When it comes to immersive, get your strategy right and the rest will follow

Right now, one thing immersive technology tends to do pretty well is make headlines. It’s new, different, unusual – a shiny plaything for marketing departments, artists and tech geeks to mess about with, creating content and experiences designed to make editors see clickbait and readers obligingly click. But where’s the depth?

The last couple of days alone have seen the iconic Marina Abramović’s MR-enhanced The Life exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries dismissed by at least one prominent art critic as a pointless perversion that hurts your eyes in a one-star review, and, separately, Magic Leap offer an AR experience for a very small portion of the crowd at a London Fashion Week show. The ten lucky (?) punters got to experience – well, what really? A bit of distracting CGI fluff hovering above the catwalk? None of this is to denigrate the technical excellence of either Tin Drum or REWIND, respectively, but to ask the key question: why?

Pioneers, in technology and elsewhere, are duty-bound to applaud innovative exploration of any kind. But we have to ask at what point the experiment is ready to emerge from the lab – at the moment much of this just feels too early, and risks fixing in people’s minds a perception of immersive technology as nothing more than peripheral gimmickry. The reason is because too many immersive experiences fail to answer the ‘why?’ question with much more than ‘because we can’. 

Gerrit Jacob, London Fashion Week

As with all work in the commercially-driven creative industries, immersive tech must, to borrow Simon Sinek’s oft-repeated mantra, start with whyWhy are we doing this? Why does the world need it? Why us? Why here? Why now? Why in this way, rather than any other? Only with those questions clearly and satisfactorily answered can you create an immersive experience that goes deeper than an eye-catching headline. 

Get your strategy right, and the rest will follow – headlines and all.

The magic window in your pocket

Abstract universe silhouette showing kids imagination

Imagination is one of humankind’s most powerful tools. We’ve all experienced those moments when your imagination has been sparked into life – by a book, a game, a song, a conversation, even a word – and your mind is suddenly full of ideas, images, sounds, people or places that weren’t there a minute before. Your mind’s eye takes over, and makes things that only exist in your imagination feel as real – maybe even more real – than the world around you.

Technology, and the content it serves to us, are sometimes accused of being the enemy of imagination. They do all the imagining for us; they dumb everything down; they show rather than inspire. We watch, and we move on. When something takes root in our imagination, we take it with us through our day – but so much content is instantly disposable precisely because it shows too much.

At its best, however, technology can open new windows onto our world that simply weren’t accessible before. By giving us just a glimpse, it can make us believe in things that are invisible, and spark our imagination in new and incredibly powerful ways.

If you want to see this in action, simply introduce a child to Pokémon GO and watch as they discover a new world that exists in the space around them. Once they see a Charmander, Drowzee or Rhyhorn in their house, on their street or in their local park, their imagination takes over. The phone is where it starts, but once it goes away the idea that a Pikachu could be around every corner, or sitting, right now, in their classroom, has become their thrilling new reality.

Phone showing Pokemon Go

This is the power of imagination laid bare, and it’s a beautiful thing, sparked into life by the combination of geolocation and augmented reality. Our phones stop being merely screens, distracting us from the world around us, and become magic windows onto hidden worlds.

Used like this, technology is the enabler of imagination, not its enemy. In the face of justified concerns about excess screentime, we have to ensure that technology is a positive, healthy addition to modern life – and this is exactly how we do it. Getting people out into the world, making phones as unobtrusive as possible – things we look through, not at – and helping us and our children be more creative, not less.

Niantic, the developers of Pokémon GO, work on the principle that “when the digital world and reality come together, something magical happens.” They deserve great credit, not just for creating a great game, loved by millions around the globe, but for the way it fires our imagination so vividly.

Like them, we are creating experiences that use technology to get people moving, coming together to connect with the world around them. Technology at its very best. Just imagine that.

5 principles for responsible AR to address screen time phobia

Augmented reality and the great screen debate

Screen time. We hear a lot about it, almost exclusively in the context of how best to limit it. A small but growing number of resorts, restaurants and other visitor destinations are making the news for offering incentives to customers who lock their phones away, more and more apps are designed to help us (and our kids) spend more time screen-free, and Apple has even launched a built-in screen time limiter with iOS 12. All of which throws more fuel onto the good tech / bad tech fire – and the debate continues to rage.

As practitioners in augmented reality, we are challenged regularly about mobile screen time by concerned clients: “but I want my kids to use screens less, not more” or, “won’t this just make people walk around with their screens in front of their face all the time?”

