Exploring the principles of immersive design

Sep 24, 2018

GDR’s Dave Dalrymple-Pryde extracts some core principles from immersive content pioneer Jessica Brillhart’s keynote at the London Design Festival.


Jessica Brillhart, formerly principal filmmaker for VR at Google and founder of immersive content production company Vrai, is rightly considered a pioneer in the field of immersive design. Her keynote address to the London Design Festival spoke to her groundbreaking immersive content work, but held a couple of really important lessons for anyone looking to design a space capable of telling rich stories or accommodating nonlinear journeys.


Turning customers into storytellers

The first lesson is: show, don’t tell. If you are designing narrative layers into a space, be it a store, a hotel or a virtual environment, this means abandoning total control over what exactly your users take away. In this sense, it helps to think of your task not so much as storytelling, but as creating an experience that in turn makes storytellers of the people who experience it. In many ways these principles have a lot in common with good brand design – an open ended, explorable universe where users overlay their own perspectives, influences and interpretations all underwritten by a single core brand truth.


Hidden mechanisms

The second lesson? Minutiae matter. Brillhart gave an example of an eye tracking UX test involving an ecommerce page for a diaper brand. Researchers showed some subjects a page with a large image of a baby facing the camera on the left and a body of text on the right (see image 1, below).


Image 1


Heatmaps showed that subjects focused intently on the babies face and didn’t really spend any time looking at the body of text.


Researchers showed other subjects the same page but, this time, the image of the baby wasn’t facing the camera but was facing the body of text (see image 2, below).


Image 2


Heatmaps here revealed something interesting. As before, the subjects still overwhelmingly looked at the baby’s face first – but they go on to follow the baby’s gaze and move on to the text. We are programmed to be curious – if we see another person looking at something, we really want to understand what they are looking at.


This sort of empirical approach, and way of thinking about attention and engagement, is fairly common within disciplines like UX design – but immersive designers, be they VR or AR content producers, installation artists or architects, need to take a similar tack if they want the experiences they create to be cohesive and flow. Telling non-linear stories is hard, but discovering and leveraging hidden mechanisms like the above can be a powerful tool.

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