Back to Insights

The future of experience design and blending realities

14 July 2023

This article first appeared in New Digital Age written by, Anton Christodoulou, Group Chief Technology Officer.

As technology continues its rapid advance, physical, digital and virtual worlds are merging. This presents an extraordinary opportunity for brands to create blended experiences for a global audience, to showcase their products and services, and authentically establish their mission and purpose. This fundamental shift is transforming how we can imagine and immerse audiences.

The Evolution of Experiences

In the early days of the Internet, physical and digital experiences existed in entirely separate domains. The Internet offered a brave new world of utility, community, knowledge discovery, and commerce. At the same time, physical spaces were being brought to life using theatrics, lighting, projection, sound, and even pyrotechnics, to deliver unforgettable experiences.

With the advent of social media and the mobile web, you could instantly share those experiences with friends and family. This offered a golden opportunity for brands, new and old, to connect with audiences vicariously. However, the 2D nature of the web and the rise of mobile also introduced a tension between being in the moment or being somewhere else.

As technologies and frameworks such as web3, real time 3D gaming engines, VR, AR, blockchain, and AI mature, a new era is emerging where our experience of the world around us, real or imagined, is converging, and colliding.

So, what should brands consider and how can they harness these advancements?

Embrace the physical, digital and virtual

In today’s interconnected world, audiences exist in multiple places simultaneously – they can and do switch easily between the physical, digital and virtual worlds. It’s therefore crucial to acknowledge and optimise for this and ensure a curated and seamless transition when designing experiences. It is also important to understand when to lean into the physical environment and turn off the digital interference to maintain customer engagement. By embracing this, it empowers brands to immerse their audiences into fantastical virtual worlds and decentralised communities that can co-exist and blend with the physical spaces of the future.

Capturing Attention and Creating Flow

Every experience presents a challenge for attention, which increase as these worlds both fragment and converge. To captivate audiences, it’s crucial to keep them “in the moment”.

There are several ways to manage this tension, by carefully curating the flow of the experience.

One simple approach is to lock attendees’ mobiles away during the experience, as experiences such as Secret Cinema and others already do. This builds up the mystery and fear of missing out, and more importantly, encourages full immersion and deeper engagement.

When mobiles are an inevitable part of the experience, brands must ensure audiences can use them to immerse themselves further and minimise other distractions. By enabling them to use their mobiles in new and interesting ways, consumers can go deeper into the story and even share space with virtual audiences. For virtual audiences, finding ways to bring them into the physical space remotely, using mobile, desktop or immersive tech, can foster a sense of unity and shared experience.

Blending Realities for Maximum Impact

In many ways, AI acts as a mirror of our collective human experience and can unlock the ability to create rich, personalised and human-centric content in real-time, based on audience preferences and their emotional responses. Used ethically, AI enables brands to offer consumers a deeper connection with their core values.

Realtime gaming engines, pixel streaming, and virtual production offer the ability to create affordable, sustainable and high-quality content and the opportunity to heighten the realism of the experience using immersive technology. AR augments the physical environment in wonderful and unique ways, such as enhancing an in-store experience. While VR is a unique medium in its ability to create empathy with the subject matter, by immersing the participant in someone else’s perspective, enabling them to walk in their shoes.

Looking forward, data required to deliver more sophisticated and integrated customer journeys will require technologies such as decentralisation to ensure a privacy-first approach. Doing so will also become a core tenet of a brand’s reputation, and therefore a valuable marketing tool.

Blending realities maximises the effectiveness of their reach, depth, and conversion. Focusing only on social reach is outdated. It’s vital that the story, characters and empathy ring true, to create depth. Video game design has a long history of doing this, which provides a valuable reference point as these worlds converge.

Every experience must be authentic. Genuinely great experiences do not require glam filters or social validation; they do need to prioritise the creation of real and shared memories.

Anton C E Christodoulou, Group Chief Technology Officer

Anton C E Christodoulou

Group Chief Technology Officer, Imagination London

Responsible for overseeing Imagination's global technology strategy, project and service delivery execution; to deliver immersive, engaging and measurable, smart connected experiences to clients including Mastercard, Ford, Major League Baseball, Jaguar Land Rover and Shell. Anton is continually exploring and integrating emerging experiential and exponential technologies, such as VR, AR, AI, Blockchain, and the productisation and ongoing development of Imagination’s Connected Experience Toolkit, XPKit.

Anton is a passionate results driven business leader, with over 20 years experience defining, developing, articulating and executing exec level technology projects. A driver, innovator and agent for change for early stage startups and some of the world's most dynamic, creative and challenging global companies, including Seagram, Walt Disney, British Telecom and Thomas Cook.