Should Immersive Technology be more ‘Human Centric’ in order to drive mass adoption?

The Digital Catapult Centre Brighton suppports innovative digital companies to take their products to market faster – one of it’s technology focuses has been immerive technology – such as virtual, augmented, mixed reality and haptics.

This blog explores how immersive tech is showing maturation, but needs great content to scale further. In order to develop this content – content producers need to be human and not technology centric.

Start with the human

In its 2017 strategy, The Digital Catapult Centre prioritised immersive technology (augmented, virtual and mixed realities, and related new forms of human interface) as one of its four key strategic technologies. It’s clear to see why.

It genuinely feels like we have reached a tipping point with immersive technology – The Gartner Hype Cycle now places Virtual reality in the ‘slope of enlightenment’. It’s not hard to see why as in recent years, advances in display and capture technology have vastly improved the end user experience. As a result, we have seen a Cambrian explosion of new hardware, ranging from high-end headsets like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Microsoft HoloLens and also PlayStation VR and Google Cardboard. This hardware is not only futuristic and stimulating, but more importantly, it has now put immersive technology firmly in the hands of the public.

Furthermore, the scope of Immersive technologies increasingly revolutionising the interactions between people and their environment is widening, and we are seeing emerging use cases, in new market sectors. For example, this recent Digital Catapult Centre blog examines how retail brands are turning to immersive experiences to provide engagement with their customers. Off the back of these creative experiences, they are seeing real commercial results.

Technology for technology’s sake?

For immersive technology to become truly ubiquitous, it needs to overcome the challenge of providing inspiring content that draws in a wider audience. People don’t buy televisions to have a television – they do so to access their favourite shows.

This presents a ‘chicken and egg’ paradigm. Without content, there isn’t a market. Without the market, there isn’t a valid business case for content creators nor demonstrable case studies that justify the need for immersive content.

While we see a more experimental approach being taken by large brands, unfortunately their immersive experiences can be criticised for using technology, for the sake of being seen to be innovative and future facing. Further compounding the problem – these experiences tend to be ill-conceived, using parlour tricks to capture customers’ attention.

Converting hype into tangible opportunities

In order to overcome the lack of quality content, one should identify good content and consider how it can be developed.  To answer this question, look at who is doing this well and how they are doing it.

What the experts say

The Digital Catapult Centre Brighton held an Immersive Technology Innovation Day this week to explore what constitutes inspiring immersive content as judged across a spectrum of immersive technology including virtual / augmented / mixed reality. At the event, world class thought leadership companies such as HolitionVirtual UmbrellaInition and Snatch were asked how they had used compelling immersive content and experiences to deliver commercial value to their brand and retail clients.

What we learnt about how to create great content could be summed up under how it:

  1. Infuse with Creativity

Holition described themselves as technology agnostic and instead favoured putting digital tools in the hands of artists, who would then come up with totally unexpected ideas. To further hammer the point home, Steve Jobs was famously quoted as saying:

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

The Digital Catapult Centre Brighton focused on this philosophy when launching their Immersive Lab in Brighton. A state-of-the-art facility that engages with both technologists and people from a creative industries background, to stimulate more diverse collaboration.

  1. Add value to the end user

Inition said that great content is measured by how it adds something special to the end user’s life. If you can crack this, you can cut through the clutter of brands clamouring for the end-user’s attention and convert content consumers into customers.

The Digital Catapult Centre Brighton also shared its thinking around this, as derived from the principal of the experience economy. Jo Pine, the author of the experience economy describes great experiences as being:

  • Valuable – this means it could be entertaining, educational, aesthetically pleasing or provide escapism.
  • Emotive and engaging with the end users.
  • Meaningful and providing a connection.
  1. Made the experience fun

Snatch described how their augmented reality app provides a platform for gamification (a set of principals based on behavioural psychology that drive actions through play), blurring the digital and real world and keeping their players coming back for more. This helps to deepen engagement with the brands they work with.

  1. Explore all the possibilities

Virtual Umbrella described how they thought that there is no repeatable rulebook yet of what great content is and that everyone is on a journey to develop understanding. The key though is to have a willingness to try new things and tolerate failure.

Open calls like CreativeXR (ran by Digital Catapult Centre Brighton and the Arts Council), which enabled innovation by inviting companies to explore the overlap between immersive technology and creative arts using prototypes – represent a great route for enabling companies to explore.

Start with the human

Once the dust had settled and everyone had left, the take away message from the event was clear. Good content comes from considering the end user as the starting point, not the technology.

Gartner also suggests a view that echoes this approach. It sees a megatrend being increasingly human-centric, in that our use of immersive technology becomes intertwined with our lives as the technology becomes far more adaptive, contextual and fluid within the workplace, at home, and in interacting with businesses and other people.

Developing more human-centric content

Sounds like an easy enough proposition especially when you consider all of the latest immersive technology that’s kicking about. However, to truly succeed in this endeavour, you need to do the following:

  1. Consider who

To repeat the television analogy, not all audiences are created equal in terms of the type of content they want to experience and how they want to experience it. Content creators should get to know their end users. This means stepping away from their computers and speaking to real people before building. The value of doing so is immense, your content will be based on insight rather than assumption and creates a relationship, rather than a tool for broadcast.

A superb question that came from the panel discussion was about of how immersive content could be made more inclusive. Engaging with a range of end-users and fostering greater diversity amongst content creators not only builds more robust content, it also presents an opportunity to identify new untapped audiences for immersive content.

  1. Consider why

Speaking to your end users has the added benefit of providing a vision of the value you are delivering to them. If adding value to end users is key for driving great content, we must first understand what are their problems that the content can solve.

  1. Consider how

By understanding who you are creating content for and why, you can then begin to formulate what it might look like. An interesting idea is far more compelling than a polished yet boring experience.

The experts said that ideas can be big, but the build doesn’t necessarily need to be. Their thoughts centred around challenging yourself and your team in to thinking about how to test whether ideas work for the end-user as prototypes first, before committing significant resources to the project. The feedback you get from early prototypes will help you shape a much more human-centric product.

Of course, it is important to understand what the technology can do. The Digital Catapult Centre, Immersive Lab project allows companies access to cutting edge hardware to explore how technology can be pushed to deliver greater results.

Open Call for great content in a retail environment

As immersive technology matures, there is a need to develop content that does the incredibly sophisticated hardware justice. To do so, we need to think about the end user. If you are a company that thinks you have great content, you can apply for a current Digital Catapult Centre Brighton Open Call that is looking for companies who are able to deliver outstanding content in a retail environment to come forward.

If selected, you will gain access to an innovation prize, as well as the chance to road test in a live retail environment in Brighton alongside Redevco – a large pan European property management company. To apply, complete this short application form.

Rich Scott

@mrRichScott

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