Technology and the Ever Changing Desires of Consumers


Technology and the Ever Changing Desires of Consumers




By Abi Buller


Technologies such as virtual reality have recently faced criticism in relation to the isolating nature of replicating and enhancing real world experiences. While new technologies do of course stimulate new thought and discussion between audiences, the fabricated spaces formulated through the lens of a VR headset can currently only be fully experienced in solitude. With regards to the exciting possibilities of innovation that can arise from mediums such as VR, AR and MR, it is worth considering the potential of opening up these technologies to reach group audiences in new settings. Due to the creative options afforded by such mediums, prospective placements include exhibition and retail spaces, leisure environments as well as existing within informative and educational contexts.


What if online shopping could be experienced alongside your friend who lives on the other side of the world through a virtual representation of a physical store? Or if an immersive exhibition space could be replicated in the form of a social outing for group visitors?


In the context of a creative setting such as an art gallery, one example to consider would be the Bjork Digital exhibition in London’s Somerset House (2016) which utilised virtual reality to portray the eccentric otherworldly visions of the artist through an immersive audiovisual digital experience. Despite the content being visually impressive and somewhat progressive at the time of launching, the journey through the exhibition space felt overly structured and regimented compared to the usual flow of an exhibition setting. Curated through a series of rooms, small groups were guided into each new exhibit and instructed to sit on a stool and install their headset and headphones while waiting eagerly in a darkroom for the digital content to begin. Although the exhibition was logistically well organised, audiences could easily feel distracted and agitated by the setting; unable to fully engage with the content present in the space. A future iteration of a digitally enhanced, music-based exhibition could focus more intently on the human experience, taking into consideration the sensory elements additional to a visually and audibly stimulating space.


Taking an example of a more recent exhibition, Jenny Holzer’s SOFTER at Blenheim Palace integrated Augmented Reality into a traditional heritage site to lift the existing visual elements through an app-enhanced contemporary show. The experience felt inclusive and interactive for audiences with technology provided through visitor’s own mobile technology. Immersion provided from the optional AR addition was unobtrusive and something which could easily be enjoyed in a social context. Another positive element to the curation of this exhibition is that the traditional elements of the palace were left largely untouched, with a few physical installments added in to certain areas of the site. This meant that casual visitors to the palace who were perhaps unaware of the contemporary exhibit were able to explore the site without the disruption of unwanted technological advancements. The AR was simply activated by audiences with the desire to involve themselves in the additional content offered through this new medium. This could be activated by simply raising their phone to certain areas of the site highlighted on a digital map. When activated, the AR content revealed augmented projection mapped elements onto the outside of the palace as well as flying creatures inside the palace walls.


Similarly, the state of flux which exists in the physical vs online store landscape has meant audiences are craving a more personalised, human interaction available in transactional environments. These interactions also benefits brands, creating stronger brand loyalty and gaining insight into consumer needs. Considering the obvious convenience of online shopping combined with the physical touch-points of bricks and mortar spaces, intuitive technology could help to bridge the gap between theses two forms of retail experiences. With further enhancements in at-home virtual and augmented reality technologies, it is likely that we will see the normalisation of virtual showrooms and product placement in digitally curated retail spaces.


Further potential opportunities in the area of audience-specific technology could relate to exercise classes and guided meditation, allowing participants to engage in the stimulation of group activity from remote locations including their home and office. Additionally, virtual learning environments could be enhanced through immersive virtual spaces which would eradicate the ease for distraction in webinar scenarios and create more engaging and active discussion for audiences.


The possibilities of digital additions for positive effect are seemingly endless within and beyond the creative fields, but ultimately the essence of the discussion must consciously be centred around the raw nature of human behaviour. In a contrasting iteration of a music event focusing on experimental artist Bjork, London Field’s Institute of Light recently hosted another of their ‘Pitchblack Playback’ events which immerses the audience in an environment where they are forced to isolate the sensation of sound. By switching off the lights and providing visitors with an eye-mask, audience members were free of any visual distractions or other external stimuli while listening to the artist’s debut album. This type of event encourages audiences to really connect with their senses and the setting of attending a public event.


In consideration of audiences and the huge breadth of potential for integrating technology, or avoiding it altogether, within the creative industries it is likely that brands will continue to adapt their communication strategies to suit the ever changing desires of consumers. At it’s core, the idea of designing with an audience in mind will often relate to providing an optimised service or experience to enhance convenience or leisure. In tandem with many of the latest cultural trends including wellness, work cultures and hyper-connectivity, brands will respond to audiences in ways that they perhaps hadn’t previously thought possible, through a reactive and intuitive strategic approach.