infancy. Immersive experience has become synonymous with three mysterious digital platforms: VR, AR, and MR (that, and gimmicky marketing resulting in monster-hunting stampedes). The truth is the silver bullet for making meaningful immersive experiences is still up for grabs.

Put simply, immersive experiences are constructed environments that use sensory stimulation to ‘feel real’. Immersive experiences aren’t always digital, but immersive technologies are great experiential amplifiers. Like science fiction come to life, Virtual Reality (VR) accesses digital worlds you ‘step’ into, Augmented Reality (AR) creates digital layers over the top of the real world, and Mixed Reality (MR) is a combination of the two.

Yesterday’s sci-fi is today’s reality

As anyone who grew up watching Star Wars, Star Trek, or even Black Mirror will attest, science fiction is an incredible tool for driving interest in how technology can improve our lives. Back in 1992 The Lawnmower Man made VR mainstream through the story of a scientist who uses VR to aid the development of his mentally-disabled brother’s mind (with scary unintended outcomes!).

Because humans have a habit of making things just because we can, we need to be mindful that our fantasies aren’t the only basis for what we make. Although immersive technologies have been around for 50 years (the first head-mounted VR display was created in 1968 by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland), we are only beginning to understand how to make them feasible—and more importantly, purposeful.

There are some standout examples across industries. Surgical Theatre created a VR visualization platform which is advancing neurosurgery and is being used by top academic hospitals such as UCLA, NYU, Mayo Clinic, Mount Sinai, and Stanford.

Human centered immersive experiences

At Idean, we take a human centered approach to everything we do, and designing for immersive experience is no exception. It’s critical to observe people in the context that is being designed for to understand behavior and develop a full view of human needs. This evidence helps determine if immersive technology is right for the context—which is exactly what we did for our recent RoomAR project.

Idean and RoomAR partnered to bridge the gap between humans, spaces, and technology via a layered immersive experience where real and digital worlds blend using AR. The RoomAR application allows customers to place furniture directly into their spaces using a smartphone, tablet, or data glasses, instead of going to a retail showroom, looking at a printed catalog, or visiting a website.

Immersive technologies have the potential to connect digital and real world in more meaningful ways than ever before—but it’s critical to consider context, implications, and ethics. When used with a lack of understanding—or for the wrong reasons—immersive technologies pose the risk of failure, or worse: physical, psychological, cultural, or environmental damage.

10 things to consider when designing for immersive experiences

Considering context, implications, and ethics will also mean creating new frameworks and methodology for design that anticipate the challenges ahead. Here are 10 things we’ve noticed about designing for immersive experiences:

1. Humans first

It’s tempting to make something that’s ‘cool’ just because it’s possible—but going beyond gimmick or specialized application to become general purpose technology will need a human centered approach.

2. It’s a mad world

The scale and speed of change (technological, cultural, or environmental) combined with precarious infrastructure means being mindful when adding new layers to existing complexity.

3. No means no

We’ve seen what can happen when our data is used without consent—imagine if it was our experience. Participants must be given full transparency about their rights, their role, their usage, and beyond.

4. Suspending disbelief

Consistent storytelling, testing, and adjustment are key to prolonging the participants decision to stop themselves from denying that the experience is real and start enjoying the experience as the truth.

5. Choose your own adventure

20 years ago, we had no idea how digital would change the way humans behave—we were just experimenting with cyberspace. Designing for immersive experience opens a behavioral Pandora’s Box.

6. Interface-off

Far beyond the screens of our mobile phones, audio interfaces, or headsets we’re making today, immersive experiences will require entirely new interfaces, interactions, and gestures.

7. Immersive ergonomics

New kinds of environments and interactions mean reconsidering traditional human-factors like posture, balance, fatigue, static load…and much more.

8. Frequency and consumption

Avoid that awkward feeling when Facebook changes a function without notice, or worse—too frequently, and curb over consumption—how much is too much?

9. The end

Participants need to know that there is an end—and they can choose to end it.

10. No rules

There are no rules for inventing the future. No one knows what’s going to happen next—we get to make the rules up as we go along. When it comes to immersive experiences: throw out the playbook.

This article was inspired by Chirryl-Lee Ryan’s recent visit to Amsterdam, where she was invited by Het Nieuwe Instituut to take part in WeMakeThe.City, a festival aimed at making the city better, fairer, more beautiful, sustainable and inclusive. During the festival, she spoke at AR: the Augmented Self, the 3rd in a 3-part event series hosted by WondARlands and Pakhuis de Zwijger. Together with Galit Ariel, Jacob Kok, Roy Dings and Monte Königs, Chirryl-Lee explored the implications of augmented reality and designing for immersive experiences, including her own presentation about the use of critical design thinking when designing for immersive experiences.