Spectacle in the time of Self-Isolation
Shared By Patrice Speed
From Normal life to Shelter-in-Place
With the current Covid-19 situation both in the USA and around the globe, uncertainty abounds. Large swaths of the community are being asked to stay home except for non-essential errands. For an industry that is normally focused on creating experiences for public spaces and groups of people, this can feel like having the rug ripped out from underneath us. As conferences and public gatherings have been cancelled, experiential work will have to evolve to meet the needs of this new reality. But as we are changing the way we approach our work to take it from public to private spaces, this time offers us a lot of creative opportunity, as well.
Britelite’s main office is currently on “Shelter in Place” orders in San Francisco, and many of our projects have paused while we evaluate what is the safest course of action for our team, clients, and end users. While we are pausing, we can also harness our collective creative energy to help create work that helps people navigate these uncertain times.
Great experiential work is transformative
At its best, the work we do transforms your sense of place while creating awe and wonder. Immersive experiences can provide relief from the everyday, something that is helpful during normal times and critical now after being stuck indoors for days on end. While experiences are being redefined to meet this new normal on a daily basis, they are even more relevant now when people are hungry for connection and interaction. We can design these experiences to give people a sense of joy or calm, to entertain and help pass the time, or to inform and make the scary less so. The technology to support these experiences can create connections between people, even as we are all apart.
Can spectacle co-exist with being solo?
Whether it’s a giant projection mapped building, a reactive light sculpture or a VR field trip, experiential work can be thought of as providing wonder, education, and utility. These categories are just as relevant today as they were several months ago the only difference is how we apply them. Being stuck in your home and without other physical participants changes how we think about and approach the user experience for interactive and immersive works, in addition to the functionality and end result.
This shift is taking individual experiences and working to connect them to a group interaction rather than taking a group interaction and breaking it down for the individual. While there has certainly been a traditional value to the group experience when working with experiential initiatives, there has always been a strong focus on making sure that every individual user feels deeply connected to the experience and has an easy time of engaging with it. Given the change of venue and environments we are working within now, following some basic guidelines can help with success and still leave users delighted by engaging with an experience.
Work with what you have
Even through these extraordinary times, there are still compelling stories to be told and communication is more important than ever. Recognizing the potential to connect with people in a more intimate environment has led us to look at the ways people communicate on a daily basis and try to wrap stories into those styles of interaction.
At Britelite we often use web based front end to create the interactive layer of our installations and have become familiar with integrating sensors and user inputs into a web based system. This means there is a limited amount of change in the way we need to build systems to take them from public installations into private homes. Using web based platforms such (as Web AR), easily downloaded experiences, and streaming experiences are a gateway into getting work in front of people in their homes.
Tap into available hardware
We usually try to target the most technologically forward hardware we can get access to when planning new activations and installations but this new environment is shifting the focus to technology that everyone has easy access to. While a state of the art Transparent OLED might have been the target display for a public window installation, we need to be thinking in terms of smartphones, tablets and home computers for the immediate future. This does not mean that the quality of the experience needs to be sacrificed, though, because most of these devices have a host of embedded sensors that can be leveraged to create truly compelling experiences. With the host of point cloud tracking systems embedded in almost every personal device these days, we have already been leveraging them to create non-traditional interactive experiments using nothing but handheld devices.
While experiential work is often focused on large footprints and spectacle, this new reality is a chance to turn that on its head and find compelling ways to design and build for smaller screens and environments while still creating impact and a sense of wonder. We have jumped into this design challenge and view this as an opportunity to explore a type of interaction that is not often our focus. Playing with this smaller scale and embracing it can have huge payoffs if you can achieve the transformation of that space or at the very least transport your users out of it.
Using experiential to navigate this time
More than anything we are living in a time of extreme uncertainty. While this is something that people are dealing with on a daily basis this is a time where we can use non traditional interaction and communication to help connect people and bring some level of familiarity to a very foreign feeling time. There are new problems and challenges cropping up every day and an industry that was built on solving non traditional problems is set up to thrive in this environment.
We can think of this as a time where people have an opportunity to connect with artists and creators that they love, and the experiential agencies are in a great position to facilitate this communication. We have opportunities to entice people to interact and create themselves, and bringing digital participation into experiences will push people to find new ways of creating and sharing with the world. We can create and share new ways of connecting friends and family that were not as critical several months ago but are vital now. The experiential industry is able and ready to address the needs of the world we all live in now and the opportunities to innovate in this time should be exciting not scary. We are all in this together and we will create new and more immersive ways of connecting and sharing even if we are all in our homes when we do it.
To get you inspired here are some resources and experiences you can try at home:
Hang out with friends and family in a VR and Non VR communal space