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.

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