The definition, as recorded on Dictionary.com, is:
Noting or relating to digital technology or images that actively engage one's senses and may create an altered mental state.
For us the word immersive means so much more than this definition allows. It is the essence of our work and lies at the heart of everything we do. For us, immersive experiences are the past, present and future of design, and we have embraced this movement wholeheartedly. Creating an immersive experience supports the notion of storytelling in its most basic form, for every story should be believable regardless of how fantastical it may sound. Immersive design transports you from a pane of reality to a pane of another life, giving the opportunity to leave one’s persona at the door and to step into an alternative world.
Immersive experiences can be long, short, complex or simple. They can throw you about, turn you upside down, make you see double or give you absolute clarity. An immersive world can trick the senses, bewitch the mind and summon emotions. Nostalgia is its best friend, calling upon memories that create new sensations.
Immersive experiences give way to experience itself for it is a multi-sensory adventure that takes you somewhere you’ve never been before, traversing time and space. A window into times gone by, times that are and times that will be.
The nucleus of any immersive experience starts with an idea conceptually positioned behind a window. Successful immersive design is achieved when the piece of glass is removed, and one can literally step into the scene and feel they have authentically entered the world behind the windowpane. Authenticity is key and it is this which separates an immersive experience from a themed experience.
Any design can benefit from having a theme, especially when creating experience design, but there is a huge difference between referencing an era or tokenising a movement from the past – such as Art Deco or Masquerade – where props are used and matched with lighting as well as well-known design references, compared to a truly believable interpretation where you actually feel like you are in the 1920s or in a grand ballroom in Venice, transported back in time. The difference lies within the design itself, the believability of the set design and authentic props from that era itself.
You can choose to give a glimpse into the design, perhaps by simply having flapper dancers wondering around the room with huge feather props, or you could choose to disregard the clichéd expectations and showcase the real spirit of a 1920s cocktail party, with pieces from the era itself. By widening your search, you will easily find that there are suppliers who offer this authenticity, which ensures your design will be immersive because it is a real time-capsule and not a clichéd reproduction.
Of course, there are many tools that can help you reach immersive qualities in your design. Technology, supported by augmented reality, is a great example of how you can easily transport the user into a new world, simply by wearing an oculus. The advancements in virtual world technology are entirely believable, often used as a tool to convey ideas, sell concepts and enhance gamification experiences. We live in a world of instant gratification and this immediate transportation appeals to our insatiable demand for new discoveries.
Creating a physical world that is believable requires a different type of thought and careful planning. Set design has always been a fantastic way to portray different eras and to convey aesthetic detail, reliant on our hand skills to make each design beautiful and realistic. The added advantage of technologies such as CNC cutting and engraving means that design can be enhanced with detail and motifs authentically sourced from history, applied in a contemporary way.
It is also important, when planning an immersive experience, to consider how each of the senses will be tapped into throughout your experience. It’s not enough to just have a visually stimulating set design, but to consider olfactory sensations, taste experiences and textural variation. For example, frequency can alter our taste buds and if served with champagne can make the beverage taste sweet or bitter, depending on how high or low the frequency being heard is.
There are wonderful sensory theories which can add a whole other layer of curiosity and intrigue, again aiding the believability of your immersive experience.
We have had the pleasure of working for some global brands who see the value of multi-sensory, immersive branding experiences. Creating an authentic link that transports customers into the product itself, thus creating a unique and entirely personal attachment ensures that each experience, and therefore the links to their specific product, can be sustained as a memory which made an impact in that moment.
Immersive experiences offer so much more than a glimpse into something; you are literally thrust into the narrative and left there to explore in your own time, and when you remerge, your life and perception will have changed.