Interactive Immersion

Interactive Immersion
Malik Khan

Quick Bio

Name: Malik Khan

Position: Senior Vice President, Operations

Company: ANC

Overtime: Khan will appear on the “What’s Next for the UX?” panel at the SCN Think Tank in Jersey City, NJ.

With retailers, venues, and teams constantly looking for new ways to engage with consumers and fans and bring them into their spaces, you’ll often hear the word “experiential” brought up in discussions with clients and advertisers. This is usually followed by references to “immersive” and “interactive”, but many integrators are left wondering what that really means. What qualifies as experiential? What’s the difference between delivering an immersive project or an interactive one? What really works? I’ll let the marketers argue over that last question, but I can explain the rest.

In the simplest terms, an experiential project is one that leaves a strong, lasting impression when the person leaves the space. Now this may be a product they’re being reminded of or a graphic or piece of art that inspires them as they continue on their day. None the less, the technology has made an impact. Terms like interactive and immersive can sound obvious, but are they? For today’s purposes, let’s say interactive should require individuals actually be able to—for lack of a better term—interact with the finished product (though even that has a broad definition). Immersive doesn’t mean you have to build an escape room, and the two aren’t mutually exclusive either.

The key difference between the two is that immersion should make the person feel like they’re a part of the project through content, placement, or technology. It should feel continuous and engaging, and as though the time they’re in or around the project is unique to that space. Interactive should make the person feel like they contributed in the finished project, whether physically through sensors, digitally through an app, personally through social media, or generically—sometimes even without them knowing it.

Technologically speaking, interactive technology is probably the most evolved of the two. In the industry, we’ve had the ability to use sensors and cameras even before the Kinect sensor came out almost a decade ago; even Bluetooth beacons and Wi-Fi capabilities for interactive applications have been around for a few years.

Each of these types of experiential projects have their own pros and cons. While there are a lot of examples of each, the limitations on the project usually dictate which is best to use. For example, beacons can be impractical in large spaces and cameras have limitations on distance depending on the types of lenses being used and the amount of recognition you need.

Immersion technology is a more recent trend and is most often thought of as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). But it can also be a combination of technology and content that gives the viewer the sense of continuation. One example of this can be found at Pier 17 at Seaport District in New York City, where the viewer can stand in the center of the atrium, look up and feel that they’re in the graphic. Another example is the SalesForce Lobby in San Francisco, where you can close your eyes and almost feel the mist coming off the waterfalls in the content.

In my experience, the best experiential projects are ones that deliver a little of both organic interaction and immersion, where the viewers put out the least amount of effort to engage (or don’t even know how they are), but feel like they’re a part of the install. It is an art form—one that sometimes includes a lot of technology and money—to accomplish this tastefully on a large scale, like in a transit center or public space. This level of commitment to experiential projects can often carry a hefty price tag for the client, but the impact it makes on the viewer is one that will be well worth the investment for years to come.

With the recent release of AR Development Kits by Apple and Google, there has been a flood of companies interested in getting involved in this market on both the hardware and software side. New products and integrations are coming out regularly that can make a successful experiential project more achievable for those willing to try—I say try because I would never call these projects easy, even with all of the new technology and techniques available.

One thing is for certain, we can expect the boundaries to continue to expand for these types of projects and the rest of us will hopefully be able to take part in the experience.

Malik Khan is the senior vice president, operations at ANC. He was a speaker at the 2018 SCN Think Tank in Jersey City, NJ.