These are fair challenges, and the immersive technology industry – especially those of us focusing on the mobile side of things – needs to take them seriously. It’s not enough to wave them away with platitudes about how engaging, entertaining and rewarding the experiences are. The truth is, in a world of mounting concern about digital addiction and the antisocial behaviours mobile devices can foster, it doesn’t matter how great an immersive experience is; if it means promoting more time glued to our screens we are only going to encounter more resistance.

Instead, we have to play our part in reassuring society that the innovative, engaging experiences we create have a positive impact on how we engage with the screens in our pockets. Responsible, socially-aware design and development is key, which is why we at Arcade believe in a set of principles that help us achieve just that:

Windows, not screens

To us, your device is a magic window onto an invisible world. The content is not in your phone, it is in the physical environment beyond your phone. Our experiences are designed to make the device as unobtrusive as possible – something to be looked through, not at.

Heads up

Most mobile content is viewed ‘head-down’ – neck and eyes extended downwards, device pointing towards the floor. Our augmented experiences raise the gaze and reacquaint you with the world around you, at eye-level.

Put it away

We design narrative-led, connected experiences that create a virtuous circle of engagement between the physical and digital worlds, which don’t rely on your device throughout. A specific location triggers a digital experience and, when it is complete, your phone goes away again until you reach the next one.

Healthier habits

Mobile usage is not created equal. Immersive experiences like ours are designed to positively shift people’s usage patterns, substituting those that isolate them from the physical world to those which meaningfully engage them in it.

Primacy of place

Lastly, Arcade was founded on a fundamental belief in the importance of place in the digital age; augmented reality is simply the tool we use to foster a deeper connection with, and appreciation of, the world around us. The physical environment drives the technology, not the other way around.

By adhering to these principles, we at Arcade – and the immersive tech industry as a whole – can respond to the challenges that are coming our way with confidence and conviction, that locking phones away isn’t the answer; making them part of our healthy engagement with the world around us is the key.

#augmentedreality #screentime #playableplaces #arcade

It’s beginning to look a lot like spatial

Man flying through space

As usual at this time of year, the design press has been bearing gifts – all kinds of shiny new rebrands, some just launched, others from ‘Best of 2018’ revues. And one thing really stands out: space.

Microsoft Office Icon Redesigns
Microsoft's new branding for their Office Suite

Take Microsoft Office’s first rebrand for five years. Universally lauded, it made most people immediately look down at the icons on their desktop and go, “Woah, I hadn’t noticed how old they look.” The reason is not because the old icons are especially outdated, it’s because the new ones are just so, well, new.

Or this week’s WPP rebrand. Shimmering, glowing, growing, shifting. Viewed top-down, viewed in perspective. Dynamic. New.

New Brand Logo for WPP
WPP's new brand - the colour palette is forever-changing

And what does new look like? New is physical. New is distance. New is perspective. Not the awful drop-shadows of the mid 2000s that were everyone’s guilty pleasure, but actual depth. In both cases, you feel you can step inside. Dive in. Microsoft even constructed the icons physically before they created the digital assets, and the result preserves their genuine third dimension.

The reason for this, I’d suggest, is because they are both being heavily influenced by spatial design. And this is only set to grow.

At a time when immersive technology is offering ever more innovative, exciting ways to engage with the spaces around us, it seems pretty clear that cutting-edge innovation and design is going a bit spatial-mad. Two years after Pokemon GO sent us out into the world to hunt down digital creatures (and a few months before it happens all over again with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite), 2019 is set to be the year of spatial – in gaming but everywhere else too. Museums, galleries, theme parks, events, music festivals, universities, workplaces and many more – all embracing immersive tech and the spatial mindset it requires.

Remember kids, spatial isn’t just for Christmas. It’s here for good.

And we couldn’t be happier.

Ready Visitor One….? Why it’s time to say goodbye to the ‘visitor’​

Ready Player One Film Poster
As a part of the Commonwealth Games that took place in Queensland earlier this year, the legacy group launched an initiative called ‘Be My Guest‘. Its aim was to positively shift the mindset of the local tourism industry in terms of the way it consciously and sub-consciously treated its consumers.
Gold Coast 2018 Banner

Referring to standard industry monikers such as ‘passenger’, ‘visitor’, ‘customer’ or ‘tourist’, it points out that, “from these definitions, people will be treated with varying degrees of personal care, according to the way they are viewed.” They go on to encourage every host to consider their audiences as ‘guests’ – because we are taught from a young age that guests are special, to be afforded special privileges and treated exceptionally well.

It is undoubtedly true that the names we use for groups of people have an impact on our behaviours towards them, and that ‘guest’ cues many positive attitudes that ‘visitor’, for example, does not. But, thinking of visitor attractions specifically, does it go far enough?

