there are some common characteristics that I believe make for a successful immersive experience.
During my time across Australia and Europe, I’ve had the privilege to lead a broad range of immersive experiences. These have included custom mixed reality environments, VR & AR experiences, Large scale interactive screens, IoT data visualisations, and predictive digital twin interfaces. Although these projects have been quite diverse in nature, there are some common characteristics that I believe make for a successful immersive experience. These are:
Be clear on your why - The allure of immersive experiences and new technologies can often make a designer miss the fundamental questions that should be asked in any design process. These questions are distilled in my recommended creative brief process, but some questions to consider are – Why is the project being undertaken and what will the measures of success be? Who is the target audience and what do you need to consider about their capabilities? Do you need to make it accessible or intuitive to different ages or cognitive abilities?
Understand the brand you are designing for - When designing for a client, it is important to understand what is the client’s brand that you are designing for, and how can you manifest their brand characteristics within the immersive experience? This will create an experience that is not only personalised for your client, but also create a unique brand experience that will standout for your users.
Technology is just an enabler - Designers can get caught up with the excitement of working with new technologies and forget what is most effective for the target audience. For example at Deloitte we explored Virtual Reality (VR) experiences for Air Services (Australian Air Traffic Control), but given the complex data sets that needed to be represented, and the limitations of VR, it was still more effective to deliver this information via traditional desktop solutions.
As emerging technologies are relatively uncommon, they can be unintuitive or hard to relate to for a general user. Make sure you consider what the goals and objectives are for both the client and audience, and validate whether the learnability of a new device, or the new way of interfacing is worth the compromise.
There must be a story - Traditional media experiences give little control to the audience. That has now changed, and compelling, immersive experiences give a lot of power to the audience. Boundaries have existed between the various forms of media, and each type of media has developed its set of regulations. When immersive design went mainstream, it removed most of those boundaries. Instead, brands can now create fresh experiences that combine aspects of diverse media forms. This shifts the focus to the story. Unfortunately, an immersive experience does not ease storytelling. Creatives still have to navigate the intricacies of a story to deliver a great immersive experience.
The user must drive the story, but the designer is the ultimate gatekeeper. Designers should avoid a linear narrative, and cater for multiple scenarios giving the perception of more control and deeper immersion into the experience.
Engage the senses – Consider how you immerse your user beyond just a visual experience. What additional human senses do you want to trigger to further engage a user into the story you are trying to tell? For example, immersive experiences for sports industries may want to compliment visuals with audio and movement synchronisation.
Personalise the experience – A well-designed immersive experience should personalise to a user as much as possible. Whether it is anticipating their needs, changing the interface based on their body shape or height, or adapting the visuals to integrate any customer data that can be accessed. Be mindful of users’ privacy, but making a more personalised experience will make a more meaningful and memorable experience for the user.
Design for the audience as well as the user – In large environmental immersive experiences, it is important to consider not only the user experience, but also the broader audience that may be watching. How do you make a visual and auditory spectacle so they also feel engaged. When we designed ANZ Breakpoint, we had to cater for hundreds of people waiting in line to play the game. It was important that we made it entertaining to watch from a distance so the wait held the visitors attention.
Location awareness - You may have seen advertisements from nearby locations on your phone. In most cases, these are the things that you are planning to buy. Well, the same experience can be transferred to the immersive experience design process. Localising immersive experiences is not a new trick. Advertisers have been using geofencing to target potential clients with localised advertisements. For instance, Disney World integrates AR with MR to create an immersive experience in their game park. Visitors to the park will get an immersive virtual preview of the park's activities as they wait for their turn to view the physical activities.
Introduce multi-user interaction - Another great feature of immersive experiences is that you can allow many people to take part at the same time. Whether it is a multi-user VR experience or a multi-touch interactive wall, it all contributes to a user having a shared experience that encourages conversation and deeper connection.
Create some mystery - People love intrigue, mystery, and unpredictability. It is worthwhile adding things that are unexpected or things that a user uncovers whilst engaging with the experience. This will get the user to pay more attention and engage more deeply into the story that you are trying to tell.
Immersive experience design provides endless opportunities for designers due to the broad range of technologies available.
Immersive experience design provides endless opportunities for designers due to the broad range of technologies available. It is important that designers anchor their ideas in a deep understanding of why the project is being undertaken, and what they want the user to think or feel from the experience. Once this has been established, the design principles in this article can help validate and expand on the immersive experience ideas.
Designers should experiment and prototype with the technology to see if their idea needs adapting to technology restraints, and it is particularly important to test with users throughout the design process to ensure interaction paradigms are easily understood.
Feel free to explore the broad range of immersive projects that I have been involved with and I welcome any questions or feedback you have on this article!
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