In order to continue to thrive and grow, museums, galleries and heritage sites are having to engage increasingly tech-savvy audiences whose expectations of the ‘IRL‘ experiences they choose are rising every year. Despite best efforts, traditional approaches to audience engagement, curation, interpretation and exhibition planning risk falling short with experiences that remain static, flat, linear and impersonal, and invite audiences to be little more than passive observers. That treat them as visitors, the same way they always have.

The ‘Be My Guest’ initiative defines a visitor as “One who visits a place or person, socially/as a tourist; is not permanent, does not belong to the area; a passer-by; not local.

It is becoming clear that, as an attitude towards our audiences, this simply isn’t good enough if we are to meet their rising demands. They – we – live in an experience economy characterised by increasingly blurred lines between the physical and digital worlds, where we carry supercomputers in our pockets that keep us topped up on entertainment-fuelled dopamine every few minutes. As a result, our expectations of everything we do and everywhere we go are changing. We want to be active participants, feel immersed and part of the experience and, most importantly, have fun.

Which means we don’t want to be visitors. Or even guests.

We want to be players.

‘Play’ should not be mistaken for frivolity – it is a fundamental, even profound motivation, and is being given a prominence in culture like never before, fuelled in large part by technology.

If we stop thinking of the people turning up at our sites as ‘visitors’ and start seeing them as ‘players’, we will start to build experiences with more of the characteristics of games: competition, challenge and reward. This is the interactivity and dynamism we crave; by making places playable, and designing them for players, not just guests or visitors, we can equip attractions to reassert their relevance in the digital era.

Visitor attractions: it’s time to say goodbye to the visitors, and hello to the players.

Kids using SEA LIFE Junior Ranger AR App

A New Sense of Place in the Digital Age

Family Using Augmented Reality App in Aquarium

The term “sense of place” has been the subject of much Architectural and Social discourse – conceptually it is used to “define the undefinable” bonds between people and places. A sense of place can be described by specific characteristics of a physical place, or by the perceptions of people who visit a place. Crucially those characteristics help foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging.

At Arcade we believe that a sense of place has never been so critical to society as it is today. Indeed, our long standing mission is to help define and create a new sense of place in the digital age. Whilst the explosion of digital technology has had huge undeniable benefits, academics are only now beginning to identify some of the widespread side-effects. The decline of traditional social structures mixed with an unparalleled access to technology has uprooted the traditional notion of community. People have been left to self-define their identity through reference to a myriad of media and technology driven sources, often detached from their physical whereabouts. We have become disconnected from our places.

Our medium is Augmented Reality (AR), with which we have identified a huge opportunity for technology to right its own wrongs. Critically AR ties digital information to the real world, thus giving us all the chance to reconnect to the world around us – not despite of, but because of our want for new technology. We believe that the most prescient opportunity for AR to evolve is within the visitor experience industry, where consumers are now demanding personalised services and participative encounters, which ladder towards a new sense of place.

Underpinning our work is the identification and understanding of several key characteristics, which we respect with every line of code we write and every polygon and texture we create. These characteristics combine to create places that are playable. We define play through its more esoteric sense – not gamification – but learning & discovery leading to liberation and empowerment. The playable place achieves the following:


In the new world of complex identity it is critical that a place should be able to connect to its visitors on their level, displaying a diversity which encourages them to build their own sense of place and empower their self-identification.


Our relationship with a place should not be one-way in nature. Our playable places learn from their visitors experiences, and then adapt accordingly – they become responsive in nature and thus elicit a greater emotional connection with their visitors.


The very definition of a sense of place lies within the physical and emotive connection to a group of people. Places should not force this, they should cater for many types of emerging community groups and become a place for the many, not the few.


The consumer now expects participation ahead of a passive experience, our technology provides this closer connection to a place by encouraging its visitors to truly participate. That could be through the contents of the place, the history and meaning behind a place, or by re-imagining new uses and functions for a place.


The static materials and forms that make up our physical world all have stories to tell, every brick and every blade of grass contains a thousand words could it but speak. Well now they can. Through AR we reveal narrative driven information that has never before been experienced in-situ.


The custodians of a place have a duty to make the connection between that place and its visitors as meaningful and continuous as possible. This will help advance operations across estates, and can include marketing and brand benefits.


For millennia many places have been hampered by their geographic location, especially when attempting to build relationships with new typologies of visitor. Our technology can break down these boundaries, enabling cross pollination of estate assets and relationships with the user before and beyond their visit.

A new sense of place is not just academic posturing. The building of new identities and new communities within a truly user focused framework leads to advanced levels of engagement. This manifests in higher rates of repeat visit, increased dwell times, higher satisfaction scores and ultimately the achievement of commercial goals.